By DAN KARELL
One of the biggest proponents of bringing Major League Soccer to the Bronx is suddenly not so hot on the idea of building a separate soccer-specific stadium for New York City FC.
Last summer, Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. wrote to MLS Commissioner Don Garber asking the league to consider the Bronx as a permanent home for NYC FC. Nearly a year later, Diaz seems less open to the idea of NYC FC playing in a home of their own in the borough.
“On the soccer stadium as a whole, I’ll say this: I’m not there yet,” Diaz Jr. told Crain’s New York Business. “That said, I am open-minded. As I said in my State of the Borough address, with a good community-benefits agreement, with proper community engagement, I think we can get to a place where folks understand the economic benefits of the stadium. But those benefits have to be real and be felt.
“It can’t just benefit the royal family of Abu Dhabi [which co-owns the franchise] or the Yankees.”
These quotes come almost 11 months after Diaz Jr. made a public plea to Garber that the league should consider bringing soccer to the Bronx, and not in Queens.
In a letter addressed to Garber on June 13, Diaz Jr. wrote, “It would appear that there is little enthusiasm for world class soccer in Queens. There’s a much different story in the Bronx.”
Diaz Jr. then cited the Spain vs. Republic of Ireland match last summer at Yankee Stadium and the announced attendance of 39,368 as reasons why the Bronx would make a great home for soccer.
“While here, these (Spain and Ireland) soccer fans spent money in local businesses and restaurants, bringing tremendous economic activity to the 161st Street corridor,” Diaz Jr. wrote. “If a Major League Soccer franchise were to make its permanent home in our borough, we can replicate that financial boost, either at 161st Street or elsewhere, more than 20 times a year.”
“It’s the most-loved and most-watched sport in the world,” Diaz told the New York Daily News. “I’m saying let’s take a look at the Bronx. The Bronx is full of different cultures. People from all over the world live here that have one thing in common: their love of soccer.”
NYC FC recently announced that they’ll be playing their inaugural season at Yankee Stadium and the New York Times reported that the club’s first three years will be played in the confines of the House that Steinbrenner built.
In the meantime, the message from NYC FC officials has been that they’ll take their time looking at all their options, whether that’s in the Bronx or not. Yankees president Randy Levine even hinted that they’ll look at options outside of the five boroughs, moving away from the team line as the club struggles to find a permanent home.
Last December, details over a potential 10-acre site a few blocks from Yankee Stadium were leaked in a number of reports in the New York press. The construction of a soccer-specific stadium within New York City was reportedly one of the goals of former mayor Mike Bloomberg and the city was reportedly willing to issue $350 million in tax-exempt bonds and another $21.5 million in other tax exemptions to NYC FC.
That plan has garnered plenty of local opposition but also some support from residents who see a new stadium as a way to revitalize the neighborhood.
Since Bloomberg has left the mayor’s office, NYC FC has had a tougher time moving forward with stadium plans to due current mayor Bill De Blasio’s reluctance to spent public money on a private enterprise.
As previously reported, NYC FC is close to announcing that their temporary training center will be on the campus of Manhattanville College, in Purchase, New York.
What do you think of these comments? Do you see NYC FC gaining any ground on a stadium site in the Bronx in 2014? Do you think building within the five boroughs is a lost cause? Should they look to build a stadium in Westchester?
Share your thoughts below.