Negotiations over soccer site stall as city looks elsewhere

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First New York City Fooball Club signing David Villa plays soccer with kids in front of Yankee Stadium. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Curious about the prospects for a Major League Soccer arena near Yankee Stadium?

So is Paul Seifried, vice president of the elevator business that would have to relocate to make way for the city's first professional soccer team, as envisioned by Michael Bloomberg and tentatively embraced by his successor, Bill de Blasio.

"I really don’t know what the heck is happening,” said Seifried, a vice president at GAL Manufacturing Corp, the elevator parts company standing on the site proposed for New York City Football Club, a joint venture of Manchester City Football Club owner Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan and the New York Yankees. “The ball is absolutely in their court.”

"I’m happy to tell you [the football club] approached us and we talked for a while,” he went on. “Their interest was in this particular site.”

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He said he last spoke with the club about a month ago, at which point they told him they were no longer interested in negotiating.

Asked if he thought the plan for that site was dead, he said, “It appears that way.”

In December of last year, following a much-ballyhooed, hastily abandoned bid to site a stadium for a Major League Soccer club in the middle of Queens’ largest park, the Bloomberg administration cobbled together a tentative replacement deal: New York City Football Club would build a soccer arena on a 10-acre site in the South Bronx containing a portion of 153rd Street, three of Yankee Stadium’s publicly subsidized, financially depleted parking lots, and the building controlled by Seifried’s elevator parts company, GAL.

The Bloomberg deal came with some tax incentives that de Blasio (who supported the city-subsidized Barclays Arena for the Nets, developed by his financial backer Bruce Ratner in his home borough of Brooklyn) didn’t like.

“We have real concerns about investing scarce public resources and forgoing revenue to support the creation of an arena for a team co-owned by one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, and will review any plan with that in mind,” de Blasio’s then-spokeswoman Lis Smith said in December.

In April, a different de Blasio spokeswoman put a slightly more positive spin on the proposed deal.

"The de Blasio administration has begun a dialogue with key stakeholders on how to best proceed on the construction of a soccer stadium that also invests in community benefits, preserves public space and provides good-paying jobs," the spokeswoman, Marti Adams, told Capital.

As recently as this summer’s World Cup, the administration and the Council were discussing some of the financial elements around a potential soccer deal, according to one knowledgeable source.

According to mayoral spokesman Phil Walzak, that work is ongoing.

“The de Blasio Administration continues to actively work with the City Council, surrounding communities and stakeholders to identify a location for a state-of-the-art soccer facility,” he said.

Meanwhile, the team, which never publicly embraced the December framework in the first place, has continued to avoid any suggestion of a specific timeline.

“Our goal is to build a stadium in New York City if that’s possible,” Manchester City board member and New York attorney Marty Edelman told Capital in June.

“It is all quiet on all fronts at this time,” emailed Ed Moran, an advisor to the company that controls the parking lots where the stadium would be built, and which will have reach a deal with bondholders in order for the arena to proceed.

One Bronx official who has in the past been looped in on stadium developments told me, when I asked for an update, “It doesn’t seem to have the same fervor as it did a few months ago, the whole stadium deal.”

Back in April, New York City Football Club announced plans to play the next three seasons in Yankee Stadium, where, the Yankees have already made clear, the soccer tenants will be lucky if they can maintain second-tier status. It’s no one’s idea of a long-term solution, with soccer-only stadiums now a baseline requirement for a credible franchise.

The only Major League Soccer team currently playing in the New York market, the Red Bulls, play in their own stadium in Harrison, N.J.

“They won’t play in Yankee Stadium for the rest of the team’s future,” said Seifreid, correctly. “They’ve got to find someplace.“

Asked for comment, Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for NYCFC, said, "We are working closely with the de Blasio administration to find a world-class site for a soccer-specific stadium."