MLS commissioner Don Garber is apparently either making progress in lobbying New York City to approve free public parkland and $100 million in tax breaks for a new soccer stadium in Queens, or he’s just sick of waiting. Either way, he’s announced that New York could be selected as the league’s 20th franchise within four weeks:
“We’re making progress,” Garber told reporters when asked about the potential of a new franchise in the New York area. “We continue – you’ve heard this for the last year – but we continue to negotiate with the city of New York, meet with local political folks and community leaders to get support for the stadium we hope to build in Flushing Meadow Park. We are deeply engaged with potential ownership groups, and we are hopeful to be able to announce a 20th team within the next three to four weeks, perhaps, so the timing’s accelerated a little bit.”
Garber then corrected himself, shifting the time frame.
“I should moderate that — four to six weeks,” he said, laughing as he added, “Got that? four to six weeks, not three to four.”
Got it. Because being “hopeful” of an announcement within six weeks is so very different from being hopeful of getting on in four.
So what exactly does Garber expect is going to happen by the end of May? Howard Megdal of Capital New York notes that “It’s hard to believe the remaining obstacles have been completely overcome in such a way that the stadium can move forward on that timetable; the stadium has yet to be approved by the City Council.” (In fact, any stadium will have to go through the nine-month ULURP land-use process, so the earliest it could be approved would be next February.) The cable news channel NY1 reports (citing “sources”) that “league officials will unveil their proposal for a 25,000-seat venue as soon as a month from now,” but unveiling a proposal isn’t at all the same thing as having one finalized.
So what on earth does Garber think he’s going to say in six weeks? Announcing that New York has been chosen for an expansion franchise before getting a stadium deal done goes against every tenet of sports subsidy shakedowns: The league would be giving up all its leverage if it committed itself to New York before the council committed land and money. There have been persistent rumors that the owner of the Premier League champion Manchester City club could be set to buy a New York MLS franchise, so maybe it’ll be some sort of “We have an owner and a team and a stadium lined up for you as soon as you sign here on the dotted line” kind of deal.
It’d still be a slightly weird move, but with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the project’s main backer, out the door at the end of this year and his potential successors determinedly noncommittal on the MLS stadium plan, Garber might see this as his last best chance to grab a prime location for a New York franchise. With no vote possible until 2014, though, when there will be a new mayor and a new city council (the current council speaker, Christine Quinn, is term-limited out and running for mayor), it’s nearl inconceivable to imagine that anything will be finalized in the next six months, let alone six weeks.