Friday was an emotional roller coaster for supporters of New York City FC with news that the Boys in Blue would indeed play a CONCACAF Champions League match in enemy territory, i.e. Red Bull Arena, ultimately trumped by a possible break in the team’s long simmering stadium saga.
Bad News- Good News
The stadium news came courtesy of a New York Times article that reported that NYCFC ownership was close to a deal with the city to build a 25,000 seat soccer-specific stadium blocks from Yankee Stadium, which the team has called home since beginning play in Major League Soccer in 2015.
The timing of the two pieces of news seemed almost too good to be true but speaks to the dilemma that has long bedeviled a franchise that built its brand on being the “real” New York City team, in contrast with rival New York Red Bulls, who play their home games at Red Bull Arena across the Hudson River in Harrison, New Jersey.
“Real” NYC Team
With NYCFC limiting its search to the city’s five boroughs, potential stadium sites in the surrounding suburbs were eschewed and the team continued in a baseball stadium ill-suited to the beautiful game.
The soccer club’s status as tenants of the New York Yankees has always seen the newcomers play a distant second fiddle to the 27 time World Series Champions. This despite the baseball giants role as minority owners of the New York City Football Club.
Stadium availability questions have seen NYC play matches over the years at Citi Field, St. John’s Belson Stadium, Fordham University, Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, with Red Bull Arena set for later this month.
That instability has surely played its part in NYC’s declining attendance numbers which have fallen from 29,016 in the team’s inaugural campaign to just 21,107 in 2019.
Not Just a Stadium
The privately financed stadium would be part of a $1 billion deal that would include affordable housing, a hotel, a school, and retail businesses. The project is to be built on land currently occupied by an elevator parts factory and a series of parking garages that were built for the new Yankee Stadium in 2009 and have badly underutilized since.
The Times reports that once the deal is finalized ground is unlikely to be broken before 2022 with 2024 the earliest possible opening date. NYCFC would work with developers MADD Equities. The project has the backing of New York City Mayor de Blasio. The city’s Economic Development Corporation released a statement saying, “It’s long past time to make the underutilized parking lots around Yankee Stadium into something more.” The city has been approached by a team of affordable housing developers, the Yankees, and the N.Y.C. Football Club.
Not Done Yet
“A deal has not been reached, and more conversations are needed. We are hopeful for a future where these lots can better serve the community. The first step toward achieving that is engaging the community on their needs and vision for this area.”
Similarly, NYCFC was cautious in its remarks, releasing this statement.
“We have been honored to call the Bronx our home for the last five years playing at Yankee Stadium, and we will keep our neighbors and our dedicated fans informed as we participate with Madd and others in any related consultations and the public approval process.”
Final approval is still months away with zoning changes and often contentious public hearings still to come. Several projects have stalled previously but this time may be different.
The Yankees Step up to the Plate
When the Yankees were originally announced as 20% stakeholders in New York City Football Club, the team’s local knowledge and influence were hailed as a positive that would help the newcomers navigate the notoriously murky waters of the city’s political and real estate waters.
This news would appear to validate that strategy with the Times report indicating that Yankees President Randy Levine has been key to bringing the deal to this point.
Four More Years
Four or more years is not exactly just around the corner but the potential of a stadium of their own may just be enough to keep New York City FC fans onboard.