The New York Post has an “EXCLUSIVE” today reporting that the rumors of an MLS facility in Queens’ Flushing Meadows-Corona Park have progressed so far that a $300 million stadium could begin construction early next year:
The stadium would be located next to the Mets’ Citi Field and the Arthur Ashe tennis stadium, and would include nine high-quality soccer fields available for community and minor-league use, sources said.
While Major League Soccer had made its interest in Flushing Meadows known before, insiders say talks on the project have advanced considerably and are close to being wrapped up.
This, frankly, doesn’t jibe that well with what I’ve been hearing in my last few days of talking to MLS and local elected officials and community residents, which is that while Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office is largely on board with the MLS project, there’s still a long road ahead to get the necessary legislative approvals. In particular, the city councilmember for the park, Julissa Ferreras, has expressed concerns about carving out yet another piece of Queens’ most-used public park for private uses: “She is in support of MLS coming to Queens,” Ferreras spokesperson Tarik Coles told me. “It’s just a matter of things being done correctly. It’s a decision that affects this community, and they need to be involved.” In fact, since presumably any stadium would need to go through the nine-month ULURP land-use process, that’d pretty much preclude anything getting built starting in early 2013, though late 2013 is a possibility.
And then there’s also the little matter of the New York Mets owners, who reportedly hate the MLS plan, both because it would provide potential competition for outdoor concerts (at 25,000 seats, an MLS stadium wouldn’t be much smaller capacity than Citi Field, especially since so many seats there are behind the stage and unusable for concerts) and because a soccer team would want to use their parking lot, which they already have their own plans to redevelop as a shopping mall. (Citi Field and its parking lot are both technically built on parkland, incidentally. As is the adjacent U.S. Open tennis center. You can see why locals might be getting a bit peevish by now.)
Reading tea leaves furiously here, and noting that 1) the Post exclusive was reported by the paper’s Albany editor, Frederic Dicker, and 2) the only even partly IDed source for his story was an “excited state official” (no, not that kind of excited state), I’m guessing that what’s happening is that things are moving quickly in the state legislature, which is where the parkland must be “alienated” before it can be turned over to a private entity. After that, we’d still be looking at close to a year of city hearings over the plan, unless MLS can somehow get an exemption from ULURP.
It would still mean that MLS would have to be close to identifying new sites to build replacement public soccer fields for the ones currently occupying the proposed stadium site — which is again not what I’m hearing, as all the sites so far have either been too far afield or adjacent to industrial uses. So maybe this is just some state official trying to pump up excitement over the project. Or not. Tea leaves, unlike unnamed officials, are so frustratingly unspecific.
[UPDATE: Also from the attributed quote desk, Deadspin reports that “a really rich dude from the UAE is in the lead” for being the new team’s owner, adding: “‘The guy from the Emirates is lobbying the city for all these crazy benefits and tax breaks,’ said my source, who alas didn’t have a name for me.” Crazy benefits and tax breaks goes against what the Post said in terms of who’d be paying for the stadium; guess we’ll have to wait for the unnamed sources to get their story straight.]