It’s been a busy morning on the stadium news front, so the first I saw of this latest NYC F.C. news came via Twitter:
It’s not quite that bald-faced, but, yeah, New York Yankees president Randy Levine, he of the volcanic temper and purple face, has kind of threatened to move the team out of New York City before it’s even arrived:
“This is here, until there’s another venue,” Levine said. “The Yankees are the primary tenant. The schedule revolves around the Yankees. There’s no timetable. There’s been dialogue, we’re looking at sites. If not New York City, then other sites. I never rule out anything. But I’m one voice.”
New York Daily News sports reporter Filip Bondy goes on to assert that “Yonkers is waiting with open arms for a possible stadium deal,” which is news to pretty much everyone, though there was some speculation about NYC F.C. seeking a temporary stadium in Westchester before they announced their plan to start play at the Yankees’ stadium.
Building outside the city limits would certainly be easier in some respects — there’s a hell of a lot more available land there, and there are numerous mayors and city councils that could be appealed to, instead of the not-all-that-enthused officials currently in charge in New York City. Still, Westchester isn’t that easy for much of the New York area to get to, and you have to figure that Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan isn’t plunking down $200 million for an MLS expansion team just so he can play in the suburbs. For now, consider this somewhere between “we’re keeping all our options open” and “crap, we have to have the Yankees and the soccer team share a stadium for three-plus years, let’s throw everything we can think of out there and see if something sticks.”
In news that should surprise absolutely no one, the New York Times is reporting that the MLS expansion team New York City F.C. will announce next week that it will play at the Yankees’ stadium for the 2015, 2016, and 2017 seasons while working on getting a stadium of its own built. This was really the team’s only option: It’s not going to get its $350 million Bronx stadium plan approved and built by next March, there aren’t a whole lot of available soccer-ready stadiums sitting around in New York, and the Yankees are part owners of the team, so it’s the only port in the storm for now. There were (and are) concerns about the impact of soccer usage on the baseball field turf, but apparently those pale in comparison to having to have their soccer team play in the street.
The big question now is how long NYCFC will be stuck in this port. Melissa Mark-Viverito, the new city council speaker who represents the district where the team owners want to build their stadium (with city land and tax subsidies that could amount to more than $250 million), isn’t going anywhere for at least the next four years, and from all accounts she’s just as dead-set against this deal as ever. NYCFC already tried and failed to get a stadium built in Queens, and is rapidly running out of possible sites that are accessible to public transit; I predicted last summer that this could end up as a D.C. United situation, with the team in “temporary” digs for a lot longer than anybody anticipated, and that’s looking even more likely now. Though being stuck in the world’s most lavishly expensive baseball stadium isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world — if NYCFC fans don’t like the view of the pitch, they can always drown their sorrows in $60 steaks.
With plans for NYC F.C.‘s new soccer stadium in the Bronx going nowhere in particular and the new city council speaker remaining opposed to it, the expansion team still needs to announce a site to play in for the 2015 season. And team officials are going to announce one real soon now, they swear:
“We’re close on that. We’ll soon announce where we’ll be playing,” [NYC F.C. director Claudio] Reyna said. “Within the next month. We expect to have an announcement within the next month.”
“Expect to,” check. Reading way, way, between the lines, I’m guessing this is a matter of ironing out any remaining haggles with MLB over maintaining the condition of the field at the Yankees‘ stadium? Either way, I’ll be shocked if NYC F.C. doesn’t play at the Yankees’ home next year, if only because there’s really nowhere else in the city for them to play (except for Citi Field, which would have the same MLB issues and is controlled by the Mets, who are already cranky that the Yankees got a piece of ownership of the MLS franchise and not them), but it may take a while to iron out.
And speaking of taking a while, Reyna had this to say about building a soccer-only stadium:
“We’re still looking, we’re talking to the city,” Reyna said. “There’s a lot of possibilities for the stadium and we’re continuing to do our job, which won’t be easy, but we feel good about it. We have a team of executives that are working very hard to not only get a stadium that we’re happy with, but that is good for the city of New York as well.”
Translation: We got nothing. Wherever NYC F.C. settles in “temporarily,” expect them to be there for a while.
So far most of the controversy over the future home of New York City F.C. has been over whether to build a new soccer stadium in the Bronx with the help of city subsidies, but now there may be problems with using the Yankees‘ baseball stadium as a temporary home as well:
Various sources tell [Empire of Soccer] that Yankee Stadium is still the front runner to host NYCFC in 2015. However, concerns from Major League Baseball have become a constant road block in those discussions. MLB fears that the playing surface would be damaged from constant usage, leading to player injuries and disruption in play as was experienced in the 70′s when the Cosmos called Yankee Stadium home.
That’s interesting and a little strange, considering that MLB doesn’t usually intervene in these kinds of stadium-usage matters, and that you’d have thought Yankees execs would have checked with the league regardless before committing themselves to bringing an MLS team to town next year. It doesn’t seem like these objections give anybody leverage over anything, though (it’s not like a new stadium could be built by next year even if no other facility is available), so maybe this is just MLB angling for temporary turf to be laid over the outfield grass during soccer matches, or something? Yankees non-baseball events director Mark Holtzman promised that “everyone will be pleased when they see the end result,” which seems unlikely, but I guess we’ll see.
Friday is catchup day! (Not catsup day. That’s a whole ‘nother thing.) First in our order of business is this article earlier this week from Capital New York’s usually excellent Dana Rubinstein, who reported that according to “a survey of 168 participants at a recent town hall meeting” about the proposed NYC F.C. stadium in the Bronx, “three out of four survey participants agreed that the stadium is ‘a good idea for River Avenue,’ according to the BID’s executive summary of the meeting.” The headline was even more definitive: “Survey: Bronx stakeholders like soccer stadium.”
This, you may recall, is the meeting organized by the 161st Street Business Improvement District that I attended, and estimated that testimony was roughly split down the middle on whether the stadium was a good idea. A local radio reporter, meanwhile, said it was tipped toward being in favor, but only slightly. So what’s with this survey showing three-quarters support? I have the press release sent out by the BID that was the basis of the Capital NY article (PDF here), and all it says is: “Three out of four participants believe that the stadium, ‘is a good idea for River Avenue.’ (Question #4 in the survey).”
I don’t remember getting an actual survey at the event, so one possibility is that most of them were grabbed by early arrivers, who were predominantly construction workers who got there two hours early to grab seats. And in any case, the headline is misleading as many people at the meeting were not “Bronx stakeholders,” but rather other interested parties (including Manhattan-based youth sports teams that have gotten donations from the Yankees, NYC F.C.’s part-owners).
All of which is well and good — the article does spell out that these are unscientific survey results from a single town meeting. But then why on earth write an article that’s 100% based on a single press release from an interested party (the BID’s Cary Goodman has been vocal about supporting a stadium, with the right conditions) without any independent research, or even checking news reports on who spoke at the meeting? (Neither Rubinstein nor anyone else from Capital New York was in attendance.) I know the hamster wheel is a harsh mistress, but does that really mean that every pronouncement on fancy enough letterhead deserves an article? Nobody’s asking you, Chuck Todd.
I arrived at last night’s scheduled town hall meeting on the proposed Bronx NYC F.C. soccer stadium 15 minutes before the appointed 7:30 pm start time, and was greeted by a man informing a crowd of residents, elected officials’ representatives, and press that the doors were closed. “We’re at capacity,” he explained. “A hundred construction workers got on line at 5:30.”
Eventually, enough room was found in the basement community room/cafeteria to squeeze in about 300 people, for what turned out to be an open-mic session presided over by 161st Street Business Improvement District director Cary Goodman. Speakers were roughly split down the middle between pro and con — WINS reporter Holli Haerr said opinion was slightly in favor, while I thought it was slightly opposed, especially if you discounted people from outside the Bronx who’d been invited by NYC F.C. and theYankees — with passions running high, though the only time they actually boiled over was when one local delivered a confused rant about how “capitalism is bullshit” and ended up dragged off by off-duty police officers.
Some highlights of the testimony:
- Several elected officials or their representatives showed up (including one person from council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office, but no one from the mayor’s office unless I missed it), but most chose only to listen. One exception was Javier Lopez, district director for U.S. Rep. José Serrano, who declared: “The Congressman will not support a stadium deal that includes any public subsidies whatsoever. That includes tax loopholes, that includes PILOTs, that includes anything where the city of New York loses tax dollars to build a stadium. In addition, the Congressman will not support a stadium proposal that is not going to be fully transparent from beginning to end, and not have a community participatory process.”
- Representatives of several youth sports teams and other groups that get funding from the Yankees testified what a great partner the team has been, with one talking about how they’ve helped fund local school programs even as the city has cut budgets, and how important soccer is to local kids. There was a bit of a quid-pro-quo vibe to much of this, though, especially when Chad Roberson, vice-president of the New York Urban League Young Professionals soccer league, said, “The New York Yankees organization has been an esteemed partner with the New York Urban League for many decades now. They have given over $20 million to fund our causes,” then added: “All that we ask is that everyone in this room continue to be honest as well as extremely thoughtful with regard to this particular benefit.”
- A couple of speakers countered that a pro soccer stadium wouldn’t actually do much to benefit soccer-loving locals. In response to several speakers who argued that the stadium should be approved “for the children,” Reynaldo Punzalan, who lives down the street from the proposed soccer site, said, “What makes you think that your kids are going to be allowed to practice in the stadium?” And a board member of the Uptown Soccer Academy across the Harlem River in upper Manhattan (possibly this guy, though his name was hard to hear) declared that while he’s a “huge soccer fan,” “the stadium is a terrible idea for soccer fans and all New Yorkers. … Do you know how many soccer fields you could build instead of a 30,000-seat soccer stadium? [My kids] don’t need a soccer stadium; they need soccer fields to play on.”
- Several speakers pointed to the recently announced Kingsbridge Armory ice center project as a better model for development. “The most important question, I think, is is this the best possible use of a piece of city-owned property?” said local resident Killian Jordan, noting that the Yankees stadium project provided a community benefits agreement with dubious benefits: “The only attraction that I can see is the appeal of community benefits, and I don’t think that will have a happy ending. Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice…”
- Greg Bell, a local community activist who was initially opposed to the Yankees deal but later came to support it, offered less ambitious preconditions for supporting a stadium, saying the community should “use the stadium as a wedge to say, look, you have missed some things that we deserve to have,” naming in particular the long-delayed 153rd Street bridge across a railyard to replace one demolished in the 1980s, plus a “world-class restaurant” so “a man can take his lady out to dinner.”
In all, it was certainly enough opposition for the elected officials who’ll be deciding on this project (which decidedly does not include Rep. Serrano) to say it shouldn’t go ahead as announced if they want, or enough support for cutting a deal for them to push forward in that direction if that’s what they prefer. A third option, which seemed to have a decent amount of support in the room, would be to pursue other possible uses of the land (currently occupied mostly by a 1970s-era Yankees parking garage), and see what looks like the best deal for the city and the neighborhood.
One advantage here over the rushed-through Yankees stadium project is that here there’s time to do that kind of research: The only actual plan that’s been developed is a draft document that supposedly is circulating in the city’s Economic Development Corporation, but which I’ve yet to find anyone who’s actually seen. Even NYC F.C. CEO Ferran Soriano has indicated that things aren’t close to fruition in the Bronx, saying last Friday that a deal is “not close” and “if we could play in the Bronx, it will be perfect. But we have other ideas and other opportunities.” That could be partly a scare tactic to try to frighten Bronx officials into grabbing whatever deal they can; but if last night is any indication, many residents are concerned that any redevelopment of the garage site to be done right, not that it be done for pro soccer by any means necessary.
I finally tracked down some figures for the value of the 99-year property tax break that New York City F.C. is looking to get as part of its Bronx soccer stadium deal, and the good news is that it’s not quite as spendy as I’d initially estimated. According to calculations by Ana Champeny of the New York City Independent Budget Office, the lots currently occupied by the triangle garage building and the GAL Manufacturing elevator parts company building have a market value of about $32 million, and an assessed value of about $14 million. This would make their annual property tax liability about $1.4 million currently, which, if you assume it will grow about 3% a year and apply a discount rate of 5%, comes to a present value of about $60 million for the 99 years of lost tax revenue.
(Note that most of the property in question — the garage — doesn’t actually pay property taxes, as it’s owned by the city. But there would be no reason not to charge property taxes if it were used for a private soccer stadium. Actually, there’s no reason for it not to pay property taxes now, but that’s a separate issue.)
Under the deal being proposed by the team (worked out with the administration of now-no-longer-mayor Michael Bloomberg), the project would also get $21.5 million in other tax breaks, plus 38 years of free rent — since we know how much the team would have to pay just to buy the property outright, we can probably assume the present value of fair market rent would be worth slightly less than that, say $25 million. That puts the total value of the tax and rent breaks for NYC F.C. at $106.5 million. If you add in the $100 million in garage rent IOUs that the city would be tearing up, we get a total subsidy of $206.5 million.
Even if a large chunk of that is admittedly money the city would likely never see regardless, that’s still a pretty hefty housewarming gift to be handing over to a project that’s only expected to cost $350 million to build. It’ll be interesting to see if this gets raised at Wednesday’s town hall, or if the focus remains solely on what’s in it for the Bronx.
Melissa Mark-Viverito was elected speaker of the New York city council yesterday — over the objections of the New York Post and the carriage horse industry — which means she will now have even more sway over projects like the proposed NYC F.C. soccer stadium deal that she was already going to have plenty of sway over thanks to it being in her district. As I said the other day, this doesn’t put an end to that project by any means, but it does make it more likely that NYC F.C. and the Yankees will face some tough bargaining on the other side of the table.
And speaking of what that bargaining is likely to look like, Cary Goodman of the 161st Street Business Improvement District will be hosting a town hall meeting next Wednesday, January 15, at 7:30 pm at 900 Grand Concourse (corner of 161st Street) to discuss what neighborhood residents and business owners think of the plan, and what they’d like to get out of it. I’m planning on going, so I’ll report back here afterwards on how it goes.
The proposed NYC F.C. soccer stadium adjacent to new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx already was facing “real concerns” from new mayor Bill de Blasio, demands for community benefits from local residents, and a rising subsidy price tag, but it just hit what could be an even more formidable obstacle: Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, the current frontrunner to be city council speaker, just saw her district lines redrawn to include the proposed stadium site, and is not happy with the current form of the deal, according to Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein:
[Mark-Viverito] believes the incentives reportedly negotiated as part of a possible deal between the Bloomberg administration and the New York City Football Club are too generous, according to two sources familiar with her thinking.
It’s worth noting that in addition to being co-chair of the council’s Progressive Caucus, Mark-Viverito also has a record of skepticism about stadium subsidies: During the council’s rubber-stamping of the Yankees‘ own stadium plan in 2006, she was one of the few members to ask tough questions about the deal, and was one of only two members to vote against the team’s now-collapsing garage financing plan (though she voted for the stadium itself). While it’s unlikely she’d oppose an NYC F.C. stadium on ideological grounds — especially if local community leaders end up backing it — she’s certainly likely to drive a hard bargain.
Of course, it’s still possible that Mark-Viverito’s speaker campaign will fall apart: Already this week she’s been charged with failing to report income from apartments she owns on city disclosure forms, accused of having her allies threaten councilmembers with retribution if they didn’t vote for her, and sued for having a santeria chicken head painted on a rival’s building. (Her rival Daniel Garodnick just has the real estate industry casting aspersions on his behalf.) Even if she’s not speaker, though, as local council representative for the stadium site, she’ll have huge pull in deciding what happens to the project. And suffice to say she’s not likely to be a Maria del Carmen Arroyo.
New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reports on an until-now overlooked piece of the proposed $350 million NYC F.C. soccer stadium deal in the Bronx, which is that it would require the city to give up its future rent payments from parking garages built for the Yankees:
Under the bailout plan approved Dec. 18 by Bronx Parking’s board of directors and the holders of its debt, the reorganized company would pay no rent until 2056 for more than 20 acres of city-owned land where its other stadium garages are located.
The Yankees garages, which received $70 million in state funding, were supposed to be paying $3.2 million a year in rent to the city (initial reports had it as $2.3 million, but the city Independent Budget Office confirms that it’s actually $3.2 million), but when the garages went all but bankrupt, city officials effectively gave up on ever collecting on its debt, given that there are a whole lot of angry bondholders in line ahead of them. So the city could argue that it’s just burning some IOUs it’s never going to collect on.
For the garage company, though, it’s still getting out from under debt, even if it’s debt it was planning on skipping out on. Gonzalez notes that the city is already owed about $50 million in back rent; the IBO, meanwhile, calculates that tallied up through 2056, the forgiven rent payments would add up to about $150 million, though in present value it’d be closer to $50 million. So if we count the forgiven garage rent as $100 million total, and add in probably another $150 million or so in tax breaks and free land for the stadium, we’re now looking at the city — if new mayor Bill de Blasio goes ahead with the deal started by his predecessor Michael Bloomberg — providing more than $250 million in subsidies for a project that only costs $350 million to build. Now where have we seen this before?