Major League Soccer is taking its plan to build a 25,000-seat home for a new team in New York City to the politicians in Queens who will decide the project’s fate.
The league will present its plan for a stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park to Borough President Helen Marshall, Queens city council members and community leaders on Dec. 3, Dan Andrews, a spokesman for Marshall, said today by e-mail. The project is backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said it will create jobs in an area still recovering from the recession that ended in 2009.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week the league was “at the finish line” in negotiations with the city. Soccer officials are talking to a “wide variety” of potential owners, Garber said, declining to name them.
“There is a lot of work that needs to happen to finalize our agreement with New York City over our use of the land and our ability to lease that land to build the stadium,” Garber said in a conference call with reporters Nov. 26. “I do believe that we will resolve that shortly.”
League officials have been trying for three years to bring a team to New York to create a rivalry with the New York Red Bulls, owned by Austrian energy-drink company Red Bull GmbH. That team plays in a 25,189-seat stadium in Harrison, New Jersey, a 20-minute train ride from Wall Street.
The league’s intentions have drawn fire from neighborhood groups and park advocates who say the city would be giving away valuable public land in the 1,255-acre park, the site of two World’s Fairs in the 20th century. The park already houses Citi Field, home of the New York Mets baseball team, and is the site of the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
Flushing Meadows is bordered by the neighborhood of Corona, where Mexicans, Ecuadoreans, Chileans and other Latinos make it one of New York’s most passionate soccer fan bases.
“They want to take 10 to 13 acres of land from some of the most park-deprived people in the city and use it for a stadium,” said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates, a watchdog group. “It absolutely has everything to do with the developers thinking they can get away with things in Queens that they could never get away with in Manhattan. Imagine them trying to take away a chunk of Central Park for a private commercial enterprise.”
In addition to the league’s plans, Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon and developer Related Cos. want to build a 1.4 million- square-foot mall on a parking lot in the park. Also, the U.S. Tennis Association, which holds the U.S. Open, is seeking to build two stadiums -- one with 15,000 seats and the other with 8,000 -- in a $500 million redevelopment.
The soccer league wants to build a $300 million to $350 million privately financed stadium at the park’s Fountain of the Planets, which isn’t operating. Building the stadium would create 2,200 construction jobs, 800 game-day jobs and 200 full- time positions, Garber said.
“This is a huge economic opportunity in a borough that needs it and in a time when our city could really use the job growth,” Garber said.
Neighborhood activists, including the Fairness Coalition of Queens, have questioned Garber’s estimates and want assurances that jobs associated with the project go to locals.
As part of the plan, the league would replace the turf at existing recreational soccer fields at the park. MLS wants to start construction in 2014 and open the venue in 2016.
The league would also have to replace the parkland acre for acre. It is scouting parcels owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the city Transportation Department along the Flushing Creek, a 1-mile channel near the Van Wyck Expressway. Officials are also looking at an abandoned branch of the Long Island Rail Road in Rego Park.
“It would be difficult for me to support any giveaway of public parkland that does not include solid commitments to park improvement and other community benefits,” City Council member Julissa Ferreras, who represents Corona, said in a statement yesterday.
State Senator Jose Peralta and Assemblyman Francisco Moya, both Democrats who represent neighborhoods around the park, and the Queens Chamber of Commerce have voiced support for the project, according to the New York Daily News and Gothamist.com.
The last professional soccer team to play in the city was the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, which popularized the game in the U.S. by signing international stars such as Pele and Franz Beckenbauer. The Cosmos, started in 1971, played home games in three venues, the last one in 1976 at the old Yankee Stadium, before moving to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Even if the league strikes a deal with the Bloomberg administration, the plan still would need City Council, state and federal approval, said Holly Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group. Because the U.S. government gave money to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, any taking of land requires federal review, she said.
“The mayor sees this as an opportunity to create economic activity and much-needed jobs in an area of the city that is still suffering from the economic downturn and would like to see it finished as soon as possible,” said Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Dan Courtemanche, a spokesman for the soccer league, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
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