Cincinnati school board demands the soccer club pay taxes in exchange for land
Photo courtesy of Mike Moroski | West End community members attended a meeting held by the Board of Education at Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School regarding the potential land swap with FC Cincinnati.
The wild match between FC Cincinnati and the CPS School Board has officially gone into overtime, but the winner isn’t clear.
FCC made a statement on Friday night interpreted by many as an official declaration of its intention to build somewhere other than the West End.
“FC Cincinnati regrets that it will be unable to construct a stadium in the West End community and have moved our focus to Oakley and Newport,” the statement said. “While we are disappointed we will not be neighbors with our new friends in the West End, we are committed to remaining partners working to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.”
The statement appeared to end a week of negotiations between the board and the club regarding the potential construction.
Here’s the situation: In order to become an official Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise, FCC needs to have a soccer-specific stadium. It considered spots in West End, Oakley and Newport but expressed a particular interest in the West End neighborhood, according to the Enquirer.
To make that happen, FCC and CPS needed to negotiate a land-swap deal. The proposal was that FCC would tear down CPS’ Stargel Stadium, build its new stadium in its place and then construct CPS another stadium in a different part of the neighborhood.
On March 14, FCC came to CPS with a proposal offering $750,000 a year for the next 10 years along with a demand for a decision by 5 p.m. that day. CPS held emergency executive sessions and issued a response that the amount was half of what it needed. A few days later, FCC released its statement expressing that it would not begin construction in the neighborhood.
The board has until Wednesday, March 21, to vote on an official resolution.
Xavier graduate and board member Mike Moroski offered insight into the board’s thinking and decision-making processes throughout the negotiations.
“The state of Ohio funds our schools unconstitutionally through property tax. In Ohio things happen to us. It just so happened that now a big key component piece of land that these developers need is ours, which is the only reason we’re at the table,” Moroski said. “I’ve always wanted to be at the table. I’d much rather be at the table than throwing rocks at the window.”
According to Moroski, in order to spur development, the Port Authority would allow FCC to avoid paying taxes for one year.
“So, the plan was, on their end, it appears, to pay no taxes and come to us and say here’s 70 grand. That’s happened three times now. This fourth time is where we’re going to see really what happens.”
The Board of Education kept its voting public and held public meetings at Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School to ensure the community’s voice was heard.
The school board’s decision has been a controversial one, according to Moroski, who said that CPS’ “most recent letter demanding $2 million per the 1999 agreement…has been praised by attorneys, politicians, West End residents, leaders in the African-American community and the organized labor community, etc.”
“This is not a normal thing that you have a governing body that is a public school board of all things, holding billionaires feet to the fire on behalf of a historically poor black neighborhood … This is a neighborhood that has been lied to every step of the way, their entire existence, by developers,” Moroski said, “with a lot of history of being taken advantage of.”
Moroski said those who criticized the board’s response included developers and fans.
“I respect that, I get it,” Moroski said. “It’s not their job to get all the nuances of public financing and development and community benefits agreements.”
Moroski says he is proud of standing with the West End.
“FC Cincinnati may tell us to go packing after this final offer we’ve given them, which would be fine, or they could acquiesce to our ask, in which case it would set a new precedent nationally on how public school boards interact with developers. It would be neat if developers listened to people elected to oversee the education of kids and steward the public dollar.”
FCC’s statement Friday night emphasized the potential effects the deal could have had on the West End neighborhood.
“This was a once in a lifetime development opportunity for a neighborhood that wants and needs new investment, and the jobs and business opportunities that would have come with it,” the statement said.
In Moroski’s own words, “If they don’t take it, we’ll be known as two things: the public school board with guts, the only public school board in recent memory that has stood up to wealthy developers and billionaires on behalf of kids, and we’ll be known simultaneously as a bunch of losers who ruined the city.”
By: Brittany Wells ~Staff Writer~