Cincin­nati move hits Detroit’s MLS bid

Ohio city’s sta­dium fi­nanc­ing deal clears way for fran­chise

The Detroit News - - Sports - BY GREGG KRUPA The Detroit News

Detroit — It looks like The Queen City might well beat The Mo­tor City into Ma­jor League Soc­cer.

The Cincin­nati City Coun­cil Mon­day ap­proved $33.8 mil­lion in in­fras­truc­ture fi­nanc­ing for a soc­cer sta­dium, clear­ing the way for MLS to award an ex­pan­sion fran­chise to the Ohio city, in­stead of Detroit.

The vote came one day be­fore the MLS board of gov­er­nors meets in New York City to­day to dis­cuss the ex­pan­sion, which the league has twice de­layed.

While the sta­dium deal in Cincin­nati fol­lowed a me­an­der­ing, un­cer­tain path to the fi­nal gov­ern­ment ap­proval, the Detroit bid sat be­fore MLS, a league yearn­ing for ex­pan­sion, for five months.

The lo­cal pro­posal by the bil­lion­aire busi­ness­men and NBA own­ers Dan Gil­bert and Tom Gores, and Martha Fire­stone Ford, who owns the Lions, re­mained fully-pre­pared since De­cem­ber, the orig­i­nal dead­line for MLS ac­tion, while Cincin­nati scram­bled to se­cure one of three sites, amid com­mu­nity and gov­ern­ment op­po­si­tion.

The Detroit pro­posal would put the soc­cer pitch in Ford Field, af­ter Gil­bert and Gores orig­i­nally pro­posed play­ing in a new sta­dium, de­signed specif­i­cally for soc­cer, on the site of the trou­bled Wayne County jail, near Greek­town.

MLS of­fi­cials clearly pre­ferred to wait for Cincin­nati and the fi­nal gov­ern­ment ap­provals for a soc­cer-spe­cific, pri­vately-fi­nanced, 21,000-seat sta­dium, that would lie be­tween Nip­pert Sta­dium and I-75, along the river­front of the city.

With the out­come of the vote Mon­day at a spe­cial city coun­cil meet­ing in doubt un­til the city clerk called the roll, MLS ex­er­cised ex­treme pa­tience.

The sta­dium site is in the West End, a Cincin­nati neigh­bor­hood razed in the 1950s for ur­ban re­newal projects that re­mains in search of needed re­vi­tal­iza­tion 60 years later.

The pro­posal, which in­cludes land owned by the Cincin­nati Pub­lic Schools, faced sig­nif­i­cant lo­cal op­po­si­tion from res­i­dents.

MLS has de­layed award­ing the sec­ond fran­chise in its most re­cent round of ex­pan­sion, af­ter mak­ing the first award to Nashville.

In ad­di­tion to Cincin­nati, Detroit is com­pet­ing with Sacra­mento for a slot in the high­es­trank­ing pro­fes­sional soc­cer league in North Amer­ica.

A spokesman for the Detroit bid­ders de­clined com­ment Mon­day.

The pro­posal to play at Ford Field, which would be the only in­door sta­dium in Ma­jor League Soc­cer, flies in the face of the pub­licly-stated in­ten­tions of league of­fi­cials to ex­pand to cities that de­velop soc­cer-spe­cific sta­di­ums in ur­ban cen­ters.

But MLS Com­mis­sioner Don Gar­ber also has said the Detroit bid makes good use of Ford Field.

If Cincin­nati re­ceives the fran­chise, Detroit and Sacra­mento will re­main in the run­ning for even more MLS ex­pan­sion. The league an­nounced in 2016 it would award two fran­chises in 2017 and two more as soon as 2018.

But with an ear­lier bid from Mi­ami, which in­cludes the re­tired soc­cer star David Beck­ham, awarded just re­cently, some gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in Nashville seek­ing to re­open their deal, and Cincin­nati so hard-pressed to site a sta­dium, award­ing two more fran­chises be­fore the end of the year seems like a chal­leng­ing timetable.

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