City’s New Team Eyes Land For Arena Near Racetrack
Shut out in two previous attempts to find a site for permanent home, New York City’s new professional soccer team is reportedly looking to try its luck at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Capital New York reported last Tuesday, Sept. 16, that the New York City Football Club (NYCFC)-scheduled to begin Major League Soccer (MLS) play in 2015 at Yankee Stadium- approached the city about building a soccer-only arena “adjacent to” the South Ozone Park racetrack, which also includes Resorts World New York casino.
Club spokesperson Risa Heller, in published reports, neither confirmed nor denied the plans, but stated the club is actively working with the city to find a site suitable for their own arena.
Founded in 2013 by the New York Yankees and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who owns Manchester City F.C. of England’s Premier League, the NYCFC will play its first few seasons at Yankee Stadium. However, finding a permanent home within the five boroughs is proving quite difficult for the upstart franchise.
Originally, the club wanted to build a 25,000-seat facility near the Fountain of the Planets at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The effort met opposition from local elected officials concerned about losing parkland for another sports arena in Flushing Meadows; the U.S. Tennis Association recently acquired additional park space there to expand the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
After receiving overtures from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the NYCFC then sought an arena site in the South Bronx close to Yankee Stadium, but a potential deal failed.
If nothing else, Aqueduct Racetrack-measuring over 200 acres-offers plenty of land where a stadium could be built, but State Sen. Joseph Addabbo told the Times Newsweekly the speculation centers around cityowned property leased to the Port Authority as a parking lot, located south of the racetrack adjacent to North Conduit Avenue.
While Aqueduct is close to the Belt Parkway and John F. Kennedy International Airport, public transportation options are limited. The A line stops near the track, but because the line passes through northern Brooklyn, it takes about an hour to travel between Aqueduct and Manhattan.
One bus line, the Q37, stops at Resorts World New York. The casino operates its own shuttle bus system between the casino and points in Queens and midtown Manhattan.
This isn’t the first time a soccer club pitched a stadium proposal for Aqueduct. MLS’ New York-New Jersey MetroStars (now known as the New York Red Bulls) presented in 2001 a plan to build a 25,000 seat soccer arena with mixed-use development at the Big A, but the plans fell through.
The owners eventually sold the team, which wound up building a permanent home in Harrison, N.J.
Local elected officials, however, expressed hesitation about potentially welcoming a NYCFC arena near Aqueduct.
“It’s not just about Ozone Park; it’s about the surrounding communities that will be impacted,” Addabbo told this paper in a phone interview Tuesday, Sept. 23. “When we were thinking about the MetroStars proposal, it was well before the casino came. … It’s not the land it once was. It has huge ramifications for areas around the site.”
Addabbo noted there are other issues to be tackled with the site in question, specifically if the city and Port Authority could negotiate a break in the lease and traffic management. Regarding the latter issue, he noted Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards-the main north-tosouth artery through the area-is struggling with congestion and could not handle the additional vehicles that a soccer arena at Aqueduct might bring.
“Eventually, the community is going to have their say,” the senator stated, noting any proposal is subject to the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP).
“A soccer stadium would create jobs, stimulate economic development and make Queens the city’s premier sports destination,” added City Council Member Eric Ulrich in a statement. “In the days and weeks ahead, I will be working closely with the community and my fellow elected officials to see if the proposed site in my district is the right fit before making a final decision.”
Big A’s future still unclear
The soccer proposal comes at a time when high-ranking members within the New York Racing Association (NYRA) Reorganization Board are considering the track’s future.
Per an agreement reached with the state years ago to continue operation, NYRA ceded to the state claims that it owned Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course-the three venues where it holds thoroughbred racing. Attendance dwindled at Aqueduct over the last few decades, and even though it is running at an operational loss, NYRA is reporting increased earnings thanks to revenue it receives from Resorts World casino.
At recent NYRA Reorganization Board meetings, several members questioned whether racing should continue at Aqueduct, which holds meets during the fall, winter and spring and occupies about half of the circuit’s racing calendar.
According to an Aug. 6 report in the Daily Gazette in upstate Schenectady, several members suggested shuttering Aqueduct and transforming Belmont Park into a year-round racing facility.
“There’s no economics in operating two racetracks eight miles apart,” NYRA board member Michael Dubb said, as quoted to the report, referencing the distance between Aqueduct and Belmont Park.
However, according to state law, Resorts World’s operations are contingent with Aqueduct’s continued operation. The state would be required to enact legislation allowing Resorts World-the most profitable casino in the country-to remain in operation if Aqueduct were to permanently close.
Though Aqueduct’s long-term future remains up in the air, the NYRA reportedly invested millions in its upkeep, including opening a new sports bar there last April. Live racing will return to Aqueduct on Wednesday, Oct. 29, for a six-month meet that concludes next April.