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Major League Soccer

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER

February 27, 2013
NOT A SLAM DUNK
Garber: MLS will quit Flushing Meadows stadium project if it doesn't get approval


The fountain in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on which the propsed MLS stadium would be built.
The fountain in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on which the propsed MLS stadium would be built.
Photo by Michael Lewis
By Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

For the first time in the league's pursuit of building a soccer-specific stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, commissioner Don Garber admitted Major League Soccer could wind up looking to another city to house its 20th team if things don't go its way.

Before the league could build the stadium in Queens for an expansion team, it would need approval by New York City and the state of New York. MLS wants a stadium ready by 2016.

MLS has spent millions or dollars on the project, so it would not necessarily bail that easily. But it's still a possibility.

"If we're not able to be successful, sure, we'll throw our hands up and say it's time for shifting emphasis," Garber said during a press conference in Manhattan to kick off the season on Wednesday night. "It will be sooner than three years before we throw our hands up. We're hoping to be able to get something finalized this year. And if we're not able to do that, we'll probably take a step back and figure out whether or not there's another market that we want to move in."

Orlando, Atlanta and Minneapolis were among other potential expansion cities Garber mentioned.

The 18-year-old league wants to add an expansion team although it will have to overcome resistance by local citizens who fear the stadium would harm the park.

Garber noted that if approved, the stadium would be the first privately financed stadium in the city, as opposed to Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, which had public support.

"We would love to have public support," Garber said. "Frankly, we think with the thousands of jobs and the mass of economic value that we're going to provide the city of New York, and its tax base and the local community, we are entitled to have some public support. We get that's not going to happen."

Garber admitted that MLS building a stadium was "the biggest challenge we ever faced."

He noted the stadium was the first privately financed stadium in the city, as opposed to Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, which had public support.

"We would love to have public support," Garber said. "Frankly, we think with the thousands of jobs and the mass of economic value that we're going to provide the city of New York, and its tax base and the local community, we are entitled to have some public support. We get that's not going to happen."

"This is an incredibly valuable market and one that is very constrained in terms of real estate opportunities that are available," he said. "But if you can make it here, you can make it any where. So it's really worth the effort.

"It's been a difficult process."

Garber said that if anyone could speak to the late Lamar Hunt, "he would say it was pretty difficult to get a stadium in Dallas and Phil Anschutz and the Home Depot Center."

"The unique thing here it's the league," he added.

MLS president Mark Abbott is heading the Flushing Meadows effort, which would be transferred over to the new ownership group.

"Then the league would happily get ouf of this end of the business and get focused on other things," he said.

The project, which Garber estimated at around $350 million, includes a 25,000-seat stadium, building new soccer recreational fields that would be adjacent to the stadium and finding 10 acres somewhere else in the city to replace the land on which the stadium will be built.

"Frankly, I think the city thinks it's a great deal because they have no money into it," Garber said. "we're going to be putting in what could be $350 million in that park, a park that hasn't seen that kind of investment ever."

While Garber and the league have mentioned the number of jobs that would be created and economic impact it would have on the area, he would not talk about the tax breaks the league and stadium would receive.

"It's too premature to talk about any of the economics on the deal," he said. "We're a long way from that issue or any other issue being finalized."

Garber said he was confident an owner would be selected soon.

"We continue to be in discussion with some terrific, very capable, and passionate potential ownership groups," he said. "I'm confident we'll finalize a deal with one of those owners. We hope to finalize that deal relatively soon."

The commissioner added that the expansion team's owner will not be a current owner.

"None of our current owners are looking to do anything other than get their teams in place to help us satisfy our vision," Garber said.

The Flushing Meadows project is one of two soccer stadium projects within a 10-mile radius.

The New York Cosmos, who will open their revival in the North American Soccer League against the Fort Lauderdale at Hofstra University on Aug. 3, recently unveiled a $400 million proposal for a soccer stadium and retail space at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. in Nassau County.
 
 
 
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