An artists’ rendition of the Willets Point project and the NYCFC soccer stadium. (Courtesy of the Office of the Mayor of New York City)
By Michael Lewis
After more than 10 years of planning, after a decade of disappointment and frustration and after a seemingly an endless stream of possible sites that were rejected was put to rest on Nov. 16 as plans for the long-awaited New York City FC stadium became reality.
During a press conference at the Queens Museum New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that the Major League Soccer club finally will have a home, permanent home, at Willets Points, Queens, by 2027. The 25,000-seat stadium will be privately financed by the City Football Group, NYCFC’s owners and reportedly will cost $780 million, according to The New York Times.
Adams emphasized twice that the stadium would be “100 percent privately financed.”
“It would be New York City’s first professional soccer specific stadium first of its time here in Queens,” he added, adding that the stadium would seal “Queens reputation as a world class sports destination soon. We will have New York City Football Club. The Mets at Citi Field and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Located side by side. World class sports for the world’s borough.”
Stadium plans were unveiled with another projects at Willets Point, at which 2,500 new affordable homes will be constructed on the 23-acre site adjacent to Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. The Mayor’s Office said it was “the largest 100-percent affordable, new construction housing project in New York City in 40 years.” Both projects were made possible through a new partnership with NYCFC and Queens Development Group (QDG) — a joint venture of Related Companies and Sterling Equities.
“This was a blighted, underutilized and ignored piece of real estate in our city had little infrastructure and was prone to flooding,” Adams said. “We have a once in a generation opportunity to create a brand-new neighborhood. … These 2,500 new homes will be a game changer.”
No one seemed to be worried about dollars and cents on Wednesday, just a big sigh of relief that a stadium will be built. It is scheduled to open for the 2027 MLS season, missing its original target of 2026, when the USA, Canada and Mexico will co-host the World Cup.
For MLS commissioner Don Garber, who grew up in Flushing, Queens, it was a double win because he had been spearheading the project since 2010.
“For the last 12 years, I’ve been trying to dream of the reality we have today, which is to have a cathedral for this great team NYC FC,” Garber said, adding that Tuesday was “one of the most momentous days in the history of our great league.”
Garber later added: “When we founded our league 27 years ago, we had a theme that we wanted to be a league for a new America, a country that’s diverse, that’s young that’s connected with passion with a global game, the beautiful game. Now here we are today, the personification of that dream, of that vision has been living in cities across America and throughout Canada.”
Despite winning the MLS Cup in 2021, NYCFC was treated like second-class citizens at their home venue, Yankee Stadium, because the soccer team could only play when the Yankees were on the road. They became the nomads of professional soccer in America.
Besides Yankee Stadium, City has called Banc of California Stadium (Los Angeles), Red Bull Arena (Harrison, N.J.), Rentschler Field (Hartford, Conn.) and Belson Stadium and Citi Field (both Queens) home this past season.
— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) November 16, 2022
Needless to say, that did not make the club’s ardent supporters happy. Many were loath to cross the George Washington Bridge to watch their team play at the stadium of their Hudson River Derby rivals, the Red Bulls, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
“Our journey in New York has been incomplete,” NYCFC vice chairman Marty Edelman said. “We do not have our own home, our own stadium in which to play and gather our fans. As all of you know, soccer stadiums play a unique role in the sport. They are cauldrons of passion and dare for anybody to leave before the final whistle. From the beginning, the Yankees provided a place to play, and the Mets have done the same. But our fans were itinerant spectators who needed new GPS coordinates to attend games week to week in different locations. But that incomplete condition ends today.”
For the past 12 years, City Councilman Francisco Moya pushed for a stadium on two fronts – through the city and MLS.
“What started as a dream, when I was just a little boy playing soccer in Flushing Meadows Corona Park with my family who came here from Ecuador, will now be a reality for kids from Corona, who like me were born with a love of soccer in their veins,” he said in a statement. “With this new neighborhood and stadium, we are building opportunities for the kids in my district and all over New York City to not just root for their local team but to one day be able to don the jersey of their hometown club.”