When a home run means “GOAL!”
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
It might be one of the oddest match-ups in sports yet.
Two franchises are teaming up to bring another kind of ball game to the borough more known for its Bombers’ version of baseball than any other sport.
The New York Yankees and Manchester City, a soccer team in the English Premier League, are together looking to create a home for The New York City Football Club, a Major League Soccer (MLS) team co-owned by the two sporting clubs.
Sheikh Mansour of the United Arab Emirates, who controls an estimated $400 billion in oil wealth, is the owner of Manchester City.
The proposed stadium, which would be built a stone’s throw from Yankee Stadium, would serve as the headquarters for the MLS expansion team looking to debut in the 2015 season.
After a plan to build a stadium at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens fell through, the Yankees and Manchester City have now turned their sights on the Bronx.
An earlier deal to allocate $300 million in tax-free bonds and to demolish of one of the Yankee Stadium parking garages was left unfinished before Mayor Michael Bloomberg left office. The garage is a remnant of the original deal struck by the Bloomberg administration and the Yankees to build the team’s new stadium. The parking garage was a requisite for the team, which had been considering a move outside the city, to remain in the Bronx. A park was razed to make room for the garage, which is underutilized and owes nearly $50 million in back rent and taxes to the city.
Now, the renewed dialogue around erecting another new stadium on the site, this time for soccer, has again been welcomed by some and resisted by others.
In an effort to give residents and business owners a chance to voice their concerns over the project, the 161st Street Business Improvement District (BID) sponsored a Town Hall meeting in mid-January hosted by the Mid Bronx Senior Citizens Council to hear from various stakeholders.
“People are overwhelmingly supportive (of the stadium) because it supports the immigrant community in the Bronx, but there is skepticism about the impact,” said Dr. Cary Goodman, the Executive Director of the 161st Street BID.
In fact, a survey done at the meeting shows that three out of four responders believe that a stadium is a good idea for River Avenue, but one out of five responders said they would change their mind about the stadium whether or not it is built with public funds. 168 people responded to the survey.
There is little fondness for the notion of spending so many tax dollars on a new stadium for a team co-owned by a billionaire.
“This is an underserved district in general. We have one of the smallest budgets of any BID in the city, and that’s reflective of the needs of the community,” said Dr. Goodman.
“If we can find that money to give to one of the richest men in the world, and one of the richest sporting entities—if we have those funds, we should have them put towards the needs of the community,” said Mychal Johnson, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, an organization that has rallied against other development projects, including a plan to give $100 million in subsidies to FreshDirect, a grocery delivery service seeking to move to Port Morris.
If the parcel of land is not turned into a stadium, residents present at the meeting suggested in the survey that it might instead be used to create a school, office space, affordable housing, or a recreation space, among other uses.
“The community should be brought to the table and asked what will be best to suit the community,” said Johnson.
In addition to qualms about public funding, there are infrastructural concerns at hand. Part of 157th Street would be incorporated into the Stadium’s property, effectively taking it off the grid. A neighboring factory, which employs 350 workers, would have to be relocated.
Elected officials have taken a wait-and-see approach.
“Our office has not yet made any decisions as to whether or not we would support this project,” said John DeSio, Communications Director for Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr.
Some remain wary.
“I think they are an entity that has been a neighbor and a partner, said Johnson of the Yankees. “But participation with a community needs to happen with a broad stroke.”
For more information on the community conversation around the soccer stadium, please visit the 161st Street BID at www.161bid.org or call 718.540.5433.