FC Cincinnati, which will move from the United Soccer League to Major League Soccer next season, is playing its games at the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium until its new home opens in 2021. (Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati)
FC Cincinnati’s new Major League Soccer stadium development falls in line with the league’s mission for more teams to build urban facilities.
The site for the $213-million stadium changed over the past nine months to the city’s West End neighborhood, situated just northwest of downtown and the central business district. It was originally planned for land along the Ohio River, across from Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium. The new site is home to a high school football stadium that will be torn down to build the MLS venue. FC Cincinnati will pay to build a new facility for Taft High School, according to local reports.
For Dan Meis, the sports architect designing FC Cincinnati’s new home, the West End makes for a better fit. It’s a historic neighborhood and sits next door to Over-the-Rhine, a separate neighborhood tracing its roots to the German immigrants that settled there among the city’s early residents.
Less than 10 years ago, Over-the-Rhine was on a list of the country’s most dangerous neighborhoods, but that has changed, tied to a dramatic urban renewal with new restaurants, bars and residential units catering to a younger demographic.
“Just over the last several years, it’s become kind of a new hot area like you’d see in Memphis and Nashville,” Meis said. “There are a lot of downtown entertainment districts, but instead of having to build it from scratch, like you would if we had some greenfield site, it really is already there and the stadium is just a few blocks away.”
Meis Architects, teaming with local firm Elevar Design Group, is in early design, and at this point, there are no renderings to share, team officials said. The site itself will drive the design for creating pedestrian connections between the stadium and the bars and restaurants already there, Meis said.
In that respect, it’s similar to soccer stadiums in Europe, Meis said. Overseas, Meis Architects is designing new stadiums for both AS Roma and Everton FC, and as part of the firm’s research abroad, it’s looking at how some of the older soccer venues “grew up” over time, Meis said.
“It’s a lot like our [early] ballparks in the U.S.,” he said. “There was a field, and as the club got more popular, they built a grandstand, and then added to it or built another grandstand. It’s kind of odd using baseball as an analogy, but that’s our heritage with parks like Wrigley and Fenway. It’s very much that model about how they connect to the community, and it starts to really influence the architecture.”
Images for the original riverfront site show a stadium shining brightly with a large glowing ETFE roof canopy covering the seats, which is modeled after Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, Meis said. For FC Cincinnati, the lighting feature could be part of the West End stadium, but only as it fits the scale of the building.
“It was a feature everybody liked … and some of that will survive because it gives it a spectacular form to the building, but we really do have to get it to feel like it fits within the context of the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s something that has to grow out of the site we have now.”
The soccer stadium will most likely exceed 20,000 seats and could seat up to 30,000, Meis said. Over the past three seasons, FC Cincinnati, now a second-division USL team, has on six occasions drawn more than 30,000 for home matches at Nippert Stadium on the University of Cincinnati campus, Cincinnati.com reported.
“They have an incredible fan base,” he said. “It’s a lot like working in Rome where you have very smart, rabid fans.”
The project represents a Cincinnati homecoming for Meis. He worked on the design of Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals’ 18-year-old facility.
Meis Architects also has Frankie Sharpe, Tom Withers and Mario Samara working on FC Cincinnati, plus Jan Szupinski and Tim Lambert, both of whom are 30-year veterans and have played lead roles on multiple MLS venues.
Turner Construction and Jostin Construction, a local minority contractor, are building the stadium, which is expected to open for the 2021 season.
The Machete Group, headed by David Carlock, is serving as owner’s representative. The firm fills the same role for Chase Center, the Golden State Warriors’ $1 billion arena opening in 2019. Carlock helped develop Toyota Center when he was an executive with Houston Rockets.