CINCINNATI -- They were few, and boos frequently interrupted their speeches, but a handful West End soccer fans turned out Wednesday night and added a new ingredient to the cocktail of controversy surrounding FC Cincinnati's stadium plans in their neighborhood: Support.
"If we pass on this opportunity, the chances of another investment of this magnitude coming here to the West End probably won't ever happen," FC Cincinnati supporter Jaasiel Chapman said.
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The Orange and Blue's president and general manager, Jeff Berding, proposed Feb. 12 that the team build its $200 million permanent home at the current site of Stargel Stadium, a 3,000-seat facility on which six schools rely to house their athletics programs.
Berding promised that night the team would build a new, improved Stargel for those schools to use when FC Cincinnati took over their old spot -- it would even be "the best high school stadium in the district."
However, many West Enders and other interested parties remained unconvinced. The prospect of such a major, high-cost project in a neighborhood traditionally been less white and less affluent than other parts of Cincinnati conjured fears of rising rent, gentrification and displacement among some current residents and politicians.
Chapman said he was willing to take a calculated risk. The project, he continued, could be a way to permanently better the community and its residents' standard of living, and he would support it as long as it did not drive current West Enders out of the area.
"They are basically signing a contract saying, ‘We are going to invest in your neighborhood,' and I believe that's going to happen," he said. "The West End could use everything -- grocery stores, pharmacy, a number of things."
Andrea Hale, another FC Cincinnati supporter who attended Wednesday's meetings, said voicing her support was not about convincing the other side. Like any political debate, the stadium question may already have produced two sides immovably entrenched in their existing positions.
However, she said she believes speaking out can help other fans find their voices.
"We're residents of this community," she said. "We love this community as much as they do."
"This is our home and so I think we should be able to voice our concern and our opinion," Chapman added.
Berding said he expects to know whether or not FC Cincinnati will receive a bid from Major League Soccer -- and therefore a go-ahead to continue planning the stadium -- by March 3.