The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit that has consulted on other sports venue deals in the past, yesterday issued a report for Bronx Community Board 4 on the prospect of a new soccer stadium for NYC F.C. on the current site of city-owned parking garages being used by the New York Yankees, the soccer team’s part-owner. And while there’s nothing definitive in the report — both the city and NYC F.C. continue to say that no deal is in place, or imminent — it does make the case for ways in which a soccer stadium could be more beneficial to the surrounding neighborhood than the baseball stadium that was opened atop a former public park in 2009:
- A new soccer stadium “could be the touchstone for enhanced community programming, the catalyst for improved pedestrian connections and walkable experiences, and the foundation upon which other community improvements may be built,” writes ULI. This seems to be a reference to the fact that a soccer stadium would require the neighborhood to be rezoned by the city — as confirmed in an article yesterday in the Commercial Observer — which ULI thinks could be an opportunity to add trees and more walkable sidewalks to the surrounding blocks, which could maybe happen, though the city doesn’t exactly have a long and glorious history of rezoning low-income neighborhoods in ways that benefit current residents.
- The report further suggests that any soccer stadium plans take care (somehow) to meet the needs of local small business owners, noting that while Yankees-related retail outlets have opened around the baseball stadium, “these stores largely remain closed on the other 280+ days of the year when the Yankees are not playing. These closed storefronts leave the streetscape in a state of perceived desolation and interrupt what could otherwise be an active retail corridor.”
That Commercial Observer piece, meanwhile, sheds light (of a sort) on one important piece of the soccer stadium financial puzzle, which is how exactly NYC F.C. and its developer partners, Maddd Equities, would obtain the parking garage properties — and 153rd Street itself, which would be closed to make way for the stadium — from the city. While the New York Times reported last month that Maddd would pay $54 million for the land, the Commercial Observer cites the city Economic Development Corporation as saying that “the city will continue to own the land on which the garages and parking lots were developed, and the stadium development team will buy out the remainder of the 99-year leases for the garages” from the Bronx Parking Development Corporation, the nonprofit that was set up by the city to run parking for the Yankees and has since stiffed taxpayers and bondholders alike on expected payments. If the city continues to own the land, that would raise the possibility of Maddd getting to subsidize its proposed mixed-use development alongside the stadium by getting an exemption from property taxes — though it could also be asked to pay payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs), though those have their own inglorious local history as well.
Reading tea leaves furiously, the mere fact of CB4 engaging ULI to find out what it can ask of a new soccer stadium indicates that the community board is eager to be more demanding than it was in 2005 when the Yankees came knocking for approval of their new home. (Though it’s worth noting that CB4 voted to oppose that plan, and the city summarily ignored them.) If the stadium becomes wrapped up in a larger rezoning effort, that would drag out the approval process by a year or more at minimum, especially in a climate where New York City neighborhoods and local officials are increasingly pushing back against rezonings that are seen as giveaways to developers, sometimes killing them outright. More on this story as it develops, but it looks like NYC F.C. fans should probably get used to attending home games at farflung sites for a while longer — while that’s no fun, nobody held a gun to MLS’s head and forced them to approve an expansion team without a guarantee of a stadium to play in, either.