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Gentrification Versus Opportunity: CPS Board Hears More Soccer Stadium Arguments

FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding takes notes as supporters and opponents to a West End soccer stadium hold signs at a CPS board meeting.
Bill Rinehart
FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding takes notes as supporters and opponents to a West End soccer stadium hold signs at a CPS board meeting.

Updated at 12:52 p.m., Friday

Cincinnati Public School Board members say they are not close to making a decision after hearing more testimony in favor and against an FC Cincinnati stadium proposal. The club proposed building a new stadium for the district on land it would buy in the West End along Ezzard Charles. In exchange, the team would build its own soccer facility where Stargel Stadium currently stands.

The deal is dependent upon FC Cincinnati receiving a Major League Soccer expansion franchise.

Opponents and supporters of the proposal spoke for more than two and a half hours at a meeting Wednesday night at Taft Information Technology High School. This was the latest community discussion about the stadium. The board heard from people at a meeting Feb. 12. The West End Community Council has also held meetings.

Many of those speaking against the deal identified themselves as West End residents, and say they're worried about the effect a stadium will have on the neighborhood.

Marsha Reece asked where was common sense. "Picture yourself at Stargel Stadium and envision a 30,000 seat stadium, and tell me that it's not going to have an impact on my kids," she said. "We don't object to a stadium, we just don't want it located in the heart of our homes."

Tim Haines said he owns a West End building that his great-great-great-grandfather owned in the 19th century. He grew up next to Hyde Park Plaza and watched it expand and force the relocation of houses, he said. "Change isn't easy. Inevitably there will be some gentrification in some cases." Haines said there can be positive effects with a new stadium.

Other speakers questioned the economic benefits promised by the club. Allie Graff said major league sports stadiums are not unknown in Cincinnati or anywhere else in the country. "If they were going to end poverty and homelessness they would have done that by now," she said. Graff says stadiums do create jobs, but they're low paying. Other speakers pointed out such positions are seasonal.

Joseph Creighton lives in the West End and owns businesses Downtown and in Over-the-Rhine. He wants to open more in the West End, he said. Creighton said a soccer stadium would be the catalyst to do that. "I want to give the people a grocery store to shop at. I don't like driving over to Newport. I don't like driving up to Clifton. I want to be in my own neighborhood." Creighton said he's saddened by the division over the stadium issue.

Whitney Mobley told the board he grew up in the West End and is a 1971 graduate of Taft. He's not opposed to a soccer stadium, but, he said he doesn't want it in the neighborhood. Mobley says a stadium will lead to higher property values and higher rents. He compared the West End to Over-the-Rhine where property values have climbed dramatically in recent years. "What's affordable housing (now)? Eight hundred dollars and up. They can't afford that. They'll get moved out, and that's what I don't want to see," Mobley said.

Several speakers pointed to gentrification as the reason for their opposition. Kevin Wallace said the West End is going to change eventually, and approving the stadium would be neighbors' best bet to having some control. Wallace said if the stadium doesn't come, Citirama would. That would mean developers building more expensive homes, he said. "What they won't give you is an ability to negotiate with them a community benefits agreement to direct this development," Wallace said.

FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding took notes during the meeting. He said he's been listening to every comment at the school board and community council meetings. "At every session I hear plenty that helps shape a community benefits agreement." Berding said. "I remain as committed as ever to work with the West End community and Cincinnati Public Schools."

Berding previously said if the West End didn't want the stadium, it would be built elsewhere. At the Feb. 12 school board meeting, he said Oakley and Newport locations were still under consideration.

Cincinnati Public Schools has an online survey. It will be available until Feb. 25 so board members can accept more input.

*This story has been updated to clarify comments by Allie Graff. 

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Rinehart has been a radio reporter since 1994 with positions in markets like Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio: and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.