Cincinnati City Council approves infrastructure funds for MLS stadium

FC Cincinnati received a major boost in its hope to build a stadium and secure an MLS expansion slot when the Cincinnati City Council approved an infrastructure package in a narrow vote on Monday.

Voting 5 to 4 to pass the ordinance, the Council agreed to provide $34.8 million in infrastructure costs while the team will build and pay for a 21,000-seat, $212.5m stadium in the West End neighborhood.

But before those steps can go forward, MLS -- whose owners meet Tuesday in Los Angeles -- must announce Cincinnati as the league's next expansion team. Cincinnati is one of three finalists -- along with Detroit and Sacramento, California -- to join Nashville as new clubs in this wave of expansion.

The Council vote comes after Cincinnati Public Schools agreed to give the soccer club the land it sought in exchange for building a new $10 million high school stadium and contributing to property taxes.

Monday's vote nearly didn't pass as councilman Jeff Pastor was holding out for a community benefits agreement, which FC Cincinnati general manager Jeff Berding, a former councilman himself, supplied on Monday.

"This is a win-win, once in a lifetime opportunity," Pastor said, according to WCPO.

Those opposed to the plan pointed out that the community agreement is not binding, but Berding said he wanted to be a "good neighbor," and called the deal a "great opportunity to improve people's lives in the West End."

FC Cincinnati has been playing at the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium since joining the USL in 2016, but MLS has long prioritized the inclusion of a soccer-specific stadium in its expansion plans.

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, the latter of which has said it wants to play at an NFL stadium. But uncertainty over where FCC would build a stadium had seen the process drag out.

Since joining the USL in 2016, FC Cincinnati has been a major success story, averaging over 21,000 fans in 16 home games last season and beating two MLS clubs in the U.S. Open Cup in front of more than 30,000 fans.

On April 7, the club set a USL record with 25,667 fans for its home opener against defending champions Louisville City.