MLS stadium originally considered over a decade ago 1

The city’s final bid for the 2012 Olympics called for a dual-stadium configuration in Willets Point, the current home of Citi Field and a potential 1.4 million square foot mall.

Call it a redo on a Major League Soccer stadium in Queens.

A committee charged with bringing the Olympics to New York suggested a soccer stadium in Queens serve as a backup plan in its 2001-2005 push to host the 2012 Olympics, according to decade-old documents obtained by the Chronicle. It would have also served as the home to a Major League Soccer franchise.

An economic analysis conducted separately from the Olympic committee shows the creation of a large, open-air stadium in the borough would cause a net financial loss for the city.

The internal memo circulated within NYC 2012 — the committee charged with authoring, designing and selling the city’s Olympic bid — lists neighborhoods in Northern Queens eyed as potential homes for an Olympic stadium. The United States Olympic Committee requests that each applicant submit a backup site for its crown jewel sports facility, typically a large stadium that hosts a majority of the track and field events.

The committee investigated College Point, downtown Flushing, Willets Point and Flushing Meadows Corona Park — where MLS is now proposing to build a stadium. It returned with three options for an Olympic facility: a football stadium in Shea Stadium’s parking lot; a soccer stadium in Shea’s parking lot; or a temporary modification to Shea Stadium itself.

It’s final recommendation reads: “Parking lot west of Shea — open-air 25,000-seat soccer stadium.”

The memo does not list Flushing Meadows Corona Park as a suitable home for a soccer stadium, though it does not give reasons for the park’s exclusion. It ultimately was the planned site of various Olympic events, including archery, tennis and rafting within the Pool of Industry.

The Chronicle did not reveal the documents to MLS or the Mayor’s Office, in an effort to protect its sources. It did, however, lay out the memo’s contents. Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for the league, said it had no comment on a 10-year-old report it has not seen.

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to an inquiry as of this writing.

At the end of this summer, MLS proposed building a stadium at the current site of the Pool of Industry. it would take up 10 to 13 acres of parkland, which the league must replace elsewhere within the city. MLS has brought the plan before the borough in a series of meetings, touting economic benefits that include 150 permanent jobs and $60 million in economic activity. It has been met with resistance by a coalition of local community groups, which oppose its proposed location within the park.

Another large sports franchise reportedly eyed the park and northern Queens in general, as the Jets were looking to move into new, Olympic-style digs.

As the Upper West Side stadium plan drowned in an ocean of complaints in 2004, Tishman, a construction and real estate company, conducted a site comparison analysis for the creation of a 76,000-seat football stadium in Queens and Manhattan, with dual configurations for an open and closed stadium in this borough.

It found an open-air stadium three times the size of MLS’s proposal in Willets Point would have left the city in the red, to the tune of $15 million a year.

“The net public return for a facility built in Queens, whether enclosed or open-air, results in a significant annual public loss,” the analysis concludes.

Heller dismissed the analysis, calling any comparison to MLS’s proposal “apples and oranges.”

NYC 2012’s decade-old soccer stadium idea matches MLS's recent proposal in nearly every way. It would have boasted 25,000 seats, with the ability to expand in the future. It would have been home to the Metro-Stars, a New York franchise that played in the old Giants stadium at the time. (The team is now called the New York Red Bulls and plays in Harrison, NJ.)

The only difference between the plans is about a quarter of a mile — the distance between the parking lot of Citi Field, which would have been home to the MLS stadium, and the site within Flushing Meadows Corona Park eyed by MLS.

NYC 2012, led by then-Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, initially produced a much-ballyhooed plan for what would have been a Jets stadium on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The city was forced into a last-minute about face, scuttling plans for the West Side stadium and pushing the Queens location before the International Olympic Committee. According to most published accounts, the move may have cost the city the games, with the IOC member from Morocco expressing confusion over the change. 

MLS was considered a potential partner as potential locations in this borough were considered.

“A much simpler and cheaper alternative is to build the Metro-Stars stadium here,” the memo reads, noting the MLS franchise was seeking a new home. It added the construction costs would have been substantially lower than a new, grandiose facility on the Upper West Side. The soccer stadium’s natural configuration would also have met the need for a 400-meter track to host marquis Olympic events.

“Such a design could be extremely well-suited to Olympics conversion,” the memo reads.

The creation of a stadium in Queens was championed at the time by advocates and protectors of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, especially David Oates, a now-deceased park advocate and activist who lambasted any location other than Willets Point. 

Had the plan gone through, scenes of the Mexican national soccer team accepting its gold medals at this summer’s Olympics might have played out in Queens instead of London. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt would have solidified his place as the greatest sprinter of all time days later.

The Olympic bid, even though it failed in 2005, has had a lingering effect epitomized in mass development around the city. Residential towers on the Upper West Side, the High Line Park, and the redevelopment of Willets Point all have roots in NYC 2012’s plan. The proposed MLS soccer stadium could be added to that list, should it be approved.

The NYC 2012-endorsed home alongside the Mets’ stadium is now the site of a proposed 1.4 million-square-foot shopping mall.

The committee's memo falls in line with the suggestions of the Fairness Coalition of Queens, a group of community organizations leading the charge against the MLS stadium’s proposed home in the park.

“It backs up what we have been saying all along,” said Hillary Klein, of Make the Road New York, a coalition member.

(1) comment


I'm assuming the NYC2012 version of the stadium was to rely on public funding?

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