December 5, 2012
MLS officials, backers talk to residents about proposed stadium at Flushing Meadows Corona Park
By Michael Lewis
|MLS commissioner Don Garber addresses the crowd at the Queens Theatre on Tuesday night.
MLS Photo from Jin Sup Lee
FLUSHING, Queens -- Very little new ground was broken at a Tuesday night meeting about the proposed soccer stadium that that Major League Soccer officials want to break ground on in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in a few years.
The meeting, however, did fill in some gaps and added some details to the project.
The gathering at the Queens Theatre was part pep rally, part TV variety show and part informational. The event also was bi-lingual as an interpreter translated Garber's remarks and several of the speakers spoke English and Spanish.
MLS commissioner Don Garber, who grew up in Flushing, was the main speaker, espousing the merits of the stadium, which is expected to cost at least $300 million.
Garber said MLS wanted to build a "world-class soccer stadium here in Queens. A stadium that I believe will be one of the best, one prestigious one of the most beautiful soccer stadiums in the world. we have a lot of work to do before we finalize that plan."
The MLS' plan, called NY2, is to add an expansion team, which would be the league's 20th team.
"We want to bring the world's game to the world's park," Garber said.
In contrast to his statements during last week's state of the league conference call to the media, in which he said MLS was "at the finish line," about finalizing an agreement with New York City over use of the land and to lease that land to build the stadium Garber sang a different tune on Tuesday night.
"We have a lot of work to do before we finalize the plan," Garber told several hundred attendees.
The stadium projects needs approval on the city and state levels, and that won't necessarily happen overnight.
During his conference call on Monday, Nov. 26, Garber said the stadium was on track for 2016.
On Tuesday night, Garber said the league would "launch our 20th team, hopefully by 2016."
Garber probably raised the shackles of many New York Red Bulls fans with this statement: "You can't be a dominant soccer league without having a dominant team in the largest and most important city in the world."
That remark was received by applause from the audience.
"Build it baby!" one spectator shouted.
The Red Bulls, who started out as the MetroStars before the Austria-based energy drink company purchased the team from Anschutz Entertainment Group in 2006, are one of the founding member of the league. MLS kicked off in 1996. The Red Bulls, who have struggled with many coaches and players, has never been able to crack the market, despite the addition of Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. and former French international Thierry Henry in 2010.
The attendees were given bi-lingual pamphlets, entitled "Let's Bring Pro Soccer to Queens." They also had blue, green and white scarves on their seat, which said the same thing. They also were handed shirts with the same message while they left.
There was no opposition at the meeting, at least not vocally. Some politicians said they had questions about the stadium proposal, with New York State Sen. Jose Peralta saying he would "hold their feet to the fire" about the agreement.
Outside the building, flyers from the Fairness Coalition of Queens was placed on cars, questioning the project. Those questions concerned about environment around the stadium and how its construction would impact the park.
One question on the flyer posed the question on whether soccer fans walking through the park before and after each event, "including many who have been drinking alcohol. Who will pay for extra policing, extra cleanup and extra maintenance and construction of new restrooms in the park to accommodate these crowds?'
Univision announcer Fernando Fiore, who also presided at the ground-breaking ceremony at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. several years ago, was the moderator, combining humor and attempts at humor to introduce Garber, elected officials, local soccer officials, merchants and civic associations, unions that would be involved in the construction of the stadium, several local boys and girls high school teams and the Borough Boys, a supporters club that is backing the return of pro soccer to New York City.
Early on, Garber talked about his Queens background, that his grandfather had a store on Main Street in Flushing and that his mother and grandmother were teachers. He went to a Flushing high school.
"They probably could never had dreamed that a kid from Queens could be sitting here today talking to all of you of filling our dream of this great game having a home here in New York City," he said. "I am honored to be here and very proud to always be a Queens guy."
Garber said the league had looked at 20 sites over a seven-year period throughout the city, adding that Queens and the park fit what MLS was looking or. That included a passion for soccer, public transportation, parking and stadium fit.
"We wanted to go to a place where we would be welcome, where the sport is looking to grow, where it thrives to today, where it was an opportunity get even bigger," he said.
"We live in a new America, a America that looks different and feels different than any other time in our history," he added.
Garber said the stadium would be built on 10-13 acres in the park, adding that MLS would invest tens of millions of dollars in the park.
It would be up to MLS to replace those acres of park land somewhere in Queens. Neither Garber or MLS president Mark Abbott were never asked or talked about where that new park land would be.
The stadium will have a capacity of 25,000 that would be expandable to 35,000 over the next three years "because we think it will be popular," Garber said.
If the stadium was expanded, no new land would be used because the extra seating would be built higher.
Garber said about 25 soccer events would be held in a year, plus high school soccer, lacrosse and football.
MLS would replace and upgrade the 10 artificial turf fields in the park. Garber said the fields would be renovated before construction of the stadium began.
More than 2,100 construction jobs would be created. After the stadium was completed, 150-plus full-time jobs and more than 700 part-time jobs would be available, Garber added.
According to Garber and the league, the new stadium would boost the local economy $600 million, with an annual economic impact of $60 million and $50 million for city tax revenue.
More than 700 local business have given signed letters of support, he added.
On a fact sheet available at the meeting, construction of the stadium is expected to take 15 to 18 months. According to the sheet, the construction will be contained in the northeast part of te park. The staging area of construction and supplies will be primarily in the middle of the stadium as the field will be the last part installed.
MLS is planning to talk to the Mets about utilizing their 8,000 parking spaces at Citi Field.
John Alschuler, a consultant to the league for the project, said parking spaces underneath the Van Wyck Expressway would be added. "There will be more spaces to park 320 days a year when soccer isn't there, so the park becomes even more accessible in the future," he said.
Thirteen elected officials, local civic organizations, soccer leagues and associations and a supporters group attended the meeting.
They included state Assemblyman Francisco Moya, state Senators Ann Stavisky and Peralta, City Council woman Julissa Ferraras; Rev. Andy Torres of the Queens Hispanic Pastor Association, Yanna Henriquez of the Dominico American Society, Oswaldo Guzman of the Eduadorian Civic Committee, John Feirreira of the Junction Boulevard Merchants Association; Humberto Restrepo of Local 3 IBEW and Donald McCaffery of 32BJ union; Sal Rapaglia, the president of the Eastern New York State Amateur Soccer Association, Luis Montoya of the Big Apple Youth Soccer League and Felipe Russi of MetroKids Soccer.
Peralta talked about his love for the game and support for the stadium. But warned the league that it had to meet all of its agreements. "We will hold your feet to the fire," he said.
Stavisky said she had several questions about the project, but felt the meeting was not the proper stage to state them.
“I have questions about the relationship between the soccer field, Major League Soccer and the agreement that they’re going to reach with the City of New York,” she said. “There are a lot of questions that have not been answered.”
Feirreira, the president of the Junction Boulevard Merchants Association, has run a business for 35 years.
"This is a perfect fit," he said. It's a perfect location. It has the fan base and it will create jobs," he said. "MLS, let's get it done."
Laveglia, whose Borough Boys supporters group was quite vocal during the two-hour meeting, gave his support. "We're going to march down Roosevelt Avenue into the stadium and cheer the team to victory," he said.
The Seattle Sounders fans, for example, were the first MLS team's supporters to march to the stadium.
There are concerns about the stadium.
Among the questions the Fairness Coalition of Queens (FC Queens) raised in its flyer:
* What is MLS's plan to prevent storm surge flooding created by constructing a stadium on a wetland from reaching surrounding communities of Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Corona and Flushing?
* How tall is the stadium? How much of the park will be permanently blocked from sunlight by the stadium shadows?
* What is the rush? Why is MLS attempting fast track the public approval process?
* The existing park paths were not built to accommodate heavy truck traffic. Who will pay to reconstruct and maintain these paths as truck-worthy roads?
As it turned out, none of these questions were asked by the audience, which were able to submit questions on cards to stadium project officials. They choose what questions would be asked of MLS officials.