Thursday, May 23, 2013
MLS Stadium in FMCP is apparently DOA
From the Times Ledger:
The odds that a soccer team funded by an Abu Dhabi sheik and the New York Yankees will scrap plans for a stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park are more likely than official announcements have indicated, TimesLedger Newspapers has learned.
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber announced Tuesday Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the owner of a British team called Manchester City Football Club, and the Bronx Bombers, which have signed on as minority partners, will head the league’s newest franchise.
The team, called New York City Football Club, plans to begin its first season in 2015 at a temporary venue the team said has not been decided, but which documents seen by TimesLedger identify as Yankee Stadium.
MLS has spent more than a year and nearly $2 million on lobbyists to lay the groundwork for a 13-acre stadium proposed on top of a non-working fountain in the park, which was touted by the Bloomberg administration but met with vehement opposition by Queens parks groups.
In order to fend off continuing criticism directed at the team’s majority owner from Abu Dhabi’s royal family, the New York City Football Club has already planned to abandon the idea, documents suggest.
The club plans to draw focus away from the turmoil in Queens by backing off the park complex and instead pushing news about players and highlighting the upcoming 2015 season, according to documents, which is a year earlier than MLS had originally anticipated play would begin.
The decision seems to have come as a surprise to both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and MLS.
As recently as May 13, Bloomberg defended the Flushing Meadows stadium plan, telling reporters at a news conference replacement parkland would be found for the proposed 25,000-seat stadium.
And in late April, MLS Commissioner Don Garber was still insisting the Queens stadium was the only option.
“If we get this done, it will be in Flushing Meadows Park,” Garber told the Associated Press at the time. “There is no Plan B.”
But the MLS commissioner was informed sometime after making the comment that the new team, which is now taking the lead on the stadium search, would consider other locations.
“MLS is no longer leading the effort with the stadium project,” Garber said this week, adding the league has also dropped its pursuit of a land-use application to site the stadium in the park, he said.
New York City Football Club knew its decision would anger the city administration, since the mayor and a team of high-ranking city officials poured significant resources into the park stadium plan, considered by many to be a Bloomberg legacy project, TimesLedger has learned.
According to the documents, the club plans to thank and reach out to community groups in Queens and may offer to refurbish soccer fields in the Flushing Meadows near the proposed stadium site even thought he stadium may never be built.
From the Queens Chronicle:
As officials from MLS, the Bronx Bombers, Abu Dhabi-owned Man City and Mayor Bloomberg congratulated each other during a Tuesday press conference rolling out the franchise, there was one notable absence: the Unisphere, which had become ubiquitous in the league’s push to build a home in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Sources say the league and club owners plan to slowly suffocate talk of a Flushing Meadows stadium through a series of distractions meant to push the mythical arena to the sports pages. There it will likely die a quiet death, where MLS hopes the Bloomberg administration will be spared the embarrassment of yet another ambitious failure. The process has already begun.
According to sources who requested anonymity to maintain ties to the project, FMCP’s precipitous drop from essential to optional is fueled by a mixture of feasibility issues, unexpectedly strong opposition and face-saving on the part of all involved. The Pool of Industry site, it turns out, is fraught with regulatory and practical headaches, and the public needs its attention drawn away from a billionaire owner from Abu Dhabi.
The stadium, however, reportedly carried the extra weight of being labeled a “legacy project” by the Bloomberg administration. Ditching the location in FMCP would invoke the mayor’s ire, but was a necessary repercussion.
Sources said Bloomberg has expended significant political capital in trying to make MLS’s expansion franchise a reality. The potential scuttling of the FMCP stadium would add to the mayor’s list of failed proposals, alongside the failed West Side Stadium, part of the infamously flawed push to host the Olympics in 2012.
The political capital is paired with nearly $2 million in literal capital MLS spent lobbying for the stadium.