Major League Soccer wants a professional soccer team playing in Queens by 2016.
Tuesday night, 1st December 2013, the league demonstrated what a match in the borough might feel like. At the start of a town hall meeting the league hosted at Queens Theater in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, soccer fans chanted, hopped up and down, and danced to the beat of Latin music.
“Bring soccer to New York!” one fan shouted before the speeches began. The sound of a vuvuzela pierced the auditorium, and everyone cheered, waving the soccer-style scarves that were handed out to the standing-room-only crowd of about 400. It felt a lot like a soccer game. The biggest thing missing was, well, a stadium.
If M.L.S. has its way, a 25,000-seat stadium will gain city and state legislative approval in the coming months, and construction will begin in 2014. The town hall meeting gave the league an opportunity to present its plan to build the stadium at the eastern end of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a site chosen over about 20 other locations around the city that had been considered, the league said.
“In the back of our minds, we knew the perfect place would be Queens,” M.L.S. Commissioner Don Garber said, adding: “We needed to go to a place where there was a passion for soccer. There’s no question that that exists here.”
During the two-hour meeting, the league also answered questions from the audience and highlighted the support it had mustered from the community, business leaders and local politicians.
Practically everyone in attendance seemed to favor the proposed stadium — including the girls’ and boys’ soccer teams dressed in track suits; union members still in hard hats; and a father carrying a baby whose bedtime had clearly passed. Many people in the audience carried homemade signs, enthusiastically (albeit prematurely) welcoming M.L.S. to Queens.
“Our goal is to be one of the top soccer leagues in the entire world by 2022,” Garber said in a 30-minute presentation, parts of which were translated into Spanish. “This stadium will help us achieve that. You can’t be a dominant soccer league without having a dominant team in the largest and most important city in the world.”
The 19-team league has a team in Harrison, N.J., the Red Bulls. Potential owners for a 20th team in Queens and a possible name for the team were not announced. Garber has said he expects the new owner to pay $100 million for the right to operate the club.
Garber said the stadium would be financed privately and create at least 3,000 permanent and temporary jobs. He added that tens of millions of dollars would be invested in the park, which hosted the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs but has since been neglected. Many of the park’s soccer fields, frequently used for pickup games, are in poor condition.
M.L.S. officials alleviated that concern, emphasizing that the soccer fields would be renovated before construction on the stadium began and that the community could even use them during game days. “No fields will be closed during construction,” Mark Abbott, the league’s president, said, sparking cheers and whistles.
The league said every inch of parkland used for the new stadium would be replaced elsewhere in the community. The stadium’s footprint would take up 10 to 13 acres, Garber said, adding that six and a half of those acres would replace the Fountain of Planets, a site that is currently fenced off. Less than two acres of the proposed stadium site is grassland, he said.
Under the proposal, M.L.S. would have the right to expand the stadium to 35,000 seats in the next 30 years. But the stadium’s footprint would not increase if seats were added.