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New York Cosmos


January 16, 2013
CEO O'Brien: 'Opportunities like this come around once in many decades'

An artists' rendering of the Cosmos' proposed stadium project at Belmont Park.
An artists' rendering of the Cosmos' proposed stadium project at Belmont Park.
Photo courtesy of the New York Cosmos
By Michael Lewis Editor

For the New York Cosmos, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

When the soccer team heard that New York state was seeking proposals on how to develop the area in and around Belmont Park in suburban Elmont, N.Y., they jumped at the chance. They have put forth a privately funded economic development proposal totaling $400 million, which includes a stadium, hotel, stores and community center and fields.

"I always made the point at the appropriate moment we would look to build our stadium," Cosmos CEO and and chairman Seamus O'Brien said on Wednesday. "This probably came a year or so earlier than one would have liked. Opportunities like this come around once in many decades."

The property, which is not being used on the race track, is a perfect venue to build a stadium, which would cost in the $200 million-$240 million range, O'Brien said.

If the project is approved by New York State, it would be called Elmont Town Crossing; Elmont is located in Nassau County and is on the Queens border. The plan includes a 25,000-seat stadium, a 60,000-square foot area that would feature nine restaurants, some 250,000-square feet of retail space, a 175-room hotel, a community center, a 4.3 acre public park, soccer fields for the community and an overpass over the Cross Island Parkway that would connect the hotel and restaurants to the stadium.

A smaller soccer field will also be built on the ground, the Cosmos said. The proposal also includes a commitment to beautify the nearby landscape. The site will be open to local soccer teams to practice and play on. The Cosmos have pledged $2.5 million for the redesign and development of local soccer fields.

The proposal is being reviewed by the Empire State Development Corporation.

“We plan to develop an iconic project for the region and build a state-of-the-art stadium that will make Nassau County and the entire region proud,” O’Brien said in a statement. “Belmont is an ideal location and a win-win for everyone involved. Nassau County and Elmont will realize much needed economic growth, and local residents will have a year-round premier destination they can call their own.”

In an interview with BigAppleSoccer on Wednesday, O'Brien said, "In having evaluated in previous years all of the potential sites around the city and general New York, this clearly had most of what you really need to build a world class stadium. Most importantly, it was the state that was seeking proposals for the land. We weren't trying to go out and acquire a piece of land."

Major League Soccer, which is seeking a second team in the New York/New Jersey market as its 20th team, wanted to build a $300 million stadium at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Flushing, Queens, some 10 miles away.

In response to the Cosmos stadium proposal, MLS had this statement by league spokesman Dan Courtemanche:

“Major League Soccer continues to work with the city of New York and local elected officials on our quest to build a soccer stadium in Queens and we are making progress with the project. We are in discussions with a variety of potential ownership groups, all who are very interested in being involved with the division I soccer league in North America. MLS continues to support the development of the lower leagues.”

MLS' proposal has encountered some opposition from residents who are concerned about the impact of a stadium would have taking as much as 13.5 acres of the park.

O'Brien said that he expects some opposition to the Cosmos' project, but added that many of the obstacles already are out of the way.

"In a big picture sense, there is always going to be opposition to any new building," he said. "It doesn't matter what it is. On the positive side, so many many of the difficult hurdles that you have to clear in trying to build a stadium already have been cleared. So, you're basically focusing on a final bid. We hope that we'll get the overwhelming majority support of the community from the political will right down to the grass roots.

"Most of the really difficult ones have already been dealt with by . . . that it's a state-owned land and they want to build something on it. If we can get the full community behind it, look, fingers crossed, I think we're going to get there."

The Cosmos will play their first season in the North American Soccer League at James Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y this summer.

When O'Brien announced that the Cosmos would compete in the new version of the NASL last year, he said that the club's ultimate goal necessarily was not to join MLS as an expansion team.

With MLS targeting another site, O'Brien Wednesday was asked whether the Belmont stadium closed the door to the Cosmos joining the 19-team league..

"As I said to somebody last night, that question is a non-sequitur," he said. "Surely we just became a more pliant MLS owner."

O'Brien later added: "All I know is as a fully faced team with a fully faced soccer stadium. I'm assuming you would be welcome in any league if that's one of the requirements."

But if that is not to be, O'Brien indicated it was full steam ahead with his project.

"From a business perspective, I am not afraid of competition, whether there's a crosstown rival with New Jersey or if there's a team three miles down the road," he said.

Noting his European background, O'Brien said, "I come from part of the world where soccer teams often live across the street, across the river. I'm not scared of any competition. As a team on and off the field, we welcome it.

"I'm not going to pass any comment on what MLS and their owners and their management want to do or are trying to do. I've said always from Day One what we're going to do. We've always said we'll look to build our own home. We have made an evaluation of all the opportunities in the market. We believe this is the best site and the best opportunity to fulfill our mission."

Asked if he thought that the area could support two soccer stadiums area, O'Brien replied, "I think if you got some consultant to do an economic analysis, the answer would probably be yes. That is the rivalry. Let's cross that bridge when we get there. It's probably unlikely."

Soccer games and other stadium events will not be held on the same day as major racing days, such as the Belmont Stakes, the Cosmos said.

There is still much to be done.

O'Brien said that he expects environmental studies and plenty of negotiations to held over the next year. If everything falls into place, construction could start as early as the first quarter of 2014. The stadium is expected to be completed by the end of 2015, with the field being installed and stadium opening in spring 2016. Retail establishments are expected to open in the autumn 2015.

Construction will be led by Turner Construction, which provided services for the new Yankee Stadium and the Barclays Center, and McKissack and McKissack, which provided construction for Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and Washington Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

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