Oho, so this is why F.C. Cincinnati kept moving the goalposts on its stadium deadline, and then released a statement pivoting back to the West End site it had previously rejected: The team had been secretly — or at least behind-the-scenesedly — working on a deal with the city council to revive subsidies for a West End stadium:
The deal, presented by Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and David Mann, calls for FC Cincinnati to build a $200 million soccer stadium, pay $25 million in property taxes to Cincinnati Public Schools and infuse $100,000 a year for 10 years into the neighborhood.
City and county taxpayers would contribute $48.8 million, vs. $51 million for the Oakley site.
Okay, let’s back this up a sec. When the West End site was last in play, F.C. Cincinnati was looking to have its property taxes capped at between $100,000 and $500,000 a year, while the school district thought the team should be paying more like $2 million a year. The deal proposed by Sittenfeld and Mann would set property taxes at closer to $1 million a year, which would still be a tax break worth around $14 million in present value, if the school district’s valuation is correct.
Meanwhile, taxpayers would spend an additional $48.8 million in straight-up cash: $17 million from local hotel taxes, $6.3 million from the sale of the former Blue Ash airport site, $8 million in tax-increment financing kickbacks, $2.5 million in city capital funds, and $15 million in county money to build a parking garage for fans. Add in the tax breaks, and that’s $62.8 million that Cincinnati residents would be contributing toward the $200 million stadium project. (F.C. Cincinnati would also build a new high-school football stadium as part of the deal, but as the West End already has a perfectly good one that it would lose to make way for a soccer stadium, that’s really a net gain.)
So what now? The support of Sittenfeld and Mann should give F.C. Cincinnati five votes on the nine-member city council, though the other three nominally pro-stadium members haven’t actually chimed in on this latest plan. The school board has to approve selling the stadium land in a vote tomorrow; presumably the councilmembers wouldn’t have announced this deal if the school board hadn’t signed off on it, but who really knows. And then MLS has to actually award Cincinnati an expansion team, but given that the league has been twiddling its thumbs since December waiting for Cincinnati to put together a stadium deal that makes the team and league happy (read: pays for a large chunk of the costs with somebody else’s money), that’s probably a slam dunk.
If it all pans out, there is some happiness here, in that Cincinnati boasts by far the strongest fan support in the second-tier USL, and so arguably deserves a shot at an MLS club. (We will ignore the fact that in most of the world, Cincinnati could earn this promotion without anyone paying a dime just by winning games.) But man, $63 million is a lot of dough, nearly as much as Nashville is coughing up toward its MLS stadium. Soccer is still a relatively cheap date in terms of subsidies compared to the Big Four U.S. sports, but MLS is doing its best to change that, and this whole multi-city bidding war thing is working out about as well as the league could have hoped, even if it’s taking a while to get there.