NYCFC Talking Willets Point Stadium, but Hurdles Remain

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NYCFC logoNew York City FC remain in discussions with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and city officials about building a stadium at Willets Point, Katz told Empire of Soccer on Wednesday.

NYCFC confirmed a report in The New York Times report that it was viewing two sites in the Willets Point area as potential locations for a stadium, and Katz did as well. At the moment, Katz said, the overall plans for re-developing the area are uncertain after a State Appellate Court determined that a part of the area west of Citi Field was parkland and could not be built upon without approval from the state legislature.

“The City has not determined how they want to move forward,” Katz said. “We’re in discussions with the developers and they’re also in discussions with legal teams as to what can be done there. It’s 23 acres that the City now owns outright and I have made it very clear that my first priority would be a soccer stadium there and affordable housing.”

Queens Development Group has the right to develop the land around Citi Field, but since the court’s decision in June, the developers have indicated that their plans may not move forward. As a result, legal departments from both the developers and the City are exploring options. Katz said that they are exploring whether the current Request for Proposals and zoning guidelines would have to be amended or withdrawn. Katz said she didn’t know when the City or the developers will decide on what to do next.

“A lot has to happen before we move forward on any development there,” she said. “The City needs to make a lot of determinations. We’re working with the City and the Mayor knows that it’s an important priority for the Borough of Queens and his team and our’s have been in discussions. There needs to be public discussion within our community and how this would look going forward. Now there’s a discussion happening whereas probably two or three years ago, it was a very quiet discussion. Now it’s a very vocal one.”

At the moment, none of the parties are in agreement about where a stadium and potential housing would be located, Katz said. That’s largely because of the uncertainty surrounding the legal and zoning situation. NYCFC continues to pursue other venues while waiting for the Willets Point situation to be resolveedf, Katz said she didn’t mind that. Should any team propose a stadium in Willets Point, Katz said an affordable housing component would be ‘extremely vital.’ ”

“You need to have affordable housing there,” she said. “The City is in a crisis with housing. People are in desperate need of places to live and places they can afford to live in. The Mayor has made it a priority to build and retain 200,000 units of affordable housing and this has to be part of that resolution. I don’t think any body would argue that point and now that the City owns 100% of the property we’re building on, there’s no reason why it can’t be 100% affordable.”

The status of the environmental cleanup that would need to take place in the area is also unclear thanks to the court’s decision. Willets Point and Flushing Bay are heavily polluted from decades of petroleum and heavy metal leaking into a ground already easily saturated by the area’s high water table and the lack of sewage system. Should the City refile the RFP, then the current contracts and plans to clean up the area would have to be re-negotiated which would restart an already decades-old process.

Katz reiterated that her goal is to have a soccer stadium in Queens and she may be helped out by soon-to-be councilman Francisco Moya, a passionate soccer fan who won the Democratic primary in the City’s 21st Council District, which includes Willets Point. She made it a point to mention, however, that when she was discussing a soccer stadium, it didn’t necessarily mean it would be one for NYCFC.

“You keep assuming it’s NYCFC, which is nice,” she said, “but at the end of the day, I want to see a soccer stadium there. That can be a small one, it can be a larger one. I just think we just need to answer constituents’ calling to have soccer represented in a larger fashion in Queens.”