Despite two new baseball stadiums and a basketball arena, New York City’s appetite for sports venues has seemingly not been sated as rumors are swirling of Major League Soccer’s interest in Queens. Looking to expand into New York City proper, the U.S. professional soccer league has its eye on a parcel of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and although these plans have a long way to go, the MTA has a role to play yet.
Stories and support for a Queens soccer stadium have been percolating out of Albany for much of the summer. The story took off earlier this week when Fredric Dicker of The Post ran a piece relying heavily on a few anonymous sources. MLS, he alleged, is nearing a deal for the stadium. The catch is that the city would have to give up at least nine acres of park land in Flushing Meadows, and the MTA would have to sell some of the land it owns near the LIRR tracks and Corona Yard.
According to Dicker’s sources, the $300 million stadium would be entirely privately funded, and already, I am growing skeptical. Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, built a few years ago, cost around $250 million and takes up over 12 acres. It’s a 25,000-seater that is rarely full. Will MLS not require tax breaks as the Yanks and Mets did with their supposedly privately funded stadiums? (The Mets, of course, have raised an entirely different set of issues as the Wilpons are not keen on surrendering parking for any Willets Point developments to a soccer stadium.)
For a full round-up of the political issues surrounding any such stadium, check out Neil deMause’s takedown in The Village Voice. As MLS officials subsequently noted, it could be years before a stadium rises in the park, and talks should be characterized as “exploratory.”
So what’s the MTA’s role in this mess? They own some of the land MLS is eying for the stadium. As two Daily News writers noted yesterday (in a piece in which they sadly called the MTA the “Metropolitan Transit Authority”), city and state officials in Albany will require adequate replacement parkland should the nine acres vanish, and they could call upon the MTA to cede such land. The MTA and local politicians though have a different view of it.
“We’ve got to find land in roughly the same area,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of the parkland. “There is land on an MTA site, which everybody said, ‘Let’s get that.’ I have not talked to Joe Lhota, and I don’t know how practical it is, and how much Joe needs that land for other things. Before we go spending or taking away Joe Lhota’s land, maybe we should ask him.”
Dana Rubinstein of Capital New York did just that, and Lhota, a fierce defender of his realm, will not give MTA land for nothing. “If we have a piece of property that’s not determined to be used for a future transit need and we own it and it’s available yes, we’re in the business of shedding assets to help us financially,” he said. “And under the law we can sell assets as long as it’s a fair market value.”
For years, we’ve watched a parade of MTA higher-ups sell off authority land for next to nothing. The sweetheart deal the Authority gave Bruce Ratner for his Atlantic Yards development has rankled politicians and Brooklynites for years, and even the Hudson Yards deal had to be further incentivized for the MTA to realize any money. Lhota though seems to get what’s at stake. The MTA isn’t in a position to give up its assets without drawing value for them, and if the time comes to sell some land in Queens for a soccer stadium, the MTA should maximize its revenue. That day though may be a long time coming.