Yankees join MLS stadium project as search for site expands
By Joe Anuta

Major League Soccer announced Tuesday the New York Yankees have teamed up with an Abu Dhabi sheik to buy a new soccer team franchise based in the Big Apple, but the announcement cast doubt on whether the crew will eventually play in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The Bronx Bombers and Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who already owns English soccer team Manchester City, hope the new team, New York City Football Club, will begin play in 2015, according to an announcement from the brand new club, which will compete with another team across the Hudson River.

“We proudly welcome two of the most prestigious professional global sports organizations to Major League Soccer,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “This is a transformational development that will elevate the league to new heights in this country. The New York area is home to more than 19 million people, and we look forward to an intense crosstown rivalry between New York City Football Club and the New York Red Bulls that will captivate this great city.”

Manchester City will be the majority owner of the club, with the Yankees acting as an investor, according to the club. On May 25, Manchester City will play a friendly match against another British team, Chelsea FC, at Yankee stadium.

Where the new team will play afterward is up in the air.

MLS has been in ongoing talks with the Bloomberg Administration in an attempt to site a 25,000-seat stadium on 13 acres of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The plan has proved extremely controversial and has incurred heavy opposition in Queens.

But despite the outcry, the league has not wavered in its desire to be located in the park.

In a document supplied to TimesLedger in February, the league detailed 24 potential sites it considered throughout the city — a site in Astoria, a location in central Queens and a spot near the Aqueduct Racino were on the list.

But after considering viability and the feasibility of construction, the league contended that its current proposal for the park was the only viable option.

Last month, Garber reiterated the league’s insistence on Flushing Meadows.

“If we get this done, it will be in Flushing Meadow Park,” Garber said to the Associated Press. “There is no Plan B.”

But statements by the New York City Football Club in its Tuesday announcement seemed to open the possibility the sports facility could be located elsewhere.

“In considering any stadium site, we will listen first. This is what we have always done in Manchester and what we will do in New York. Only in this way can the club truly represent the city whose name it will carry,” said Ferran Soriano, chief executive officer of Manchester City.

The announcement also mentioned the negotiations, public relations pitches and outreach that MLS has been undertaking.

“New York City FC is committed to seeking a new permanent stadium in New York. Until that time, the new team is arranging to play in an interim home beginning in its inaugural MLS season in 2015. Over the past year, MLS began discussions with the city of New York and other stakeholders about the possibility of constructing a new stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. The club’s new management will continue these discussions with local government officials, community residents and businesses, soccer leagues, and MLS,” the announcement stated. “The club will continue to review other potential sites as well.”

The possibility of another location was welcome news to Queens park advocacy groups.

“As everyone in Queens — except for most of our elected officials — seems to know, the proposed site was a terrible location for any sort of stadium, as it would have horribly impacted the park as well as sat directly on top of the Flushing River, which the Fountain of the Planets currently is sited,” said Paul Graziano, a co-founder of the park advocacy group Save Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which is opposed to commercial development in the green space. “As advocates specifically for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, we are hopeful that we are seeing the last of this awful proposal and that it will evaporate back into thin air where it came from.”

Another advocacy group, The Fairness Coalition, also expressed optimism.

“We welcome Major League Soccer to New York City. We are pleased with their new willingness to consider other sites in New York. The proposal for a stadium inside the heart of Flushing Meadows Corona Park is deeply flawed and would irrevocably damage a vital community resource,” a spokesman said. “We look forward to finding a more appropriate home for the team that does not sacrifice public parkland and that does not giveaway parkland to a documented human rights abuser. Lets make this a development that all New Yorkers can be excited about.”

Yet another advocacy group, New Yorkers for Parks, also praised the new relevations.

“New Yorkers for Parks welcomes today’s announcement and is particularly pleased that Major League Soccer and the New York City Football Club are open to exploring alternative sites for a stadium outside the heart of Flushing Meadows Corona Park – Queens’ most heavily used public space,” the group said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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