Urban planners suggest alternative soccer-arena sites, and the M.T.A. actually offered one
Alexander Garvin, the Yale adjunct professor who, starting in 1996, handled planning for New York City's 2012 Olympic bid, thinks Major League Soccer has shown a notable lack of "imagination" in its search for a suitable site for a new soccer arena.
“I’m sure they didn’t do an exhaustive search of what was possible,” Garvin told me recently.
"When we did the work for the Olympics, true, this was 20 years ago, there were 300 vacant sites that I could identify that could fit various sports for the Olympics," he said.
(The bidders pushed, unsuccessfully, for the construction of an Olympic stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, which would have become a football stadium after the games.)
Major League Soccer has said previously that it looked at about 20 different sites before settling on 13 acres of Flushing Meadows Corona Park for its proposed 25,000-seat stadium.
One of the benefits of the park location is that it would put the stadium within relatively easy reach, by public transportation, of lots of soccer fans, increasing both its usefulness as an amenity and its chances of succeeding as a business and an economic generator.
One of the drawbacks of the park location is ... it's in a park. Specifically, it is in the middle of Queens' largest park, which is heavily used, despite being bordered by Robert Moses-era highways that make parts of it hard to reach for non-drivers, and despite its uneven maintenance, which is exacerbated by a relative inability to attract private donors to supplement the public money dedicated to its upkeep.
As Lisa Foderaro noted this weekend in the Times, the Flushing Meadows conservancy attracted $5,000 in private donations last year. Central Park, by comparison, last year attracted a record-breaking $100 million gift, bringing its endowment to nearly $200 million.
John Shapiro, who chairs Pratt Institute's center for planning and the environment, said that the soccer-stadium location on the site of the World's Fair-era Pool of Industry was “elegant" from a design standpoint, thanks to the way it lines up with the park's Beaux-Arts layout. But, he said, “I don’t know if it’s the best location within the park from the point of view of assuring over 50 years a minimization of alienation of parkland.”
Garvin suggested that M.L.S. could "build on a railyard or over a highway," or even on the city-owned parking lot to the west of Citi Field where Related Companies and the Wilpons’ Sterling Equities are currently planning to put a massive mall.
“So long as nothing is built yet, you can do anything you want,” said Garvin.
Ron Shiffman, a planning professor at Pratt Institute, agrees with Garvin about that, but has some other ideas, too.
He suggested that the eventual New York-based soccer franchise could share Citi Field with the Mets, something the cash-strapped Mets have said they are open to, but which is suboptimal from a soccer-watching perspective and which, for myriad reasons, M.L.S. dismisses out of hand.
He also suggested incorporating a soccer arena into the city's plans to redevelop Willets Point to the east of Citi Field.
“If Willets Point is going to go ahead, why not put it in Willets Point as opposed to taking away parkland?" he added.
The city's Economic Development Corporation had no comment, but in a statement, a spokesman for the Related-Sterling joint venture said, "The Willets Point Redevelopment project approved by the City does not and cannot accommodate a soccer stadium on or around the Citi Field site."
Shapiro had another idea, too: why doesn't Major League Soccer consider building a stadium on an M.T.A.-controlled site south of Roosevelt Avenue and east of the walkway that takes pedestrians from the subway to the park, on what is now a bus depot?
“I think there’s definitely a site if you built a garage for the M.T.A. buses,” he said.
On the other side of that walkway, the M.T.A. parks 7 trains.
According to the M.T.A., the authority actually suggested to M.L.S. that it consider building its stadium there, but M.L.S. wasn't interested.
According to M.L.S., a railyard platform would be prohibitively expensive, costing more than $100 million.
(If the league built in the park, it would be on the hook for the cost of converting an equal amount of land elsewhere in the city into useable parkland. M.L.S. is assuming that the cost of doing that would be far less than that prohibitive $100 million.)
Tom Angotti, the director of Hunter College's Center for Community Planning and Development, said, "I think the city has got to stop giving away parkland. There’s so little of it in New York City, and in some areas of the city that are very densely developed and have very few park alternatives, like Corona, it’s really depriving the general public of access to public space."
So where else could a soccer stadium go?
“What about the Rockaways? What about Coney Island? There are places. And it’s a much better use of a flood plain than putting [in] apartment buildings that could create serious problems during future storms.”
CORRECTION: Tom Angotti's name was misspelled in the original version of this article.