If you are a New York or New Jersey resident, it is no secret; building anything in this area, let alone a soccer stadium, is a difficult task. The NY/NJ Metrostars lived with that promise for years until Red Bulls finally put plans in motion – and even then, it was an arduous process.
Tueday night’s “MLS to Queens” event was a positive first step for the league in what will be a long and trying road to bring, as Commissioner Don Garber called it, “the world’s game to the world’s park.”
487 seats provided at the Queens Theater in Flushing Meadow Park were met with an overflow of over 500 people as Major League Soccer sold itself to the local community. The “town hall” took on the form of a rally as local luminaries, politicians and, yes, Fernando Fiore of Univision whipped the crowd up in support of this project.
The league did a very good job of framing their argument to the community – a strong opening salvo in what will be an ongoing discussion for many months to come. My in-depth story on Soccer By Ives frames the finer details of their plan.
But an ambitious project like the one MLS is presenting needs the execution to follow through while building support for the proposal. Yesterday was crucial in building that base.
On that end, it was a banner night for the league.
Garber was the perfect politician in his first public presentation to the locals. Knowing his audience consisted of mostly first generation Latin Americans, he spoke of his family’s immigrant tale and emphasized his Queens roots – going to John Bowne High School, living in Flushing and even getting his first job in Woodside.
“I am a Queens guy,” he stated. “This is where I spent the majority of my childhood.”
A little ethnic pandering didn’t hurt his cause either. From the moment you entered the Theater, the Latin influence was palpable. From the music, to the over-the-top Spanish to English, English to Spanish translator to Fernando Fiore himself, MLS went out of their way to make sure communication and spectacle were not lost on the Latin community.
“This sport represents the diverse culture in our county and nowhere is that diverse culture represented than in the Borough of Queens,” he said. “We believe that our country is changing, that we live in a new America; an America that looks different, speaks different and feels different from just about any other time in our history. This sport is the sort that can connect with that new America. We are young, we are diverse and we are global.”
SHOW OF FORCE
As Garber spun yarn about his early years, he was surrounded by well known local luminaries. Assemblyman Francisco Moya, state Senators Jose Peralta and Ann Stavisky, and City Council woman Julissa Ferraras led a group of local leaders, community organizers and union representatives speaking as one in favor of this endeavour.
Garber even mentioned the support of the Mayor and Governor’s offices for good measure.
AN ECLECTIC AUDIENCE
As telling as the support from key leadership was, the audience backing was just as encouraging for proponents of this project. Of course, the Borough Boys and La Banda Del Cosmos supplied the fan support on their end, but a look around the room revealed local school children, academy soccer sides, high school soccer teams, union members, and business leaders all showing a vocal support for the Stadium.
The few in opposition were left in the lobby of this standing room only affair where about a dozen or so protesters greeted people exiting the event with flyers highlighting their opposition.
The idea that the stadium would be 100% privately funded was well received but the one driver that kept everyone united in support of the project, from the audience to the politicians, was the prospect of job creation. 3,000 jobs in a borough decimated by the economic recession is nothing to sneeze at. Union support, which is vital for a project of this nature, was only bolstered by the idea that 2,100 jobs would be dedicated to the trade organizations.
Garber emphasized the spending power of the average fan and highlighted the Seattle Sounders and their March to the Match as an economic model that has helped lift local businesses.
BUILDING WITH MINIMAL INTERFERENCE AND A LOCAL EYE
The parks footprint would require 10-13 acres of land which the team would be responsible in replacing. A big concern is how such a large scale project could be accomplished without interfering on the lives of park-goers.
MLS says they will first build and renovate the park spaces themselves before building the stadium, outfitting all weather terrain that will be managed by the NYC Parks Department. They will choose replaceable park areas alongside political leaders with an eye on local community renovations.
From there, the Commissioner promised even more grassland would be available than prior to the construction project within the park confines. The league is constructing stadium renderings that would make that vision a reality.
The stadium project would go beyond just sporting ground development. According to Garber, MLS will also help in beautifying the park by restoring, for example, fountains that haven’t been in use for over 50 years.
An interesting tidbit was shared during the presentation; charitable works are not included in the player’s CBA. All philanthropic work is discussed by team’s and their players on an individual basis.
That, Garber noted, displayed the character of the MLS player. In fact, he used current events to make his point, highlighting the New York Red Bulls $400k contribution to Hurricane Sandy recovery and team players volunteering their time with the recovery as well.
Opening the stadium for local uses also received accolades from many of the High School students in attendance. Garber claims the park would be made available for local youth sports like “football and lacrosse” giving the site an added usage outside of normal soccer events.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
With close proximity to buses, subways, the Long Island Railroad and sandwiched between the Grand Central Parkway, Van Wyck Expressway and the Long Island Expressway, it is difficult to argue Garber’s contention that this indeed would be one of the greatest traffic hubs for a potential stadium site in New York.
What is missing, however, is parking space to attend events. MLS hopes to address that issue with a proposed expansion of parking areas beneath the Van Wyck and a land sharing plan with the owners of Citifield. Traffic patterns would also have to be altered in order to ease the traffic in and out of the area.
Could the event have included a greater community participation? No question. Were opposing voices missing from this rallying cry? Absolutely. But from an organizational stand point, it is the ideal face forward for the league.
After looking at 20 potential sites, MLS is comfortable with the idea of a park in Queens and they said all the right things to begin making that dream a reality.
“We wanted to do all of our due diligence,” Garber noted. “(but) in the back of our minds we knew the perfect place would be Queens.
“We needed to go to a place where there was a passion for soccer. There is no question that exists here. We needed to be close to public transportation. There is probably not any more accessible locations than Flushing Meadow/Corona Park. We needed to ensure that we would manage parking and we have the solution for that. And we needed to make sure that the stadium would fit into the site that we wanted to build.”