The motto for Major League Soccer’s initial push to establish a franchise and stadium in New York City was “Let’s bring pro soccer to Queens.”
But now an elected official from across the East River is saying “Let’s bring pro soccer to the Bronx.”
That county’s borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., is asking MLS Commissioner Don Garber to drop Queens and pick the Bronx as a potential home for the league’s next expansion, a somewhat logical move considering the league’s New York franchise is partially owned by the New York Yankees.
“As reports have made clear, your league’s plans to build a new soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows have stalled and may not be able to be revived. It would appear that there is little enthusiasm for world-class soccer in Queens,” Diaz wrote in the letter.
MLS had initially made a full-on push to place a 25,000-seat stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, at the site of what is currently the Pool of Industry.
A media blitz ensued during the fall and winter, as resistance to the stadium built in concert with MLS and the Bloomberg administration’s insistence Flushing Meadows was a suitable home for a soccer stadium. Garber went so far as to say the league and city were “at the finish line” in negotiations.
Whatever his definition of the “finish line,” the talks never materialized into a formal deal, despite reports of a sweetheart offer of at least 10 acres of FMCP land for $1 a year, as well as tax breaks on the cost of construction.
The MLS project bred a resistance movement that led to the formation of two resistance groups: Save FMCP and the Fairness Coalition of Queens.
But talk of an MLS stadium in Flushing Meadows quieted down in the spring, as an ownership group never materialized and talks for sharing parking lots with the Mets stalled.
Eventually, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan emerged as a potential stakeholder in the franchise, with a late-May announcement revealing the Yankees as the other partner in the venture.
The Yankees’ inclusion virtually killed any chances MLS had of ironing out a parking deal with the Mets, by and large putting the kibosh on the prospects of a stadium in FMCP, according to sources.
Diaz’s economic catcalls to MLS echo the pro-growth, economic boon spiel the league pushed in Queens. The beep wrote of the influx of soccer fans into the Bronx during a recent friendly match between the Spanish and Irish national squads.
“If a Major League Soccer franchise were to make its permanent home in our borough, we can replicate that financial boost, either at 161st Street or elsewhere, more than 20 times a year,” Diaz wrote to Garber.
The allusion to 161st Street points to the parking garages alongside Yankee Stadium. After insisting on municipal bonds to subsidize the creation of the garages, the Bronx Parking Development Company, which holds the debt, is in default. It turns out fans of the Bombers hop on the subway more than was anticipated.
The site fits the profile MLS was seeking in FMCP: close to mass transit and in a diverse, soccer-mad part of New York City.
“The Bronx would be the perfect home for a new professional soccer franchise. I am ready to work with Major League Soccer to make this a reality,” Diaz wrote.