Bronx Soccer Stadium Local Support Wanes as Yankees-City Hall Standoff Goes Into Extra Time
Survey by a local business group highlights concerns over who would really win if a billion-dollar real estate deal for New York City FC home reaches its goal. But residents wouldn’t mind getting discounted stock in a new ballpark.
Months after the Yankees’ president declared a proposed 25,000-seat Bronx soccer stadium dead, the project is still a possibility — but a growing number of neighbors don’t share that goal, a new survey found.
The 161st Street Business Improvement District, a group of south Bronx businesses, surveyed more than 200 local residents and workers in August and found that 56% of them want the New York City Football Club stadium to come to River Avenue.
But that’s down from 67% in 2019 — reflecting concerns that the partnership among the Yankees, the soccer team owner and housing developers could sidestep local needs, according to the BID’s findings.
The majority of respondents wanted the community to have a more active role in the stadium development deal and beyond, with six out of 10 liking an idea floated by the BID: offer discounted stock in the proposed stadium to area residents.
Three out of four respondents want the incoming mayor, whether it’s Eric Adams or Curtis Sliwa, to ensure the stadium pays property taxes — something neighboring Yankee Stadium does not directly do.
“I am glad that the residents have spoken up” about their feelings on the project, said local Councilmember Vanessa Gibson, who is also the Democratic nominee for Bronx borough president and a supporter of the stadium.
Lots of Problems
New York City FC kicked off in 2015 and has been playing at Yankee Stadium ever since, navigating a season that overlaps with baseball’s. The Yankees, New York City FC and several other stakeholders approached the city, which owns the lots where the soccer stadium would stand, with the deal in 2018.
But this summer, negotiations between the team’s owners and the city’s Economic Development Corporation ran aground over a dispute about parking spaces in a city-owned garage.
Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street BID, said the back and forth between the Yankees, the EDC and the football club may have contributed to bruised community support in recent months.
Goodman and the BID support the stadium deal — which would also come with affordable housing and space for retail — but believe the football club should pay property taxes.
That’s not a given: Madison Square Garden is fully exempt from property taxes, while the Yankees make cut-rate alternative payments under a special arrangement tied to the construction of the team’s current stadium, which opened in 2009.
“The Yankees say that they’ve given millions and millions of dollars to the community via their charitable organizations, and they have — but they don’t pay taxes!” Goodman said. “It should be something like $100 million a year that should be coming into this neighborhood from that stadium.”
$156 Million Owed to City
New York City Football Club has played in Yankee Stadium for the last six years, working around the Bronx Bombers’ schedule in a makeshift field allowed by the stadium’s dimensions — the smallest by international standards, much to fans’ dismay.
The Yankees are a minority owner in the New York City FC, which is controlled by City Football Group, which also owns England’s Manchester City football club and other teams. City Football Group is majority-owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, according to the company.
In 2018, New York City FC joined with Nuveen, an asset management company advising parking garage bondholders, and Maddd Equities, a housing developer, to approach city officials with a $1 billion proposal. They sought to build not only a soccer stadium but also retail space, affordable housing and a hotel on the parking lots and other real estate, steps away from Yankee Stadium.
The plan requires relocating an elevator parts factory, GAL Manufacturing, just south of Macombs Dam Park.
One piece of the puzzle is a proposal from EDC to rework a 99-year lease covering five parking garages and eight parking lots on city-owned land. The company running those lots defaulted on payments to bondholders a decade ago, after far fewer vehicles used the pricey parking spots than projected.
EDC reported that the venture owed $156 million in lease and other payments and interest to the city as of January 2021.
That proposal was scheduled to go to vote in late June with local Community Board 4 and the Bronx Borough Board, which is a body consisting of the Bronx borough president, Council members and community board chairs.
Around the same time, New York Yankees president Randy Levine told Forbes SportsMoney that the franchise and the city would reach a deal on the stadium “in the next 30 to 60 days.”
But days before the vote, EDC announced it was postponing action and nothing’s been rescheduled since.
A spokesperson for New York City FC told THE CITY in a statement that it’s “disappointing that the vote on the parking lease did not take place, which was always central to our proposal.”
“This is all the more regrettable given the hard work of everyone — particularly the community board — to bring the vote forward,” the statement read. “NYCFC remains committed to working with the community groups, elected officials, and the new administration to deliver a privately funded, soccer-specific stadium for fans of the club across the city and beyond.”
Fight Over 5,000 Parking Spots
In the meantime, the project is stuck in limbo, with the Yankees and EDC at odds over the ballclub’s demand that some 5,000 parking spaces remain reserved for its own use.
Levine, a former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, railed against the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio — and this summer declared the stadium as good as dead. “The deal broke down over the bondholders and the city refusing to do what they agreed to do,” he told Fox Business.
A spokesperson for the EDC referred THE CITY to a statement the agency issued in June: “After years of negotiations with the Yankees and other parties, we are disappointed they will not commit to promises already made to the city and the community and attempted to change key terms of a deal only days before a community board vote. We delayed the… vote to give both parties more time to resolve their issues.”
Two sources familiar with the negotiations say that the Yankees will come back to the table only if those parking spots are included — or else, one said, they’ll consider starting over with a site in Queens. NYCFC had previously eyed a parcel in Willets Point, near Citi Field, where the team has also played home games, as a spot for the soccer stadium.
Levine and the Yankees declined to comment. City and state lobbying records show New York City FC real estate attorney and team board member Martin Edelman continuing to receive $10,000 a month for his services.
Gibson said she sees the waning support shown in the BID’s survey as a sign that the Yankees’ brinksmanship may have eroded local enthusiasm. And she says the Yankees need to do better by The Bronx.
“I would have hoped that the Yankees would have made more of a good faith effort and really tried to resolve this because they understood that this was a deal that was not in anyone’s best interest — and over parking spaces, when we are starving for housing,” she said.
Goodman of the 161st Street BID called the stalemate over the stadium’s future in The Bronx “disappointing.”
“The Yankees, and perhaps now even the soccer team, are not taking the community seriously,” he said.
Highbridge resident Elisha Bouret, who lives five blocks away from Yankee Stadium, isn’t too happy about the prospect of another ballpark nearby, telling THE CITY that traffic during games is “horrendous” enough already.
“Honestly, if they’re going to build the schools and they’re going to build all this affordable housing — they better do that before they build the stadium,” she said. “I don’t even watch soccer.”