NYCFC mulls tearing down Columbia football stadium, building most expensive MLS stadium ever

New York City F.C. has finally settled on a possible new stadium site, and it’s not way out in Queens, but actually in Manhattan. Barely:

New York City F. C., owned jointly by royalty from the United Arab Emirates and the Yankees, is considering a move to Columbia University’s Baker Athletics Complex, at the northern tip of Manhattan. … The proposal is to build a new, larger stadium that could be used by the soccer team and Columbia’s football team. …

The plan, according to an executive briefed by the soccer club, would be to demolish the 17,000-seat Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium and replace it with a 25,000-seat stadium that could be used by New York City F.C. and Columbia’s Lions. The new stadium could cost $400 million.

There is much that is crazy-sounding here — for starters, the site is a long, long subway ride from anywhere other than upper Manhattan, and doesn’t offer much in the way of parking — but nothing more so than that $400 million figure, which would be more than $100 million more than the most expensive MLS stadium ever built. I know that the NYC F.C. owners desperately want to get a soccer-only facility within city limits, and the UAE has money to burn, and potentially Columbia could be involved monetarily here too … still, this seems like a nutso amount of cash to spend on a soccer stadium in the U.S., and something the team is unlikely to recoup.

That’s NYC F.C.’s owners’ problem, of course, unless they decide to ask for public subsidies and make it New York City taxpayers’ problem. (They wouldn’t owe property taxes, for one thing, since the land is already tax-exempt by virtue of being owned by Columbia — the Chrysler Building, oddly, gets a similar tax break.) There’s a lot still to be worked out here, but at least we have a likely location where this next battle is going to play out.

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18 comments on “NYCFC mulls tearing down Columbia football stadium, building most expensive MLS stadium ever

  1. This sounds like a good idea on paper, and a terrible one in practice. The neighborhood practically exploded with horror when they heard the news last night.

    On paper, sure, a 25,000 seat stadium where a 17,000 seat one is now. What’s the big deal? But look at the details — Columbia has five football games a year, five. Four of those draw 5,000 fans or less, one draws 10,000 (homecoming). Virtually no one drives. At other times the stadium is used by sports with almost no attendance or for practices. It is even open to the community at certain hours. It’s a (mostly) peaceful coexistence of an academic-related facility in a residential area.
    A new pro stadium would be a towering, enclosed monster of a building (chock with luxury suites, locker rooms, etc. The current stadium is just a big and small bleacher). It would host 17 soccer games, plus a bunch of “friendlies”. It would likely hold concerts (as other MLS stadia do). It would attract at least 20,000 fans per game, and even if 75% of those took transit (completely unrealistic given that only 45% of Yankee fans take transit) that would still leave 5,000 cars looking for parking in an area that has zero available street parking and one or two full parking garages. Even if the team built big new garages to replace existing lots on Broadway nearby you are talking about total traffic gridlock. And what about the hours of pre and postgame noise from loudspeakers? Are residents to start picking beer cans out of their gardens (yes, this area actually has houses with yards and gardens) from impromptu tailgating? (Columbia’s tailgating is mild and contained on the sports campus).

    The zoning of this entire area is residential. Residential! Sure, the old stadium was grandfathered, and no one minded when it was replaced with a similar, low key Ivy League football stadium in 1983. But this is a very different, ahem, ballgame and you can expect massive and demonstrative opposition from people who have property rights of their own.

    I’m a soccer fan, I would like to see a new stadium built. But this is cramming it in the wrong place. It would be far more appropriate if Columbia and NYC FC worked to build a new stadium on top of the subway yards east of Broadway just a few blocks away — that is an industrial zone and would bother no one. They could build all the parking facilities they wanted and even rename the underused 215th St subway station. Just leave the residential parts to the west alone.

  2. Neil, we don’t know who the anonymous asshole is who “accidentally” clicked on your site. But I can tell you that your site is terrific.

    As for NYCFC possibly moving to Columbia U, I think it would be great. Columbia gets a new stadium paid for with private dollars. Seems like a great deal for the school. Squeezing everything into that space will be a problem.

  3. Dave Wasser – you didn’t mean to post a comment on this site stating your belief that the new stadium would be built with private dollars, did you? Are you the anonymous troll? ;-)

  4. I know who he is. (Or what his IP is, anyway — apparently he works for the state of Wyoming.) But he didn’t say I suck, he said the site sucks, so voila, he doesn’t violate the no personal attacks rule!

    I’m now confused how Columbia was able to build a new stadium on the site in 1983 if the zoning is residential. (R-7, looks like.) Did they have to go through ULURP? They certainly would to do something like this, yes?

  5. and the UAE has money to burn …

    Bingo! $400 million is nothing for them. They throw money on things like diamond covered Mercedes.

  6. @iSkyscraper
    When it comes to transit, what if the plan ends up like Barclays, where they declare up front that there is no parking plan, and that the subway is most advisable? When it comes to concerts, do many seem all that likely ? In a lot of other cities maybe, but it might be hard to compete with MSG, Barclays and theatre venues throughout New York

  7. R, they could certainly do that, tell people not to drive, and maybe even build a couple parking garages on vacant lots on the east side of Broadway to accommodate the critical ones who do (team, staff, VIP, etc). But experience in New York shows that some fans will always drive – according to this article, over a quarter of Nets fans drove or took a taxi. If you have 25,000 fans, that means say 5,000 cars and taxis (some will team up) coming through this part of Inwood, which has narrow streets, stop signs, streets that are one-block long… the streets back up 20 cars deep as it is at rush hour due to toll-dodgers coming through the area to hit the free Broadway Bridge. There is no way around it, you’re talking gridlock 30+ nights a year, due a use that is not per zoning and a use that people reasonably did not sign up for when they moved in next to a quiet I-AA NCAA complex.

    But parking is the least of the issues. Noise from the stadium, litter from crowds, tailgating on sidewalks … remember, this area is residential. There is no commercial zoning or activity other than one cafe near the park and the commercial uses along Broadway. Barclays is built in an actual commercial zone, with commerical zoning around it. The residential areas nearby even have light commercial zoning on some streets. The situations would be similar if a stadium were proposed for the east side of Broadway and people were complaining about it – in that case, yeah, it might work and at least the residential parts would be on the periphery. But this puts the stadium right on their actual, literal doorstep.

  8. Sorry, here was the article I was citing:

  9. Neil: I read somewhere that Columbia was able to build a new stadium in 1983 because the old one was grandfathered in.

    Chris A.: I assume you are aware that there is an enormous amount of Arab oil money behind this project. The team says they are going to privately finance the stadium, and I take them at their word. In fact, this might be the first stadium in history to get the Neil deMause seal of approval.

  10. Dave: That’s not how zoning works, though. Or not how it’s supposed to work, anyway.

    And I’ve approved of plenty of stadiums before. (Well, some.) I wouldn’t put this at the top of the list even if the owners fund the entire thing, for the traffic and neighborhood impact reasons iSkyscraper lists above. Inwood is a very different locale, and a very different place on the transit grid, than the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

    I also don’t see how they’re going to fit a bigger stadium on the site, at least not without either displacing Columbia’s baseball field (and then where would they play?) or filling in part of Spuyten Duyvil Creek. This is an outside the box idea, certainly, but there are two tons of questions left to be answered.

  11. I know I’m way late to the party, but I remember hearing about this when it came out. iSkyscraper hit the nail on the head. This a crazy idea. They’re talking about Wien Stadium, which is cut off from everything. One step down on the lunacy chart would be to build at the corner of Broadway and W 218th where Columbia’s soccer field is. What you’re basically talking about doing at that point is restructuring and rebuilding Columbia’s entire sporting complex. I gotta believe that NYCFC is salivating over the possibility of a Broadway address, which their marketing team would have a field day with.

    But you’re still talking about throwing a major professional sports stadium smack in the middle of a college campus. Anybody who’s ever tried to drive and park on a college campus anywhere, let alone in the middle of NYC, will tell you that it’s an utter fiasco without any added help. I know somebody’s going to bring up USC, which is partnering with LAFC in Exposition Park. USC has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to real estate, having basically been gifted two pro-level sports arenas, one of which just so happens to be a run-down eyesore in dire need of demolition. Columbia doesn’t have anything close to that. They have a bunch of spartan fields crammed into four blocks at the northern tip of Manhattan. Now maybe there’s some ingenious redesign that would make it possible. I don’t see it, but $400 million buys you a lot of imagination.

    I understand the motivation of both sides. NYCFC’s is obvious…they need a home, yesterday. Columbia is starting to feel like a high school with run-down sports facilities that hamper their athletic growth, and therefore they largely miss out on the cash cow that is college athletics. And here yet again is where I agree with iSkyscraper. There’s this giant, ugly railyard just to the south along 10th Avenue. Why is nobody at least mentioning it as a possibility? It offers practically everything that Columbia does with far fewer traffic headaches. I assume it’s owned by the city, which would mean miles of red tape. I don’t know what the city uses it for, but I gotta believe they could afford to share some of that space. Columbia’s football team could then share the stadium and they’d have an extra chunk of space in their sports complex.

    There are places to build, even in NYC. It’s all about finding the best possible spot. The Aqueduct has been talked about a lot. The Red Bulls tried to build there years ago. But a site that nobody’s talking about is next to MDE Park on Coney Island. The only problem with it is that it’s a little small. An industrial area in Greenpoint has also been mentioned but it doesn’t have Metro access.

  12. The railyards are presumably owned by the MTA, which is state. Yes, the MTA provided land for the Nets arena, but Pataki and Ratner went to law school together, which is unlikely for Cuomo and Sheikh Mansour.

    And if you mean the Cyclones’ parking lot in Coney Island, yes, it’s almost certainly too small. Also, it was rezoned for high-rise residential development in the 2009 rezoning plan, so I don’t think a soccer stadium would be allowable.

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