Monday, August 14, 2017

A Proposed Soccer Stadium, A Stalled Development, and a Question of How We Define What Exactly is "Cincinnati"

In June 2017, local soccer club FC Cincinnati announced it was considering three potential sites to build a stadium upon. The thought of a team labeled as "Cincinnati" playing in Kentucky has drawn perhaps the strongest reactions on both sides of the argument and river. Would it be a good location? What does it say about how we view Northern Kentucky and define "Cincinnati?"

A friend and I sat down to make our cases.

- FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding debuting the club's proposed stadium plans at The Woodward Theatre on June 12, 2017.

It's lunchtime on a Friday and I'm sitting across from my friend Max at the Sports Page on Main. All around us is memorabilia highlighting the city’s two dominant pro sports franchises: the Reds and the Bengals. The food’s good, the service friendly, the carpet worn, and the furniture dated. Most of the knick knacks on the wall highlight past glory days in Queen City athletic achievement. Pete Rose’s pre banishment smile is found alongside his fellow Big Red machine members, a cartoon tiger sits crouched in old Riverfront Stadium beneath words proclaiming it to be “The Jungle,” and you can see the glare of Chris Sabo’s Rec Specs in photos from the 1990 World Series. Here and there, you'll find a few more modern pieces, things that signify the Reds’ and Bengals’ new stadium openings and occasional, but failed playoff runs from the past few years. We’re there to talk about sports, but not of the variety found on the walls of the forty year old downtown diner. We’re there to discuss soccer as we so often do. Specifically, we’re there to go back and forth about FC Cincinnati’s plans to build a new stadium in pursuit of joining Major League Soccer and our seemingly opposing views on what happens if that stadium is built in another state. A state that’s directly across the river from Downtown, just a quick bus or walk away in Newport, Kentucky.

- The view of Downtown Cincinnati as seen from what would be the approximate location of a stadium's north end.

We start our lunchtime conversation with catching up and discussing other aspects of our respective lives, so we’ll start this article by getting a few formalities out of the way as well.

1) FC Cincinnati can’t use Nippert Stadium…
…not if the club wants to be admitted into Major League Soccer, the top league of the sport in the United States. The league has made it clear that Nippert’s not an option and the club has acknowledged that. While Nippert could work long term should the team remain in the second division United Soccer League, MLS requires clubs to play in venues where they have control over revenue. Yes, there are some exceptions where teams share venues, but these clubs have common ownership with other tenants, are working to pursue their own venue, or play in a building where soccer was considered a primary tenant from the get go. User “mattkaybe” on Reddit highlighted, in depth, the lack of revenue options available at Nippert.

I like the historical American football venue on the University of Cincinnati’s campus. So does Max. I’m sure you do too, but it’s simply not an option for MLS. No matter how much County Commissioner Todd Portune wants to pander and pretend he can convince the league otherwise. FC Cincinnati wants MLS more than MLS wants FC Cincinnati (there are 11 other suitors in the court). I’ve enjoyed Nippert as an original season ticket holder, but aside from the aforementioned revenue problems, it has some major logistical issues: portable toilets, crowding in the concourses, benches rather than seats, etc.

2) The club has hired an architect and selected three potential stadium sites…
…they are (in no particular order): The Oakley and West End neighborhoods of Cincinnati, and Newport, KY right across the river from Downtown Cincinnati. The proposed stadium has been designed by renown architect Dan Meis who also created local Paul Brown Stadium and the Stadio Della Roma in Italy.

3) Paul Brown Stadium isn’t an option…
…since it would have the same aforementioned revenue complications as Nippert and is ultimately too large for the average crowds experienced by FCC (and MLS as a whole). Here’s an interesting fact, though: The Bengals organization once pursued an MLS franchise in 2002 and the facility does have seats that can be removed to make room for a soccer pitch. However, this venue is also simply not an option being considered.

- Rendering of the proposed FC Cincinnati stadium on the Newport, KY shore via MEIS architects.

Formalities aside, our chicken fingers arrive. Mine come with a side of onion rings and Max’s with a side of fries. It’s not the only difference between us today. We’re about to discuss a subject that’s been pretty contentious amongst the more rabid supporters, occasional fans, and the public alike: the possibility of a stadium in Newport, KY. The divide on that topic has been apparent since the club revealed its stadium renderings at a private event in June. Max and I were both in the room and both heard the cheering that ensued when The West End site was mentioned. We also heard the cheering for the Newport location and the smattering of “boo’s” that accompanied it.

We’re both season ticket holders and both active in the leadership of supporters groups. On match days you’ll find us at the front of The Bailey; him banging a drum and me leading cheers through a megaphone. I like him for reasons other than soccer, though. Max is a good friend, a good listener, and a good advice distributor. Frequently on the internet however, the typing of text (often limited to only a certain number of characters) doesn’t properly convey emotion. There’s no body language, little context, and no facial queues. Discussions and conversation typically seem a little more dramatic than they would be face to face. This is why I thought Max and I were squarely in opposite corners of the ring on this topic. It’s all a good lesson in why person to person conversation will always outweigh a social media parlay.

- Rendering of the proposed FC Cincinnati stadium on the Newport, KY shore via MEIS architects.

Max represents a group of individuals known as “Build it Here” whose goal is encouraging elected officials to secure “a fair deal” for building a stadium in Cincinnati rather than across state lines. FC Cincinnati has proposed $250 Million in private investment to the project and is seeking $100 Million in assistance. They’ve been clear that they’re not seeking any new taxes and could be looking to other options such as tax incentives, tax abatements, or tax increment financing similar to what other business and development projects have received in Cincinnati/Hamilton County in recent years. Build it Here would prefer to see that stadium rise up in either the Oakley or West End locations. I, however, dissent from that line of thinking.

I live in Oakley and I love it. I have to admit that I really like the thought of waking up and walking right out of my apartment on match days, seeing this modern soccer stadium on the horizon nearby. I’d never have to touch a bus, my car, or my bike. I’m within a ten minute walk of the proposed location. All that being said, I think Oakley’s a poor choice. There’s lots of great bars here for pre-match activities, but they’re all relatively small with existing audiences (and could you imagine crowding hundreds of supporters into an already packed Madtree Brewery on Saturday afternoons). The neighborhood is walkable for the most part, but the nearby Oakley Station development has been a disappointing sea of parking more fitting for the far flung reaches of suburbia than an historic urban neighborhood. Does anyone really want to hang out at Olive Garden, Steak & Shake, or the Kroger Supermarket wine bar before matches? If I had to rank potential stadium sites via my personal opinion, Oakley is dead last. Even if it’d be great for me on a personal level. So, for me, that leaves The West End and Newport in terms of personal preference.

I like The West End a lot. It’s close to the ever growing revitalization of Over-The-Rhine and the stadium would be within steps of a rail station and several bus routes. It could also help jump start fresh investment in a once dense neighborhood that was ravaged by the construction of a highway in the 1950’s. I like Newport too. To me, that site is equal with The West End. The view of the nearby skyline would be fantastic, it’s still located within the urban core, could be a huge boost to the Northern Kentucky Streetcar effort, and maybe it would help bridge this perceived notion that Northern Kentucky is somehow not “Cincinnati.” Yes, it’s not the city proper and yes it’s a different state (one that’s often poorly governed), but Northern Kentucky is an essential part of the greater metropolitan region and economy. Although born in Cincinnati, I lived in NKY for five years at a building that straddled the border between the cities of Newport and Fort Thomas. That whole time, I referred to myself as a “Cincinnatian,” because I was. I felt more connected to the Queen City when I lived in NKY than I ever did living in the suburb of West Chester 25 miles north in Ohio. Even today as a resident, worker, and taxpayer in the city proper, I still look fondly over at the NKY shore. To me, that river isn’t the giant gulf of cultural and economic differences that so many others (on both sides of it) seem to see. As songs of a Newport stadium began being sung, that divide seemed wider than ever.

- Rendering of the proposed FC Cincinnati stadium on the Newport, KY riverfront via MEIS architects.

I articulate my position to Max and touch upon a lot of the perceived competition between NKY and Cincinnati. It’s definitely true that over the years, respective governments on both sides have lured businesses from each other with incentives. The competition isn’t that constant, though, and really not all that different from the ways Cincinnati has competed with Norwood and other suburbs on the Ohio side of the river. NKY just happens to be in a different state in the Union. I touch upon how, ultimately, I believe that these two areas within our metropolitan area help lead to a better local economy rather than detract from each other. I also bring up the oft-touted urban legend about how NKY somehow “stole” the Aquarium and Levee development from Cincinnati. In fact, these projects were conceived of and designed as a way to revitalize Newport from the start and were never considered for Cincinnati (The Banks and Stadium project planning came along after the Aquarium/Levee started construction). I drive all this home to Max: despite state borders, I believe a stadium in Newport is just as good as a stadium in The West End and maybe, just maybe, it can help pull both sides of the river even closer together.

- Rendering of the proposed FC Cincinnati stadium on the Newport, KY riverfront via MEIS architects.

Max nods his head and grabs a sip of Coke before clarifying his position: he doesn't have any distinct problem with Newport or feel that crossing the bridge is that big of a deal, but he does recall how stagnant development in Cincinnati had been for most of our early lives. He remembers the frustration with how people used to skip over Cincinnati to visit places like Newport, because Cincy couldn’t “get out of its own way and get some excitement going on,” as he puts it. And he’s right, Downtown Cincinnati used to be dead in the late 90’s/early 2000’s outside of business days and sports games. Even with all the new developments and increased foot traffic happening today, downtown can often feature far less pedestrian activity than you might see in other major city urban centers.

Max continues with talking about how the Reds/Bengals stadium deals came about. A poor break for the County taxpayers who were worried about losing their pro sports teams to other cities, but ultimately two cornerstones that helped jumpstart a renewed loved for the city. Even with the best of intentions, something had to go wrong. The mixed-use development did eventually come, but that took quite awhile. Construction didn’t even start until nearly a decade after the first stadium was completed, and it’s estimated that the entire development (while quite large) won’t be fully completed until 2018, nearly twenty years after Paul Brown Stadium opened.

- Rendering of the proposed FC Cincinnati stadium on the Newport, KY riverfront via MEIS architects.

“I love FC Cincinnati, because I love Cincinnati,” Max says. He’s lived here his whole life, a two-time graduate of the University of Cincinnati. He feels truly linked to this city, but he and I will both agree that we often find ourselves defending it to outsiders, developing chips on our shoulders about our home. He continues: “This city finally started investing in itself and I feel like FCC’s kind of a culmination of that investment and that excitement.” To Max, the rise of the local soccer club, renewed civic pride, and the rebirth of the city are linked. “It’s all coming together, it’s all going for us, and…. we’re probably gonna go to Newport. And I’m thinking: ‘Cincinnati, what the hell? You’ve gotten all the way to the finish line and you’re gonna fumble the ball and have it roll across to another city and state?’” He makes it clear that he’s not saying this to “knock” Newport. He understands my points about “greater Cincinnati” and the region as a whole, but he clarifies about why he supports Cincinnati first: “I want to see any fringe benefits or tax revenues or development, particularly, happen in Cincinnati.” He sees the proposed Newport riverfront site as a location that will eventually be able to attract lucrative development whether or not it has the proposed stadium. Meanwhile, on the Ohio side, he’s worried Cincinnati may eventually loose momentum or “shoot itself in the foot,” like it has done so many times before. Max isn’t wrong, this is a fear I share too, although it’s not inherently linked to a soccer stadium. While we’ve been on a progressive upswing the last decade or so, this city does have a history of missteps that have handicapped it (for example: we’ve got subway tunnels, but you won’t be riding trains through them anytime soon).

He sees an FC Cincinnati stadium here as an opportunity to continue the positive momentum, to keep pushing for new amenities, new developments, and he wants our city to reap any potential side benefits. He’s also frustrated with the local City and County government’s reluctance or willful ignorance of trying to work something out. “We’re bickering and arguing about basically matching a deal in Newport and we’re seriously, as a city, considering losing a development deal.” Meanwhile, while I've also noticed poor press coverage and then blatant politicking of elected officials who dodge the question, I think our city (and region) still reaps multiple benefits even if the physical locale of the stadium is just out of those boundaries. Over in Kentucky, local governments have been even more quiet than Ohio’s. They haven’t put forth a deal per se, but maybe that's because an incentive already exists.

- Present day view of the proposed Newport stadium site.

The proposed Newport location is located on riverfront property currently owned by a “real estate focused investment company” known as Corporex. The 52 year old organization has properties and projects throughout Ohio and as far west as Colorado, but is headquartered in Covington, KY. The majority of their developments have been in the greater-Cincinnati area with some notable local examples being The Ascent, RiverCenter Towers, and The Academy at Saint Gregory. One highly touted local development still yet to be realized is “Ovation” in Newport. The project has been stalled since the economic recession of 2008 and ever since, there’s been a few rumblings here and there, but no actual construction just yet.

- A faded advertisement for the delayed development still sits on the site.

According to FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding, his club has a “memorandum of understanding” signed with Corporex. If a new stadium were to go here, it could be the catalyst to starting the long awaited mixed-use development. Currently, the area is a vast field of grass and lonely streets where older residential apartments were once located. According to a State of Kentucky document entitled “Tax Increment Financing Projects with State Participation,” the Ovation site has a “Signautre” tax increment financing agreement that received “Final Approval” on November 28, 2007. The TIF is good for 30 years, covers a development area of 65 acres, and can receive a max “Total Incentive Amount” of “$344,287,618.” Such an economic incentive could theoretically be used to close the funding gap that would follow FC Cincinnati and Majority Owner Carl Lindner III’s contribution in addition to finally jump starting the long awaited Ovation project.

- Overview of the currently vacant Ovation site.

Meanwhile in Cincinnati, the club is currently reviewing options for a financing or incentive plan on the Ohio side of the river. While most recently a potential deal with the Port Authority has been speculated, the club has been adamant about there not being a new tax. Previous reports indicated the team may be looking at options for tapping into the existing stadium sales tax, approved (but not fondly remembered) by voters in 1996. Jeff Berding is well aware of that, recently telling WCPO: “This community has been scarred by our experience on the riverfront. I was part of that.” Berding helped organize the campaign for the 1996 stadium vote that saw the Reds and Bengals receive new stadiums on the Ohio riverfront. Later, he served as an executive with the Bengals and was elected to Cincinnati City Council. While Max’s Build it Here group seeks to advocate a deal in Cincinnati, it appears one already exists in Newport.

- Remnants of the now demolished apartment buildings at the Ovation site in Newport.

Political talk out of the way, Max and I shift to another point. In all fairness, this one isn’t the most important to him, but it’s definitely an example of the emotional reactions from people on both sides of the issue (or river, if you will):

“For me, there’s a little cognitive dissonance singing about Cincinnati [in the stands] knowing I’m across the river in Newport, Kentucky.”

And that’s the crux of the issue for many people. The club would still be called “FC Cincinnati,” but would actually be located in Newport, KY. While this point is secondary for Max, who’s primary goal is to see the stadium keep propelling the city proper in a positive direction, it’s definitely a huge issue for some. I’ve seen comments ranging from people who’d rather have the team playing in the city, rather than looking at its picturesque skyline from across the river, to those who claim they’d outright cancel their season tickets if the stadium was in Newport. Once, there was a full fledged Twitter debate about the logistics of whether or not a supporters march could theoretically cross the Taylor-Southgate Bridge (spoiler: it could). This “cognitive dissonance” Max speaks of is very real for some, a moot point for others. Speaking as someone who’s lived on both sides of the river, it only existed for me as clerical thing. Once a citizen of the Commonwealth, I felt myself to be a “Cincinnatian” even if I had to register my car with bluegrass license plates. Yeah, I wasn’t a resident of the Queen City within its designated geographic boundaries, but I still spent a good deal of my time and money there.

So let's take a quick step back, into a time machine for a moment. Let’s pretend that this nation had formed differently. Let’s say that the Ohio River (which is actually predominately under the purview of Kentucky) isn’t a state boundary, that Northern Kentucky ended up as part of Ohio in 1803. Wouldn’t Newport, Covington, Bellevue, etc. just be like any other Cincinnati neighborhood? Don’t they somewhat feel that way today? True, they’re their own municipalities flying the flag of a nearby state, but I don’t need a passport to access them. As a Cincinnati resident, I often find myself still patronizing NKY businesses (The Hannaford is a fantastic bar and Coppin’s has one of the best brunches in the area). Let’s take this hypothetical history even further: let’s say NKY became part of Ohio, but all the cities over there remained independent. In reality, Cincinnati never really did much to expand its civic borders like so many other major American cities. Even within its footprint, the independent Ohio cities/villages of St. Bernard, Elmwood Place, and Norwood exist. Would people still oppose a stadium in Newport if it was at least in Ohio? How would they feel if Norwood was trying to offer up a parcel of land to cash in on a development deal or if St. Bernard had a desired location available? Does the aforementioned “cognitive dissonance” still exist?

In the end, these hypotheticals don’t mean anything. Newport is another city, it is in another state. For many, even outside of the stadium debate, this boundary is truly a defining thing. I’ve met people on both sides of the river who claim they never cross. I’ve also met many more who don’t care, state lines be damned. To me, Northern Kentucky isn’t this far away, foreign land. In my mind, having the club play over there in a stadium of their own is just fine, even if their uniforms are still emblazoned with the name of Cincinnati. That’s because to me, Cincinnati is more than just one city (and one which I love dearly). Cincinnati is part of a greater region, one consisting of 2.1 Million people across three separate states. People from all across that region currently flock to see this club on match days. Those people make up the fan base that’s being pitched to Major League Soccer as deserving of expansion consideration. These are the people who have already made this club such a success. The City of Cincinnati just happens to be the centerpiece, and while it’s a mighty fine centerpiece, there are things all across this region that come together to make it great.

Cultural differences aside, there are other factors that make the border seem “a lot wider than it is physically,” as Max says. There’s a reason why an eternal flame burns on Cincinnati’s shore at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a building which features a former slave cabin from Kentucky. The border we’re discussing used to be a defining line between North and South, between freedom and enslavement for some. Although the government of Kentucky turned to the Union for help during the Civil War, the Commonwealth maintained the practice of slavery until after the end of the conflict. For Max, that history cuts a little deep, he’s half black and sporting a surname with roots to ancestors brought here in the slave trade. To be clear, Max isn’t stating all this to disparage a stadium in Kentucky, rather, he’s making the point that to some, the border is very real. It can represent cultural, historic, regional, and economic divides. For many, it elicits an emotional reaction whether their opinion may seem rational or not. We both agree that like he tells me: “it’s a shame that borders matter at all.”  But sports themselves, like arguments, are often irrational. We place a great deal of importance and emotional weight into watching events that are mostly beyond our control. We cry tears of joy when FCC upsets Chicago in penalty kicks and we seethe with rage after bad officiating hands us a defeat against Rochester.

My hope with a Newport stadium would be that maybe, having this super popular sports team and the attention they receive would help link the two regions even closer. They’ll always still have their own cultures and own identities. Same as they would if they happened to be Cincinnati neighborhoods or Ohio cities in an alternate timeline. But maybe “Cincinnati” doesn’t just mean the geographic boundaries of a location, rather the region as a whole. Ultimately, that’s what we are. Maybe FC Cincinnati playing at the meeting of the Licking and Ohio Rivers can further erode this irrational stigma that many feel when having thoughts about crossing the river. Maybe it brings us even closer together.

I explain this to Max and not only does he genuinely understand, he doesn’t necessarily disagree. To his key point though, and I absolutely see where he’s coming from: this stadium could be yet another boost in helping to redevelop Cincinnati. I counter with this: maybe this development is something better for Newport than what’s happened so far. While the Aquarium is still a popular attraction, “Newport on the Levee” itself is a far cry from what was originally envisioned, just recently completing its second phase 15 years after the first. Essentially, it’s no different than any other shopping mall in design and how it has played out. Tenants have dropped left and only a movie theatre has been a strong mainstay. Having a stadium as an attraction could spur better development around the area than a shopping mall ever has. Presumably, this new stadium is the start of transforming an empty swath of land on the riverfront. It could be a catalyst for truly successful mixed-use development like we’ve seen in Cincinnati.

- The Veteran's Memorial Bridge links the proposed Newport stadium site directly with Covington, KY. Perhaps new development would spur improvements to pedestrian and cycling access on this bridge.

Boundaries, emotional reasoning, and history aside: there’s some interesting logistical scenarios with each site. Arguably, Newport has the best parking/highway access situation. A large garage already exists nearby and the stadium would likely be built upon or near another. I-471/71 is easily accessible, there’s connections to I-75 in nearby Covington, and the new Licking Pike Connector would link the site with the AA Highway. In terms of transit, while I’d love to eventually see the Northern Kentucky Streetcar realized and linking with Cincinnati’s system, the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky could modify and extend the hours of their Southbank Shuttle service which already connects Newport with popular spots in Covington and Downtown Cincinnati. The West End site is near current rail/bus connections with close access to I-75. Oakley has easy access from I-71 along with one of the more frequent bus routes which runs along Madison Rd. All three sites would likely require the construction of garages or additional parking (hopefully designed in a proper way with respect to their surroundings), but ultimately are no less accessible than where the team currently plays in Uptown.

- Construction of the Licking Pike Connector near the proposed stadium/OVation site.

No matter where the team goes, myself and my friends will likely have to leave our current (and beloved) pregame spot of Mecklenburg Gardens. West End is near OTR and many great bars whereas Oakley, as mentioned before, features several neighborhood watering holes with existing audiences that while nice, are rather small. Newport has some spots too, none of which sound particularly appealing off hand, but there is the advantage of being close to Downtown Cincinnati and many great spots in Covington, KY.  For those that don’t think anyone would traverse the river on match days from Cincy to Newport, go watch the opposite flow of people on days when the Reds play. You’ll see fans coming across the Purple People, Roebling, and Taylor-Southgate bridges. I’d also love to see the ferry service from Newport to Cincinnati’s Public Landing operate in reverse, what would be a unique match day experience.

- The BB Riverboats Fleet docked near what would be the stadium's North End. Another riverboat company currently provides water taxi service between Newport and Great American Ballpark nearby.

Currently, a march of supporters walks through the uptown neighborhoods and into Nippert Stadium on match days. My group, Die Innenstadt, kicks this off and joins with others along the way. Presently, we’re already marching a mile before making it to the stadium itself. Going from downtown, over the river, and into KY would be comparable. While the bridge’s pedestrian walkways can be tight, they’re no different than some of the existing sidewalks we already traverse. Point is: no matter where this stadium lands, a march can still exist and people will adapt. Even in Newport, KY.

Logistics aside, there’s also the issue of displacement. There are residents in all of the proposed communities that will be affected. Currently, there’s no specific, finely detailed site plans available. While the Oakley location would be least likely to displace any residents, the neighboring community would certainly be affected by the appearance of a soccer-specific stadium that would also be used for non-soccer events such as concerts. In Newport, it’s my understanding that the nearby apartments would likely meet the wrecking ball and that this has been understood since they were spared when the original Ovation development stalled. Specifics on The West End site are not currently available, but local leaders have expressed both caution and optimism. It’s too early to judge how a stadium plan will effect a community until a site and its details are determined, but I would hope that the club is willing to listen and plan to meet any potential concerns or conflicts. With any stadium deal, nearby development will certainly follow and the communities will be changed. Thankfully, one positive so far has been the club mentioning its interest in public transit and the urban environment at its June stadium design reveal.

- Remnants of the demolished apartment complex and streets at the currently vacant Ovation site.

While I’m fully open to the idea of Newport (right along with the West End), I understand where Max is coming from. There’s a chance to get this done in Cincinnati and I don’t disagree with or disparage his efforts to advocate for that. In the end, he’s not against Newport, he just prefers Cincinnati first. Even if that means Oakley above Kentucky. “As a belligerently pro Cincinnati person, I want to see every dollar and cent that, that team generates to go back into the city that it reflects. I'm paranoid that this city will crash and burn at any moment and it needs all the help it can get, cause it is very prone to shooting itself in the foot," He says.

Max sees a stadium in Cincinnati proper as a chance for the city to continue its renaissance and while I agree, I can see a Newport stadium as a chance to tie the region even closer together. Maybe Newport can get in on the renaissance Cincinnati has been experiencing. While “The Levee” was once the apple of everyone’s eye, other ambitious developments on the KY riverfront have failed to materialize or disappeared. The Covington Landing is long gone and things like the 1,000 ft. Millennium Freedom Tower were never going to happen.

In the end, we’re not squarely opposed to each other's viewpoints after all. Talking about them in person, rather than on Twitter, gives us a chance to clarify and understand in a way Facebook comments never could. Even if we don’t ultimately agree on something as trivial as a stadium location for a pro sports team, we’re very aware that this isn’t the kind of issue to find divisive or attack someone over.

Ultimately, we love our city, our region, and our home. We’re here to support this soccer club, one which we see as an extension of that civic pride. We believe that pursuing admission to Major League Soccer is a worthy goal: one that would deliver Cincinnati a third major league sports team, increase the notoriety of our city, and bring the nation’s best soccer to the area. However, wherever they go, we’ll follow: whether that’s in Oakley, the West End, Newport, or even sticking it out in the USL.

I would hope that anyone reading this takes the time to consider our viewpoints before expressing theirs. There’s a good chance that this stadium may land where you don’t want it to. I hope that no matter what happens, we’re able to take a step back and see all the things that make the Cincinnati area great. In the end, I hope you’ll follow along with people such as Max and I as we support not just soccer, but “Cincinnati” as well.

- Downtown Cincinnati as seen with Newport, KY in the foreground. A NKY stadium would be located just below Great American Ballpark, on the Kentucky riverfront.

Update | August 2, 2018:


  1. If you had to build the stadium today, I think Newport is the best option. Besides the psychological cons, I think the access to the site is actually pretty tight and isolated by the rivers. Another huge minus is the need to rebuild new parking infrastructure for 30,000 fans to utilize the stadium, which is taken for granted at Nippert and at most of the sites being talked about.

    If you could wait 1-2 years, I think the IRS site in Covington could become a better short-termer option. With a little bit better access and Mainstraus already in place to serve its needs. Same general problems as Newport though.

    If you took the time to do it right, I think you could find better sites on the Ohio side, but they aren't shovel ready. The West End site is and will always be a mess to aggregate; probably not viable or worth the brain damage. That was more of a desperate attempt at a truly urban site. Even though it's walkable to OTR, you'd run into preservation issues, especially when thinking about the additional parking infrastructure needed. Streetcar access would need extended closer if that many people are headed there that frequently, good luck relying on that at least initially.

    The best site not being seriously looked at is just south of the casino. There's enough room between Eggleston, Gilbert, and the south side of the casino building if you get rid of Reedy St and bridge over Court/casino loading dock areas. It's tight so you'd need to design creatively. The flat iron building could potentially be incorporated. You could then have fans march from Nation, Rhinehaus, and Arnolds. Plenty of parking nearby and you could add a garage on the west side of Eggleston to block the jail from view. It would take time to collect all the smaller parcels (one of which an FCC owner already owns) but street land could be chipped in by the city as incentive and there might be extra TIF money from the casino already sitting there to use.

    1. Hey Matt,

      Thanks for taking the time to write out such an awesome comment.

      I believe that the club has stated they need to give the league a final stadium plan by the end of summer/early fall. I was a little surprised to see the IRS site not considered as well (ultimately I think Covington has a better collection of restaurants/bars nearby and environment). I wonder though what the deal is with that site, if maybe they can't get anything firm together in time. It also probably doesn't hurt that the Newport land has an existing and generous TIF agreement in place.

      I was also surprised to see that when the sites were announced, the south casino site wasn't considered. I think the plan you mentioned seems totally plausible. You also have everything you need in place: transit, rail, super close proximity to TWO restaurant/nightlife areas, etc. Like you, I also thought that flatiron building being incorporated into a stadium would be unique.

      Would love to hear the full story on why these sites weren't considered.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Sadly, I am a proponent of trying to make a deal for the 90 acres at Cincinnati Mills. I see the pitch and stadium there as a beacon to development of soccer specific pubs, hotels, and eateries. I realize the 55 million price tag is huge but the idea of replacing that tired old "one too many" mall with a venue ripe for tailgating, exhibition friendlies, US Soccer matches, possible world cup qualifiers and gold cup matches, all while driving the 275 loop and seeing a truly gorgeous stadium in place of the "ick".......sigh.....dare to dream. I love dear old Nippert, I ran down those steps and marched on that field many times. I realize a shift to the suburbs is unpopular but with a central location to both the Westchester/Liberty Township crowds, easy access to eastside, westside,(avoiding the bridge traffic) and the ability to develop the site.....I'm a huge proponent. Unfortunately any site will have pros and cons, I just want the momentum to stay, the support to stay, and let's not mess this up ruining the diverse, multicultural nature of the FCC experience. I've met fans from Mexico, many Latin American Countries, England, Russia and many others at the matches. That, to me, is what really counts.

    1. Mike, thanks for the comment!

      I think you present some valid points, but I don't believe the Cincinnati Mall site is a good location. Having grown up around there and having witnessed that mall rise and fall several times, I'd really love to see that land become something useful. However, I think the Northern Suburbs are a terrible place for a stadium. There's no transit connections, nowhere nearby to eat or hang out before the march, pedestrian access is incredibly poor, and really the only benefit is land. There's been a trend with recent stadiums to build in urban/dense environments and Cincinnati Mall would be like so many other MLS stadiums in the suburbs.

      You're right though, all sites will have their pros/cons and I do hope that eventually the land that mall occupies becomes something useful.

      Definitely agree with the momentum and I think whether this club makes MLS or stays in the USL, that momentum and positive energy will continue. I'd love to see them move up, but my favorite part about all of this is the people it brings together.

      Thanks for reading.

  3. Extremely well considered, Ronny. I was active in Newport politics at the time. The way I remember it, the levee and the aquarium weren't "stolen." Aquarium investors, I was told, saw an opportunity in the Cincinnati market, suggested, and seriously considered, a location on Cincinnati's riverfront. (As well as Covington, BTW) At the time - the 1990's (as you hinted in your text) Cincinnati lacked a consensus on what to do with that land and Aquarium proposers didn't want to wait around to find out what city council was up to. (Remember PBS opened in 2000. The Aquarium in 1999.) Characterizing the Cincinnati situation as confusing would not be a stretch.

    I vividly remember the energy Newport's development director, Laura Long, put into it. Newport was aggressive about it - no doubt - and worked hard to get the aquarium. Newport, at the time, more than Cincinnati or Covington, was riding a grassroots populist wave of consensus that was unmatched in energy. Ronny, what QC/D suggests is the further development and maturation of dialog to offer a direction for generating more regional consensus. That's what we needs more than anything else.

    But hey, things turned out didn't they. I suspect The Banks owes much of its success to Northern Kentucky as well.

    Nick Rechtin

    1. Nick,

      It most definitely does. There's no doubt that attractions (zoo, Kings Island, sports teams, aquarium, etc) draw from both sides of the river. I don't see a soccer stadium on that shore being any different. To my friend's point, I can appreciate the City of Cincinnati reaping as many benefits as possible, but I don't see this as a rivalry situation. As far as I can see, Newport and Downtown Cincinnati are just two neighborhoods so to speak.

      I believe, from what I can find from newspapers, that the aquarium deal was finalized in 96 before we even had a stadium vote.

      The only thing I can definitely find as "stolen" was Hofbrahaus, which made public statements about not being able to find a suitable location in Cincinnati and instead opting for Northern Kentucky when Newport was taking off.

      Not a big loss for me, that place is unbearable most nights.

  4. No more tax dollars for sports venues. I'm tired of paying for it.

  5. Thorough and provoking conversation. Thank you so much for articulating it well. This was a refreshing read about a topic that has been so sour lately. I so appreciate your perspective and openness to listen. #justffckingbuildit

  6. If you build it in Newport, they will come! As a proud FC Cincinnati fan, it gives me goosebumps to imagine walking across the Taylor Southgate with thousands of my fellow supporters marching beside me. It would be amazing to see the bridge packed with blue and orange! The 3D Renderings show it best, how could it be built anywhere but Newport? It's impossible to get a better backdrop for a venue than the beautifully lit Cincinnati skyline! Have faith in our fans, especially the young families of Greater Cincinnati! I have never found a Cincinnati resident who "doesn't cross the river". If you build it in Newport, they will come!

    1. I like the optimism. Hopefully whichever site is chosen, we'll all continue to rally around this club. Even if it's in Oakley!

  7. Great work Ronny. Love reading your articles. This club would be at a huge loss without supporters like yourself & Max.

  8. Great article, thanks for putting it together. I agree with your assertion that we are a region more so than simply the city of Cincinnati. I often hear the subject of taxation at the core of arguments both for and against this project. Many Cincinnatians point to their desire for any and all tax revenue to remain in their city. But I wonder if they ever consider the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of KY fans who have seen our money flow directly into Ohio coffers for decades. I completely understand their desire for that money, but I would argue it's no greater than our desire to see it come our way for a change. KY residents are no lesser fans of our local teams, and we patronize local concerts and events in droves, but we rarely if ever reap any of the financial rewards from those events. It's time for that to change.
    Jay Yates

  9. This article is spot on; I as a Kentucky resident agree wholeheartedly with Ronny and his views. Thoroughly thought out; even down to the facts on Kentucky never leaving the Union during the civil war and asking the Union Army for assistance in protecting itself from the Confederates. (A fact which most Ohioans most likely don't know).