FC Cincinnati training facility likely coming to Milford

Expressway Park at 689 US-50 in Milford, Ohio, would be the site of FC Cincinnati’s new practice facility, if the board of county commissioners approves the 1 percent hotel tax lodging fee needed to finance the new facility.
One of several renderings of the proposed FC Cincinnati training facility that could be built at the current Max Expressway Park in Milford. The construction of the facility is contingent on the county commissioners passing a 1 percent increase to the hotel tax. Photo provided.

By Garth Shanklin and Brett Milam
Sports Editor/Editor

Clermont County is getting in on the FC Cincinnati phenomenon.

Probably.

At a special meeting of the Milford City Council on Tuesday, June 26, representatives from FC Cincinnati, the City of Milford and the Clermont County Convention & Visitors Bureau gave a presentation about a proposed $30 million training facility, to be built on the current site of Max Expressway Park in Milford.

There is one catch: the Clermont County Commissioners must approve a 1 percent increase to the county hotel tax in order to make the project happen. Should the tax pass, Clermont County would become one of just four counties in Ohio with a professional training facility, joining Hamilton County (Reds, Bengals), Cuyahoga County (Indians, Cavaliers, Browns) and Franklin County (Blue Jackets, Crew). The site is also expected to add 50-60 jobs to the county.

At the meeting, FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding talked about several key reasons Milford was chosen for the project.

“The accessibility of this location – being near major transportation routes and at the center of our youth development radius – gives us the perfect home base as we enter Major League Soccer in 2019 and also launch our FCC Youth Academy,” Berding said.

Berding said sites were considered throughout the tri-state, including Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont Counties in Ohio and other locations in Northern Kentucky. In addition to the proposed Milford site, the Red Barn in Batavia off of State Route 32 was also considered, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Another rendering of the proposed FC Cincinnati training facility that could be built at the current Max Expressway Park in Milford. Photo provided.

According to Milford City Manager Michael Doss, the city initially approached FC Cincinnati with a different property last year.

“About a year ago, this month, we were approached by some individuals in Clermont County talking about a significant opportunity for the City of Milford,” Doss said. “We did an internal inventory of properties we had available, and we discovered one property in particular…Unfortunately, we discovered through that process that site was not going to be feasible for the city or the club.”

Doss said he was introduced to Bob Owens, of Expressway Park, where he found out they were looking to sell the property and retire. Doss said he reached out to FC Cincinnati, and eventually they came to the conclusion that “this was the right spot for FC Cincinnati.”

The park is big enough, with opportunities for expansion, according to Doss. That was one of several key features of the site, along with the suburban location, proximity to a major interchange, and the fact that the site is already zoned to accommodate sports.

Should the facility come to Milford, the impact on the local economy is expected to be enormous.

According to data provided by the CVB, just the practice facility alone could bring up to roughly $1.6 million in spending from tournaments and academy programs. That number could increase to $6.7 million in time due to other events in the area tied to the facility, such as tournaments.

A map of the proposed facility. Photo provided.

“This will take some time to build up to,” Blum said. “It will take time to build up those relationships with the tournaments. We’re very excited about that. The programs, the tournaments, the future academy, it’s all very exciting.”

In addition, with the United States being named as one of the hosts of the 2026 World Cup, Berding said the facility could give local soccer fans the chance to see World Cup teams in action, should Cincinnati be chosen to host games.

“It’s not just about FC Cincinnati, and it’s not just about the community here,” Berding said. “We truly believe in bringing the World Cup here in 2026. We are one of the finalists to host games, and our training center will be the home to one of those teams in the World Cup.”

Should the hotel tax pass, the site would be transformed into a facility that includes a first team building (for the MLS squad), an academy/locker building, a grounds facility, and three soccer fields (two grass, one turf). The concept plan for the site is preliminary, and could change. Berding said one of the other, more important aspects of the site was its availability.

“It’s accessible to us quickly,” Berding said. “We’re going to need to be at this site in 37 weeks, so we don’t have a lot of time. We worked very hard to be planning this over the course of the last couple years because we were hopeful of getting the franchise in 2019. We did, and it’s a good thing we’ve been doing the homework up to that point because we didn’t have a whole lot of time. Candidly, it’s because of all the homework, the planning we’ve been doing that gave MLS confidence that we would be ready to go. We’re going to be training our players for MLS right around the turn of the year.”

Should the tax pass, the site would be transformed into a facility that includes a first team building (for the MLS squad), an academy/locker building, a grounds facility, and three soccer fields (two grass, one turf). The concept plan for the site is preliminary, and could change. Berding noted he expected the fields to ready first, with the goal to have the first-team building completed by the first of July 2019.

Three hotels (so far) have expressed support for the tax increase, including the Holiday Inn in Eastgate, the Hilton Garden Inn in Miami Township, and the Homewood Suites in Milford.

“We’re going to ask that they implement an additional one percent visitor tax, and that will be on hotel rooms,” Comodeca said. “That tax will be added to the current hotel tax, and that’s how the CVB is funded. We are ready to commit those dollars to make this project happen.”

Comodeca said that tax increase, which for the most part will be paid by visitors to the county, will be put toward helping the practice site become a reality. According to the presentation, the tax would be used to help the city of Milford with the process of “acquiring land and providing some infrastructure through the issuance of municipal bonds.”

At the county board of commissioners meeting on June 27, where Comodeca, Doss and Berding made similar pitches, the commissioners said they wanted to wait to hear from Miami Township and Union Township since both townships had been against the move a year or so ago. Additionally, the commissioners wanted to keep their commitment to an open forum for the public to weigh in before moving forward with whether to pass a resolution approving the 1 percent hotel tax lodging increase.

Louis Solimine, an attorney with Thompson Hine representing Cincy Sports Nation in Miami Township, spoke against FC Cincinnati and the 1 percent hotel tax lodge.

“I think we all agree that governments shouldn’t pick winners and losers in the marketplace,” he said. “And that’s especially true when you’re talking about a well-funded taxpayer like FC Cincinnati, which is owned by people with very substantial means.”

The locally-owned Cincy Sports Nation, with 65,000 square feet of indoor space, opened in late 2017 at 5999 Meijer Drive.

Solimine said the county is understandably trying to offer powerful incentives to attract FC Cincinnati to the county.

‘The glamor, the attraction … the excitement of a professional sports franchise is something every county in the United States would aspire to,” he said. “We don’t want a collaborate to become a government subsidized competitor; that would not be fair.”

Solimine said he wanted the two entities, FC Cincinnati and Cincy Sports Nation to live in harmony and said it’s feasible with three assurances from FC:

– They will not install any bubbles over their practice fields.

– They will not build and install an indoor turf field.

– They won’t rent their facilities to the general public.

“As long as those three things don’t happen, we’ll live in harmony, we’ll live in collaboration with FC Cincinnati,” he said.

If those three assurances don’t happen, it’ll be devastating for Cincy Sports Nation, Solimine said.

Doss, however, noted the city’s pitch to FC Cincinnati was one of inclusion.

“Our sales pitch was simple,” Doss said. “Others will have you, but we want you. We know there are other communities that were talking to FC Cincinnati, but we wanted them. We wanted to catch on to the excitement FC Cincinnati was building in the area.”

Reach Garth Shanklin at gshanklin@clermontsun.com or call 513-732-2511 ext. 112. Brett Milam may be reached at bmilam@clermontsun.com or 513-732-2511 ext. 119.