Slam dunk? Hardly.
Though proud and boastful when speaking about the achievements of the league, MLS Commissioner Don Garber took a more cautious and demure approach when talking about the league’s multimillion dollar efforts to secure a stadium in Flushing Meadow Park during his State of the League address Wednesday afternoon.
“We continue to work hard to have our 20th team play right here in New York, hopefully in Flushing Meadow Corona Park,” he said, before adding, “we still have a lot of work to do but we’re making progress.”
Calling the initiative a “big priority,” Garber painted an honest picture on just how far the league still was from achieving their vision. Despite boasting major political capital, from the backing of Mayor Mike Bloomberg on down to local officials and influential labor unions, MLS still hasn’t had the opportunity to acquire City or State approval for the project which is by all means a major first step.
It is an on-going process that the MLS Commissioner called “the biggest challenge we have ever faced.”
“I think if you asked Bruce Ratner that or Jim Dolan that or if you ask the folks with Charles Wang with the Islanders or if you ask Jeff Vanderbeek with the Devils, this is an incredibly valuable market and one that is very constrained in terms of real estate opportunities and available land,” Garber said, “but if you can make it here, you can really make it anywhere so it’s worth the effort.”
The Commissioner expressed how unique the project itself is. He emphasized the league’s lead role in securing the real estate and how they would happily step aside once a new ownership group was established.
Speaking of ownership groups, Garber also revealed that the potential operators of this stadium would come from outside the current crop of MLS operators. Though no one particular group was awarded the rights just yet, he expressed great confidence that the potential groups were more than up to the task.
On the economic side, he was proud to note “MLS to Queens” would be the first privately financed arena in New York City. According to the league, the initiative would be a major economic boon for the local community, creating hundreds of jobs, millions in revenue and would offer a rare financial partner to the park itself.
“We’re going to be putting in what could be $350 million in that park; a park that hasn’t seen that kind of investment ever,” he said. “We will continue to engage in the community and ensure if we are able to be successful that that team and that stadium will be incredibly connected in a community that is literally made up from every country from around the world.”
Garber emphasized the mutual benefits to the project for the city and the league itself, but did, for the first time, acknowledge this NY2 project would not be an endless pursuit. Though he did not give a set time-frame, he did admit the league would pull out of the race if progress was not made.
“If we are successful, we believe it will be one of the real shining lights of Major League Soccer, having a terrific rivalry with the Red Bulls who are doing a terrific job across the river in New Jersey.”
“If we’re not successful we’ll throw our hands up,” he concluded. “We’d take a step back and see if there’s another market … I don’t want to put a year limit on it but if it’s not making progress, the time will come. There’s a lot of activity in other markets.”