Queens MLS stadium could start construction by spring! Or not

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.]

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12 comments on “Queens MLS stadium could start construction by spring! Or not

  1. Surely the MLS guys are missing the obvious here, Neil? I mean, Citi Field has been in place for, well, several years now. It clearly qualifies as a blighted landscape (as would the rest of the park and Arthur Ashe stadium) under the court approved process used by Mr. Ratner to ram through his Atlantic yards proposal (which, of course, hasn’t been finished, and will never be finished as it was originally designed and sold to the public… or at least the legislators who gave approval).

    I say, use eminent domain. Declare the whole complex (including the trees, which are a danger to lightning, in the words of the late great Spike Milligan) blighted, evict the moribund tenants, bulldoze everything, and build whatever you want.

    Is this a Big Time City or isn’t it?

  2. Beware of politicians seeking construction related bounty
    (worker votes, union and contractor contributions), the public interest gets trampled – like parkland.

  3. As much as I like soccer I sure dont support MLS screwing over the tax payers out of parkland. I wont support soccers version of the Yankees or new jersey nets! They better replace that land before I spend a penny at the stadium. As for the METS they were 1st in line for the team and blew it when their buddy MADOFF got caught with the Wilpons pants down. They’re just mad MLS stop waiting for them to get there house in order. If the mets had bought in you can bet the city would be building the thing.

  4. Even if there’s really no option but to use parkland, I’m assuming this will be like the Yankees’ deal, which means MLS wouldn’t even have to pay for the land or the swing sets to replace the parkland.

    So what about the Sunnyside Rail Yards? Obviously it would cost significantly more money to build a stadium there, but it would seem to serve the public interest a lot better. The MTA could sure use the money and the public wouldn’t have to pay for the right to have their parkland stolen. Not that politicos outside Manhattan or Brooklandia seem interested in preserving parkland.

  5. I don’t know why people are worried about the parkland. A lot of the site where the stadium is going is a stank, stagnant pool of water. Putting a stadium there will be a welcome improvement.

  6. I really think this will be happening, and it is only part of what is planned. When you see Sheldon Silver on board with the idea of Casinos at Willets Point, you know MLS is just the tip of the iceberg. One real possibility could involve a Convention Center/Arena for the Islanders as well (Think Charles Wang would love to be near a large Chinese Population area like Flushing, while being rid of Kate Murray (Town of Hempstead Supervisor)). I know the Mets would not too happy about the MLS but if they help get rid of the junkyards, and coupled with developmental rights to Willets Point, MLS is a small price to pay. Keep in mind, one of the biggest arguments that Willets Point United (WPU) uses is the race card saying how Hispanics will be discriminated against and lose their jobs, if the junkyards close. MLS (Along with job retraining, and new soccer fields nearby) will be a carrot to Soccer loving Hispanics, to accept the loss of these jobs when junkyards are replaced with Casinos, and the WORST section of Willets Point is replaced with an MLS Stadium.

  7. The MLS stadium wouldn’t go anywhere near Willets Point, though. Unless you’re suggesting that the Flushing Meadows plan is a stalking horse and MLS ultimately wants to go in Willets.

  8. Art, I agree.

    The railyards proposal might not be that much more expensive in the end. We know it was expected to cost more, but then, developing previously undeveloped land can often cost a great deal more than expected (see Red Bull Arena). Draining the swamp may be more expensive than anyone could anticipate.

    Assuming you are talking about the west side railyards in Manhattan, it has greater cachet than, with all due respect, another stadium in Flushing…

    Finally, as Neil has already pointed out, saying you are going to replace parkland (contiguous) with other land for parks (non-contiguous) is one thing, actually doing it in Queens (or Brooklyn) is another matter entirely.

  9. The Sunnyside Yards are in Queens, John, not far from Long Island City. Mammoth swath of open-air railyards that everyone with a big project always sniffs around (it’s been proposed for an Olympic stadium more than once) then runs screaming once they realize how much it would cost to build a platform over that much space.

    Not saying it couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be done, just that my guess is it’s not even a Plan C for MLS right now.

  10. Ok, thanks Neil. I thought the Jets had referred to their ‘over the rails’ plan (or off?) by a different name, but wasn’t sure. I have a general familiarity with the railyards in LIC from other projects suggested in the past (but I hadn’t heard that name, of course).

    In general using “airspace” is a great idea… but in practice it is cost prohibitive everywhere but places like Manhattan, London or Tokyo… where real estate costs can dwarf the kinds of massive engineering and labour expense required to implement these dreams.

    BTW, anyone promoting a floating stadium these days???

  11. Jets were Hudson Yards. Which is still supposed to get a platform, now with residential towers on top of it, though I haven’t heard anything about construction being imminent.

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