MLS officials visit Detroit as Cincinnati bid gets boost

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Four months into 2018, Major League Soccer is still trying to award a second 2017 expansion franchise.

It has not been easy.

But the bid by Cincinnati, which is competing with Detroit, got a considerable boost Friday when a key city councilman appeared to end a month’s long battle to build a soccer-specific stadium in the West End of the city.

While officials from the league visited Detroit Friday, where the owners of the Pistons, Lions and Cavaliers are offering their vast wealth and Ford Field as a venue, if the Cincinnati stadium deal is approved and MLS awards the franchise, Detroit would be competing for one of two franchises the league is to award in 2018.

According to several media reports in Ohio, the Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced he will back $33.8 million in infrastructure spending to build a $250 million soccer stadium.

“What will happen if instead of seizing this opportunity, we let it pass us by and go across the river to Kentucky?” Sittenfeld asked, according to WCPO-TV.

A site in Kentucky is one of a few under consideration by bidders for an MLS franchise in Cincinnati.

Opposition in the low-income, historically black neighborhood is fueled, in part, by a history of bad development in the area.

Sittenfeld's support reportedly means five members of the Cincinnati City Council now support the deal, along with future zoning changes needed for the stadium.

MLS officials could not be reached for comment.

League officials have stated preferences for smaller stadiums, intended for soccer only and in the open air.

If the various approvals go through, it is what Cincinnati will provide.

And, in recent months, it appears that MLS has been waiting for Cincinnati because the proposal in Detroit has long been finalized.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said that the proposed ownership group in Detroit, Dan Gilbert, owner of the Pistons; Tom Gores, owner of the Pistons; and Martha Firestone Ford, owner of the Lions, have developed an interesting plan for converting Ford Field into a welcoming soccer pitch.

Garber and other MLS officials also have said, as the league proceeds through rounds of expansion in recent years, that they are hoping to attract richer owners to the league, and Gilbert, Gores and Ford amply fill that bill.

The bid out of Sacramento, where site preparation for a soccer-specific stadium began months ago, ran into some trouble when some of the big money pulled out of the deal last autumn, not long before two expansion teams were to be awarded.

Nashville received one.

Sacramento now seems to be floundering, while officials in Cincinnati are having trouble siting a new stadium in one of a few possible locations.

But Cincinnati may now have solved its problems.

Meanwhile, two city council members in Nashville are seeking to reopen the stadium deal, that resulted in MLS awarding that franchise.

So, while no details of the MLS visit to Detroit Friday will be released to the public, according to Kevin Grigg, as spokesman for the proposed ownership in Detroit, the city remains in the running.

Originally, Gilbert proposed building a soccer-specific stadium on the site of the troubled Wayne County jail construction, near Greektown, in Detroit.

But the plan switched to Ford Field when Gilbert found a new use for the property.