A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

FC Cincinnati’s Berding tours NKY nonprofits, says Newport site in the running for soccer stadium

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By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding was in Northern Kentucky answering questions about Newport as a potential site for the club’s new soccer stadium and touring two of the region’s leading nonprofits.

FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding (center) answers questions during a visit to Brighton Center Friday. Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Brent Cooper broke out his FC Cincinnati scarf for the visit Brighton Center Executive Vice President Wonda Winkler is at left (photos by Mark Hansel)

Berding first visited Brighton Center in Newport before heading to Covington for a tour of the Life Learning Center.

He talked about how communities on both sides of the Ohio River have embraced FC Cincinnati, which has put the team in the running for a MLS expansion franchise.

“Obviously we’ve had an enormous first two years,” Berding said. “We’re thrilled to have been invited to be a part of MLS expansion. Part of that process requires us to build a soccer-specific stadium.”

Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Brent Cooper said he was excited to see Berding visit the south side of the river.

“We are here today to show FC Cincinnati and the Greater Cincinnati area that Northern Kentucky is a welcoming place,” Cooper said. “We welcome everyone to come here, but especially FC Cincinnati. We are, all of us, FC Cincinnati fans and we are going to be FC Cincinnati fans wherever they wind up, but we wanted to show them what we have right here in Northern Kentucky.”

Berding may have partly been telling community stakeholders what they wanted to hear, but he spoke very optimistically about the possibility of a new soccer stadium being located at the Ovation site in Newport.

“We have been in conversations with Corporex, (which owns the Ovation site),” Berding said. “We have a memorandum of understanding with Bill (Butler) and at some point here soon, we very well could take it to the next level.”

FC Cincinnati announced in June of 2017 it had identified three “winning” neighborhoods as potential stadium sites.

“We said Newport is a winning neighborhood, we said Oakley is a winning neighborhood, we said the West End is a winning neighborhood and we’ve been doing our due diligence since then,” Berding said. “People ask me all the time, ‘well, which one is preferred.’ I love all three sites. I’d be thrilled to build the stadium at any of the three sites.

He addressed criticism that FC Cincinnati hasn’t been as visible in Newport as it has in the other two potential stadium communities.

FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding with a group of children from the Brighton Center Youth Leadership Development program.

“My answer is that Newport and Northern Kentucky did all of their homework on the front end,” Berding said. “They already have a TIF (tax increment financing), it’s already been approved, they already have a site, they’ve already cleared the site, they are already doing all of the roads and infrastructure on the site. We haven’t had to do a whole lot of engagement because of the foresight and the leadership that the people of Northern Kentucky have long had.”

While at Brighton Center, Berding answered questions from a group of students from the Youth Leadership Development program. One asked how FC Cincinnati would engage the community if it built a new stadium in Newport.

“If we were here in Newport, our players would be in your classes, our players would be here in this club and you’d be talking to them about dreaming big and working hard,” Berding said. “We have, right now at FC Cincinnati, players from eight different countries. You would be exposed to people from other parts of the world in a way that maybe right now you are not and that would be very educational.”

Wonda Winkler, executive vice president of the Brighton Center., said it was great to see FC Cincinnati show an interest in becoming a community partner in Northern Kentucky.

“Community leadership, community engagement and community involvement, is not only something that is important to Brighton Center, but it’ very important to our families,” Winkler said. “When we get the opportunity to get a chance to meet FC Cincinnati and to be able to talk about our organization, we’re very thrilled to initiate that dialogue and look at ways that we can partner.”

Since 1966, Newport has been home to Brighton Center, but today it has programs and services that reach eight counties in Northern Kentucky, as well as Cincinnati.

FC Cincinnati’s Jeff Berding (center)and NKY Chamber president Brent Cooper speak with Life Learning Center President Alecia Webb Edgington during Friday’s visit.

Last year alone more than 44,000 individuals were touched through the 39 programs at Brighton Center.

“Creating opportunities for individuals and families to become self-sufficient, that’s what we do, Winkler said. “We work really hard every day to be an innovative leader that not only strengthens the vitality of the community, but works with families every day to achieve their hopes and dreams. As families are working to achieve those goals and aspirations, one of the things that is really important is giving back.”

Last year some of the children at Brighton Center had a chance to see some FC Cincinnati games and have become fans of the club.

“We want to be able to look at ways to have that continue,” Winkler said.

Berding accommodated that request right away, making a phone call in an elevator and ordering 100 tickets for today’s exhibition match.

Cooper said FC Cincinnati is an organization that is looking to make an impact in the Greater Cincinnati region and he thinks they can accomplish that in Northern Kentucky.

“We are a part of the Greater Cincinnati region, and an important part,” Cooper said. “Think about this, having FC Cincinnati in Newport, having it be in Kentucky, right on the Ohio River. Being able to walk to a Reds game, a Bengals game, a Broadway show, one of the top 10 aquariums in the country, right here, showing the region that we are all part of Greater Cincinnati – I think that makes a statement.”

At Covington’s Life Learning Center, President Alecia Webb-Edgington talked about how FC Cincinnati’s community engagement efforts would be a great fit for the organization.

“The importance of FC Cincinnati and the expansion of MLS here in this great region would provide opportunities for us to utilize FC Cincinnati as an employer partner,” Webb-Edgington said. “It would allow us to give second-chance citizens an opportunity to work and earn a living wage with a wonderful company.”

A group of Covington officials and stakehoders joined Life Learning Center’s Alecia Webb-Edgington and FC Cincinnati’s Jeff Berding on a tour of the facility Friday.

As Berding toured the facility with a group of Covington leaders that included Covington Schools Superintendent Alvin Garrison and Councilman Jordan Huizenga, Webb-Edgington provided additional details about Life Learning Center.

“The bottom line, what we do here…we teach soft skills for individuals that are at risk in the community, getting them back to work, so that they can get a job and keep a job at a living wage,” Webb-Edgington said. “Our cadre of volunteer faculty and volunteer candidates, core coordinators are the linchpin in how we do our work here. People like yourselves are the ones that are in our classroom that are volunteering weekly to teach or curriculum to our candidates and members.”

There is another natural bond to link FC Cincinnati to Life Learning Center if the team chose to locate at the Ovation site. Bill Butler developed and continues to support the organization and its mission.

Berding said he was familiar with Butler’s connection to the Life Learning Center, having paid his way through college working for Corporex, doing “all the things that fell between the trades.”

The importance of giving back to the community, Berding said, is equally important to FC Cincinnati.

“When we started our club, FC Cincinnati, we said that we are going to be a winning team, we are going to be a family-friendly club and we are going to be a franchise that is visible in the community,” Berding said. “Everything that we do is about those three things.”

There is still work to be done before a site for the new FC Cincinnati stadium is chosen, but the clock is ticking.

“We said we are going to have a stadium site by March 31,” Berding said. “We’ve been at this since last June and there’s been some very public engagement and some engagement that’s obviously been a little bit quieter, but we do anticipate by the end of this month, we’ll have a site. That site would be part of the plan that we would seek to execute with MLS.”

Many believe the Cincinnati sites have the upper hand, but Berding said that is not necessarily the case. The most important factors, he says, is to be in a location where the club, and its $200-plus million investment, is welcome and where it believes it can do the most good for the community.

“This is our community, this community, we’re only going to go as far as we can take it together,” Berding said. “I reject this notion of well, we’re Cincinnati and they’re Kentucky – no, we’re one region and we’re never going to solve our problems and we’re never going to reach our aspirations as a region without doing it together.”

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