FC Cincinnati's bid to secure a stadium site in the city's West End neighborhood has obtained the support of a critical number of members of the Cincinnati City Council, putting the team as close as it has ever been to obtaining an MLS expansion franchise.
MLS had stated that it would name two expansion teams by the end of last year, but only announced Nashville, leaving one of Cincinnati, Sacramento and Detroit to fill the second spot.
Given the financial heft of FCC's ownership group, one that includes billionaire Carl Lindner III, Cincinnati has long been viewed as being ahead of both Sacramento and Detroit. But uncertainty over where FCC would build a stadium had seen the process drag out well into 2018.
Now, a level of clarity has been achieved.
Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced on Friday that he will support a proposal to build a 21,000-seat stadium for $200 million on the current site of Willard R. Stargel Stadium -- a facility which currently serves a number of public schools in the city.
That gives the proposal the needed five votes to pass, though councilman Sittenfeld said it is unclear exactly when it will be voted on by the city council.
"I think we realize that there are time constraints," councilman Sittenfeld said in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC. "We wanted to get out the parameters of a plan today so the community has time to understand it, to react to it, to let our elected colleagues deliberate on it.
"This has been a long conversation for the community and I think we've put forward something that really is a win for the community, a win for the city as a whole, and can be a win for the team.
"It's felt like there have been a lot of rolling deadlines with this process. The next deadline is truly going to be a hard one. We're going to be responsive to that."
Cincinnati Public Schools must also approve the deal. Councilman Sittenfeld hinted strongly that would be achieved.
"I don't want to speak for my elected colleagues, but I like putting forward plans that have majority support from all different governmental bodies," he said. "I certainly wouldn't have gone forward with this if that wasn't going to be the case here."
FCC president and GM Jeff Berding said he was "as encouraged as I've been in a long time" about the news.
FCC has the kind of downtown site that MLS has pushed for and the path to an expansion franchise now seems free of obstacles. But as a former Cincinnati City Council member, Berding wasn't celebrating just yet.
"Until the votes are counted, you shouldn't celebrate the goal," he said. "I'm enormously encouraged. It's real breakthrough, and we feel really good about the opportunity. We're going to continue to work with the mayor, the council members, and the community leaders to get it over the goal line."
The biggest sticking point in terms of the West End site had been how much FCC would pay in property taxes, with Cincinnati Public Schools demanding $2 million per year and FCC offering $100,000.
The current proposal will see FCC pay $25 million, with Sittenfeld stating some of that would be in the form of a lump-sum payment. The proposal also includes $15 million that will go towards affordable housing, as well as a community benefits agreement.
The city will put forward $34m for stadium infrastructure, while FCC have agreed to build a new $10 million high school stadium across the street to replace Stargel Stadium.
"It was both non-negotiable and a game-changer for me, and I think the thing I'm proudest of was that I got that legally binding commitment that FCC is going to pay its full share of taxes," said Sittenfeld.