03 November 2010


Back in the Spring, the Cosmos shared with the Borough Boys that they planned to be playing soccer in their own stadium in MLS by 2013.  We were thrilled of course, but also a little skeptical.  Did they really think they could get a stadium up somewhere in NYC by the start of the 2013 season? 

Now the Cosmos and the league have upped the ante.  They have gone public with the idea that an MLS team will be playing in NYC in 2013.  Though we certainly hope our skepticism is proven wrong, we have our doubts. 

In New York City, you don’t just decide to build a stadium and start digging a foundation.  There are multiple levels of government approvals you’ve first got to go through.  It’s called the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and is known by its acronym “ULURP”. 
You start with a draft

Environmental Impact Statement that you submit along with the rest of your application to the Department of City Planning.  You haggle over the draft with the DCP until it certifies your application and then it goes on its long strange journey of approvals starting with the local Community Board to Borough President to Borough Board and the City Planning Commission.  If you get those approvals, your application is then sent to the City Council for a “yea” or “nay” vote and if approved, it goes to the Mayor for signature. If you want more information about ULURP, here’s a handy diagram: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/luproc/lur.pdf.  I must warn you, however, to make sure your head is securely fastened to the rest of your body, lest it fall off while trying to figure it out.   
There’s a lot to do, but it does not necessarily have to blow up the 2013 idea.  ULURP is actually designed to take less than a year.  But the problem is that you don’t just first roll the idea out as the ULURP process begins.  There is a lot of hoeing to do before you can plant the stadium seeds. 
The Community Boards are made up of 50 citizens appointed by elected officials.  The ULURP process is one of the only areas of real power they have.  And they don’t exercise it with a soft touch.  In our experience, they are by inclination against large scale development.  Community Boards are invested in the status quo of their neighborhoods.
If the plan is indeed on the Wilpon land, the application will have to go through Community Board 3, covering North Corona, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.  Mind you, this is a district with two major stadiums in it already; Citi field of course and Arthur Ashe stadium, home of the US Tennis Open. 
If you think the neighborhood takes pride in these two world renowned facilities, you would be very wrong.  Leaders in the community, including elected officials, do not like Citi field or the USTA and the crowds their respective facilities bring without any demonstrable neighborhood benefits.  If the stadium was unveiled as a Wilpons project to the Community Board tomorrow, the thud of failure would be heard from here to North London. 
There are further complications which we will just mention briefly.  There is the impending redevelopment of Willets Point, just across 126th Street from the Wilpon leased park land.  To glom a third stadium in addition to the crowds and traffic Willets Point will eventually bring will be a tough sell to the community.  Another complication is the additional exit ramps from the Van Wyck that a stadium would require.  This means not just government money, but approval from our State legislature, a fresh, new level of government which - though led by my beloved Democrats - might actually be the most dysfunctional in the United States. 
All of this isn’t to say that it can’t be done.  It can be done.  The Borough Boys have talked at length with local elected officials and community leaders and they have told us they are willing to be supportive of a soccer stadium if, but only if, it accommodates community concerns and includes community benefits, of which there will be many.  We  are concerned that this stadium plan might have gotten off on the wrong foot.  The Wilpons only reached out to the key local government official after their interest hit the papers.  Faux pas right there!
But even if it can be done, can it be done by 2013?  Presumably, the major players in the project, the people who have invested money and time into it, have an interest in maintaining their reputations.  We can only assume that their stated beliefs to have a stadium ready for 2013 are based on a real concrete plan.  To be fair, they deserve our benefit of the doubt right now.  We can tell you however, that no Environmental Impact Statement has been submitted to the Department of City Planning, no attempts at outreach have been made to Community Board 3, and other than the one phone call mentioned before, no groundwork has been laid with local elected officials. 
If there is a hope in hell to get a stadium built by the 2013 season, the time to get going on this is now!
The Borough Boys are in full support of this venture but as fans, it is also our job to be critical when there are questions to be raised. The Borough Boys are also here to help this venture as we all want the same thing, which is to be in a stadium in Queens in 2013 singing on the Cosmos.
*For the sake of full disclosure, the author is the lead of a development team who has submitted a Statement of Qualifications with the City’s Economic Development Corporation to build a soccer specific stadium at the Willets Point location.  Nevertheless, this is an honest assessment of the 2013 time-line that has been proposed by various stakeholders in the MLS2NYC project. 

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