Major League Soccer (MLS) is expanding to New York. The MLS announced on Wednesday, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg standing by, that the league’s 20th franchise, New York City Football Club (NYCFC), will be operated by the New York Yankees and the English football club Manchester City. The club will join the league in 2015.
First order of business? Secure public land for a stadium free of charge.
The team will play in Yankee Stadium when it debuts in 2015, but ownership has its eye on a swath of land in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, not far from the USTA Billie Jean National Tennis Center and Citi Field, where the New York Mets play. The desired location is no secret in Queens. MLS has been lobbying for 13 acres in the eastern end of the park for some time and has Bloomberg on its side.
The ownership group has a deal for a $340 million privately financed stadium, as long as the city forks over the parkland for free. Once again, we have a very wealthy sports ownership group asking for a handout. The type of handout that will only increase the value of their franchise, and save them loads of cash that otherwise would filter back into the city’s economy. (The D.C. United are going through the same exact process in the nation’s capital. Trust us, folks, it’s privately financed. We just need the land.)
If you’re just reading the headlines, it sounds like a good deal. A breath of fresh air. Sports Owner Unveils Plans for Brand New Privately Financed Stadium. But once you read the fine print, you see how it’s the same old publicly financed song and dance. And boy, is NYCFC positioning the club for a sweet deal.
“Soccer’s proposal is outrageous,” said Will Sweeney, co-founder of the Fairness Coalition of Queens. “They want the stadium to be smack dab in the middle of the park. It would render whole sections of the park useless on game day and possibly render the park permanently less useful by its location. They want the land for free!”
Parkland is the only type of property in New York City that by default has no property taxes. It would be naïve to think that the new ownership group didn’t have that in mind when looking at the location. “They would never have to pay property taxes. It would save them hundreds of millions of dollars,” Sweeney said. “And on top of that terrible deal is that the lease is $1 a year.”
Crain’s reported in February that the $1-a-year lease offered by the Bloomberg administration is good for 35 years. As consolation, Bloomberg promised to build a new park at the old Flushing airport, which is prone to flooding and lacks easy access to mass transit.
That the MLS wants to take over 10 acres of parkland so it can host 17 home games a year is bad enough, but the property tax and cushy lease deal are simply foolish business for the city. I don’t care if the stadium promises to bring jobs and retail and goodwill. It’s literally taking hundreds of millions in potential tax revenue from the city’s coffers. Not to mention, diminishing open green space for the people of Queens.
“The property tax thing is going to drain hundreds of millions of dollars from the city’s treasury over that lease period,” Sweeney said. “For instance, the Mets save $251 million, according to the independent budget office, by not having to pay property taxes over a 30-year period.”
Which is not to say that major league soccer is a bad idea for Queens. New York, with its international population, is arguably the most soccer-crazy city in America after Seattle, where the Sounders are wildly popular. But when will elected politicians learn what’s best for their tax base? The city of Atlanta just pledged $200 million to a new stadium for the NFL’s Falcons. And Buffalo recently fleeced taxpayers into footing the bill for 84 percent of renovations on Ralph Wilson Stadium, which are expected to total $271 million.
Bloomberg is on his way out, unless he somehow changes the term limits again. He should put his foot down in this park-stealing land grab and send NYCFC elsewhere. Or maybe they can just hole up in the Bronx with the Yankees. They only play 17 games a year, anyway. I’m sure the Steinbrenner family would welcome the extra revenue streams.
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Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.