Sunnyside Yards: NYCFC’s Dream Stadium Location?

Sunnyside-NYCFC

by BILL REESE

Since the franchise was first announced, fans and pundits have speculated on dozens of properties where a soccer-specific stadium for New York City FC could be built. Empire of Soccer listed 10 potential sites in 2013, and analyzed two additional sites in the Bronx and Westchester after that.

As the calendar turns to 2016, the club is—at least publicly—no closer to a soccer-specific stadium than they were when the $100 million expansion fee check cleared in 2013.

However, EoS has learned that city and state agencies are currently investigating the potential of developing a massive piece of land in Sunnyside, Queens — vast enough to fit new city parks, thousands of units of affordable housing, a new convention center, or, perhaps, a soccer-specific stadium.

This piece of land is, in many ways, the “final frontier” of New York City’s real estate boom. In a city with shockingly few stadium-sized parcels of land available to build upon—this could become NYCFC’s last best shot of getting everything they want from a home field.

The Sunnyside rail yards in Queens.

The Sunnyside rail yards in Queens as they look today.

The site in question is the Sunnyside Yards; a massive expanse of railroad tracks, train depots, and switches nestled between the neighborhoods of Sunnyside to the south and Long Island City to the north and west. It encompasses 192 acres and stretches from the mouth of the Long Island Railroad and Amtrak tunnels nearly halfway to the neighborhood of Woodside.

It is one of, if not the largest, undeveloped pieces of land in the entire city and it has been coveted for years by city officials and developers alike.

Sunnyside dwarfs similar NYC redevelopment projects where platforms were built above active rail yards, with large buildings later constructed atop those platforms. The West Side Yard near Penn Station was to be the site of the 2012 Olympic Stadium and later the home of the New York Jets before the proposal was defeated on the state level and the Olympics were awarded to London. A massive development project called Hudson Yards was approved and is now rising on that site. After years of community opposition and the use of eminent domain, the Vanderbilt Yard in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn was decked over and the Barclays Center—home of the Brooklyn Nets and now the New York Islanders—was built atop that platform. After years of delays, other residential and commercial structures are now atop other sections of the Vanderbilt rail yard.

The Barclays Center and Hudson Yards developments have provided the city with case studies in what to do with the Sunnyside Yards. Both were met by massive community opposition, and both took more than a decade to come to fruition. Both were—at least from the start—centered around a sports facility as their anchor tenant. Both were also approved in the pre-recession real estate boom of the mid-aughts and both had several brushes with death before they got off the ground.

The Sunnyside Yards could become just about anything, which is the site’s blessing and curse. The de Blasio administration, while championing a populist message, has been painfully impotent in imposing a meaningful affordable housing policy in a city festooned with cranes putting up luxury high-rise after luxury high-rise. Because Sunnyside is so big, and because there are so many power brokers at the table, there are dozens of proposals about what to do with the site. Mayor de Blasio unsurprisingly came out in favor of building affordable housing over the Sunnyside Yards, but others have called for constructing a brand new convention center to replace the Jacob Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side. Local politicians have called for more open space and parks to be placed on the site.

If a current study by New York State determines that decking over the Sunnyside Yards is feasible, then the location should become an incredibly attractive option not just for a NYCFC stadium for City Football Group, but also for Shiekh Mansour and his government’s investment arm, The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. The ADIA, on which Mansour sits on the Board of Directors, has moved to diversify its holdings in the last decade, not solely relying on the fluctuations of the global energy market. They have invested heavily in sports teams, cultural institutions, and real estate around the world, especially in New York City. The price of oil goes up and down, but New York City real estate will always be a sound investment.

City Football Group, in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, could put together a master plan for Sunnyside similar to what the Riverbend Project tried to do in Harrison. They could use a NYCFC Stadium by itself, or in conjunction with a new Javits Center, to be the centerpiece of a massive mixed-use development. Unlike the Hudson Yards development on the far west side of Manhattan, Long Island City has never been hotter, and the transit options already exist in abundance.

How a 25,000 seat stadium would fit in relation to Sunnyside Yards.

How a 25,000 seat stadium would fit in relation to Sunnyside Yards.

Previous NYCFC stadium sites have all had their pros and cons, but on a conceptual level, Sunnyside Yards is a perfect 10. If placed between the Honeywell Avenue and 39th Street bridges, the stadium would be adjacent to six subway lines, a newly-built Long Island railroad stop in Sunnyside (part of the LIRR to Grand Central project), and the Long Island Expressway. The stadium would be within walking distance for fans in Long Island City and Astoria, and within a 20 minute train ride of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Everything is perfect, right? Well…

Even with all the money in the world—which Abu Dhabi basically has—this is a project that is nearly impossible to pull off in the current climate of New York politics. The developers would need to get New York State (who owns the MTA’s Long Island Railroad), the State of New Jersey (whose NJ Transit trains are parked in the Sunnyside Yard before they return to Penn Station and back out to Jersey), and the Federal government (whose Amtrak trains are parked and travel through the train yard) to agree to sell the air rights above the train yard.

Even if you miraculously get those three agencies on the same page, you’d have to also get the mayor and governor on the same page… and at this point Mike Petke and Ali Curtis are on better terms than Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio. If you could get those two on the same page, you would have to hire the best engineers in the world to construct a 192 acre platform 20-30 feet above one of the world’s busiest railways without disrupting service…And that’s all before they’d actually build the stadium or the buildings around it! Even if a master plan was agreed to today, it would likely be 10 years before the first buildings went up, and NYCFC (or MLS for that matter) likely won’t have that kind of patience.

Someday—someday sooner rather than later—a massive development is going to be built in the Sunnyside Yards. The forces building New York City bigger, taller, and richer will overcome the innumerate obstacles that stand in the way of the train yard being converted into a bustling city-within-a-city.

The City and State of New York will not come knocking on NYCFC’s door with a soccer-specific stadium on a silver platter, no matter how many “historic inaugural season ticket holders” the club has. Major League Soccer picked this ownership group because they have the resources to go out and build both a team—and stadium—of grand proportions.

Sunnyside Yards may be NYCFC’s best chance at fulfilling those grand ambitions.

  • The Real insider

    This would be a great site for a stadium with public transportation , close to Manhattan accessible to many in NJ, CT , Westchester and long island.

    Unfortunately given NY politics its probably impossible to get anything built here for a very long time and even if the current administration agrees there will be a bunch of environmental studies, local public opposition etc.

    NY makes it impossible to get anything done with all the corrupt politicians.

    It’s a great idea but very doubtful it will happen.

  • George

    You know what the city really needs? Affordable housing. I would love for NYCF to have a stadium, but would love affordable housing even more

    • Joey Bag of Donuts

      please George stop your whining

    • Soapy & Sal

      George, how about a warm compress and a hot toddy?

    • BP

      Couldn’t you do both?

    • Anonymous

      This is NYC… we don’t care about poor people.

  • Jamey

    Please stay on your side of the river, plastic scum.

    • LOL

      goon

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  • Marc

    It’ll never happen. That whole area is only 1 or 2 stops from Manhattan. Expect luxury condos, affordable housing, shops, and a park. Also, this is realistically to be 20 years away from happening if it ever gets off the ground. Still available: old Flushing Airport, Yonkers raceway, and Floyd Bennet Field. There’s plenty of room in Yankee stadium. They can stay there for another 10 years.

    • Nat Mac

      The field at Yankee Stadium is a joke. Undersized with an attacking third dominated by a baseball diamond that’s sodded over before every game.

      Can you imagine Man City or Real Madrid playing league matches that count on a field of this caliber? The quality of the field clearly illustrates that the league cares more about marketing a team than the actual sport that the marketed team plays.

      They need to get a soccer specific stadium deal done soon. And if not, at least move to a location where this soccer team can play on a truly professional soccer field. Until then, it’s hard to take this team or this league seriously because they don’t seem to take the sport itself seriously.

      • Mike T

        This is all a growth process. Building a league takes time and compromises have to be made along the way. That is just business.

        • Nat Mac

          Compromising the quality of a business to grow the business is not good business. The league should have simply waited until a stadium deal was in place before launching this team, as they are in Miami.

          • Mike T

            Sure it is. There is a business term called business optimization. That is the opposite of maximization. Optimization is how you smartly grow and sustain a business.

    • Alex

      Yankee Stadium stinks for the beautiful game! I can’t stand to watch soccer on that type of pitch, its horrendous. I need to see the game in an authentic venue with all the amenities that most soccer teams in the world play in.

  • EPL Fan

    Their Dream Location is in Manchester.

  • MrTuktoyaktuk

    Which gets done first – Sunnyside Yards development or colony on Mars?

    • The Real insider

      Mars, no corrupt politicians YET on mars.

  • Nycsportspunk

    Not happening, man shitty that feels good to say !

    I hear there is some land up by Watertown NY, right next to the Canadian border.

    • Larry’s A Simpleton

      sportspunkie, still reeling from the failure the f.cosmos have become. Go away boy, professional big league soccer discussion going on here. take you little league f.cosmos bull **** elsewhere.

      • Dr. Freud

        You are obessed with the Cosmos. It is unhealthy. Please seek help. I am very concerned for you.

      • Nycsportspunk

        Another bitch ass comment brought you by the simple one.

        • Larry’s a Simpleton

          The fact that I often wonder what it would be like to spend an evening in a hot tub with Hunter Freeman does NOT mean I am obsessed with the Cosmos!

          • OpenCupFan

            Lol, that’s funny b/c it’s true!

  • Dr.soccer

    MLS garber vs cosmos
    Who will get their stadium first?
    Will cosmos get their first or will nycfc open their wallet and work the magic.
    Will red bull have 3 known dp stars before cosmos and nycfc get their stadium?
    Stay tune as soccer in the boroughs takes over politicians.
    By the way, leweike should be hired by NYC or cosmos, leweike has the magic they need.

    • BP

      Long Island is not NYC. No one cares about the Cosmos.

      • TF

        That’s just like saying for example: the Philadelphia Union, and Chicago Fire should not represent their cities because their stadiums are outside city limits. #stfu

        • ty

          Harrison NJ is not NYC either what about Carson CA also

        • The realist

          Yes, but you forgetting that NYCFC fans are complete and utter morons.

          • Anonymous

            Says the moron

      • Resguard

        Elmont is pretty much Queens, the city has well spilled out onto the island for a while now… you can have a 15-mmin drive onto the island now a days and a lot of towns are beginning to look like Brooklyn and queens did years ago.

      • Anonymous

        Empire state building lit cosmos green this year!!!
        My toilet seat is nycfc blue. Garber can come lick it.
        Doesnt know a soccer ball a bowling ball.

        History and tradition CAN NOT be replicated.

        Bring back Beckham and Mia Hamm. Thats MLS’s new franchise in NY next year.

  • Nelson Ortiz

    As great as this option looks I believe the best case will be the redevelopment of Columbia University’s field in northern Manhattan

    They can redevelop all the fields around the stadium as well as the training facilities

  • Fabio

    25,000 for NYCFC ? No thanks. At least 35,000 / 40,000 !!!!

    • Anonymous

      I second that motion!!

    • Mike T

      Totally agree.

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  • Anonymous

    This would be an absolute dream for me… It would be nice to have the stadium so close to home.

  • Dr.soccer

    It’s never going to happen :)
    If NYC stay at Yankees stadium for 10 years then yes but cmon.
    Cosmos might have a sucky location with their stadium proposal but cosmos might get a stadium first than NYC.
    Even more, red bull arena might become a red bull factory before NYC gets a stadium :)

  • OpenCupFan

    PinkCow arena will be home to Cosmos Academy u12 team w/in 10 years

    • Soapy & Sal

      You are delusional. Please remove the tin foil hat before posting additional comments.

      nycfc will be in Yankee Stadium for the foreseeable future. The reality is, getting any stadium deal done in NYC is like climbing Mount Everest. But I applaud their effort.

      • Nat Mac

        Like Miami, the league should not have allowed this team in until a soccer specific stadium was in place.

        • Mike T

          That is just not realistic in this case. MLS needs to position itself for growth so that means working to increase television viewership, gate attendance, and visibility and NYC advances that strategy. Waiting for the stars to align for New York is a fools game. The way to push things along in NYC is different than most places so the people making decisions to grow the league need to do what makes the most sense for each scenario.

          • Nat Mac

            Sorry, I take the game seriously. Compromising the game by playing at a location that is not well suited to the game simply so that it can be marketed is not good business no matter how you spin it. The playing surface at Yankee Stadium makes a mockery of the very game they are trying to sell.

            The league has been trying to grow for twenty years. Waiting a few more years until a proper stadium deal was in place would not have been detrimental. Big difference having a team launch in a true home for the game than playing at a temporary and substandard venue.

            • The realist

              Let’s not forget that the team is **** too.

            • Mike T

              Stadium deals in NYC are hard to come by and sometimes you have to take on a challenge even when the conditions are not ideal. Hopefully you can evolve the current situation into a future state that is better.
              Sometimes when people take a stance that of too restrictive, the opportunity gets lost.

              • Nat Mac

                A challenge is one thing. But there are standards in sport. And when a league allows a team to play on a substandard field simply for the sake of a marketing opportunity, the very point of the endeavor is undermined.

                • Becks

                  The product on the field needed to be there first. New Yorkers needed to see it was real; see what kind of support NYCFC would get before buying into a $350 mil development project. You don’t build a stadium in NY for a team that doesn’t exist. It’s too hard to sell that idea, gain the momentum, support and approvals for a “possible” team. They needed to touch it, feel it, criticize it. Now that they are real, it’s still hard enough to build a stadium for a team that does exist. Even if they are a living, breathing, ticket selling, tax paying, defense-lacking entity.

  • OpenCupFan

    Would you rather it be an empty lot for parking buses?
    .
    Typical bot, using insults then stating the obvious as if it was a revelation to anyone. #mlsfansaredumbdumbs

  • William

    This would crush that bush league joke Cosmos plans. Their fans are huge losers too.

  • Budweiser frog

    Happy holidays fellow soccer fans
    Let your city be full of soccer beer drinking fans (don’t drink and drive)
    Cheer and chant for your team and make sure to write a letter to your team owner and president, express yourself and may the future be bright for your team.
    Cheers and keep your head up!!!!
    Dale dale dale dale cosmos

  • ted dev

    the cosmos would actually have to start an academy for their teams to play in stadiums, they have done nothing of the sort to develop future talent, or played youngsters in the squad like MLS teams have – they mainly have old 40 yr old guys and MLS retirees…

  • David Carlin, Farm Animal Molester

    They should build that shitbix out in westchester for shitty city jr.

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  • OpenCupFan

    From the comments here it seems the better bots are off this week, Christmas is giving us the second string bots.

  • Anon

    No- go somewhere else and stay out of LIC. That whole area has become a crap hole of overdevelopment.

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