FLORAL PARK, N.Y. – For the first time since submitting an RFP over two years ago, the New York Cosmos took to the streets to explain their “Elmont Crossing” bid — and to sell the idea of a stadium to the local community.
A mostly pro-Cosmos audience gathered at Floral Park’s Sewanhaka High School, submitting their questions and concerns over the project. The Town Hall setting lacked the vocal one-on-one questioning that typically defines such events. Instead, audience members submitted their questions to speakers from both the Elmont and Floral Park School Districts who presented them to the speakers in a more civilized setting.
Fielding questions were New York Cosmos COO Erik Stover and Executive Vice President and CFO of the Mattone Group, Michael Mattone, who will be in charge of the retail end of the development upon bid approval.
The Cosmos handed out green t-shirts with the hashtags “#WeWantIt” and “#MoreThanAStadium” as people entered the school auditorium and began their presentation with the Elmont Crossing vignette, selling the usual talking points about the project; a privately funded, $400 million stadium with commercial compliments including a restaurant row, 250,000 square feet of retail, a 175-room hotel, some $2 million spent on refurbishing and developing park space for the local community, and of course, $2 million dollars in annual tax revenue for the area.
Once completed, both club representatives took on dozens of questions from the attendees.
Congestion is a clear concern in the community. Many in attendance submitted questions relating to traffic concerns, particularly after last year’s Belmont Stakes, which flooded the area with over 100,000 visitors, laying waste to private property, strewing garbage on all grounds and leaving several waiting hours on the undersized LIRR station to make their way back home while several others endured gridlock traffic on the Cross Island Expressway.
Since then, the LIRR station was granted a $5 million upgrade; funding Stover labels as “cosmetic.”
“One thing that needs to happen in this community is that LIRR station needs to be refurbished, needs to be turned into a regular stop — not just on raceday,” he explained. The idea would be maximizing the area’s entertainment with the Cosmos Stadium usage to force larger scale changes to the transportation system.
Stover also offered another potential neighborhood salvation in the form of the team’s parking lot. Neighbors complained of double parked cars, some blocking driveways during the last Stakes race. The Cosmos’ stadium will offer 6,000 parking spots in the region, which could serve to stave off that kind of congestion.
“As a point of reference, Citifield has about 7,000 parking spaces for a 45,000 seat stadium,” he said. “Parking is more than adequate. I don’t think we will ever come close to selling that out.”
Foot traffic was also a local concern. Both Stover and Mattone spoke of how their proposed foot bridges will alleviate that kind of congestion in the future.
The Cosmos COO also pledged to not run events at the same time as Belmont, stating the Cosmos want to be a “compliment” to their horse racing neighbors. The idea would be creating a year-long destination that will fuel the local redevelopment well past soccer and horse racing season. Stover suggested ideas outside of the regularly scheduled events including 8-10 friendly soccer matches throughout the year, complimented by other sporting and entertainment offerings from rugby to concert events.
The Cosmos claim they have not lobbied politicians since 2012. Mattone, on the other hand, admitted his role in political investment.
“It’s part of the business,” he said.
How much of a lobbying investment was not revealed. However, while the Cosmos have halted contributions, they were quick to point out a roster of political allies from both Queens and Nassau County. The Bipartican stable includes congressmen Grace Meng (D), Kathleen Rice (D), Joseph Crowly (D), Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D), Barbara Clark (D) and State Senator Jack Martins (R) and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano (R).
Each has submitted letters of support for the project.
BRIDGING THE ATTENDANCE GAP
Another very real concern stems from the club’s current attendance woes and the immensity of the team’s proposed stadium. The Cosmos draw anywhere from 5-8,000 fans a match throughout the course of a season; far less than their stadium’s 25,o00 seat capacity.
Stover drew on his personal experience helping to build Red Bull Arena in Harrison, assuring “if we build it, they will come.”
“The good news is, I have a good amount of experience with this as the managing director of the Red Bulls, building a state of the art 25,000 seat stadium in Harrison, New Jersey,” Stover began. “It is the best soccer specific stadium I believe in North America.
“When we played at Giants Stadium, we had 4k season ticket holders, and when we opened up at Red Bull Arena, we had 8k, then the following year, 10k season ticket holders.
“This project is a driver for our business,” he continued. “We already have world class players on our team playing in a college stadium on a plastic field, Raul, Marcos Senna — legendary players. And we take phone calls everyday from players that want to play for us.
“I am extremely confident if we build this stadium, we will have a better stadium than Red Bull Arena, it will be a better team, and it will look a lot like the Cosmos of the late 70’s.”
The vast majority of the 250-400 attendees supported the Cosmos’ Stadium bid. However, while the Cosmos’ executives presented a bold picture of prosperity for their project, some remained unconvinced.
Elmont resident Patricia Romeo was the loudest and most noticeable detractor in a room, routinely speaking out at what she labeled the Cosmos’ “canned answers.”
“When they have the races, the concerts, when they have the Belmont Stakes, you can’t even get into your driveway! You can’t get within a ten block radio of your house! When the Stakes are finished and the race is over, there are bottles and garbage on your lawn. It is just a mess. You can’t even get down the turnpike!” she said.
“I could hear the racetrack from my bathroom it is so loud!”
“I have a problem with this,” she continued. “If they come here to ask the opinion of the people that live in Elmont and Floral Park and Franklin Square, they should have a closed forum where you ask the people who live there what is going on there.
“I have lived there 16 years and have endured 16 Belmont Stakes. It is pure hell!”
There is still no clue as to when — or if — the Empire State Development Corporation will offer approval to any of the three competing bidders.