Bronx residents are leery of City Hall’s ambition to erect a 34,000-seat stadium in Van Cortlandt Park to host four matches in about as many days as part of the International Cricket Council T-20 World Cup next June — and experts are skeptical it could be built in time.
“It’s terrible, man. This is for the public. This is for the people. You can’t just drop something down here, you know what I’m saying?” Michael Veal said Tuesday afternoon while exercising in the park.
“Everyone in this area uses it. So you can’t just take something like this and use it to make money.”
The lack of community input for a plan that only became public when THE CITY reported on it last week is a major concern for local elected officials, who also noted the legal and land-use hurdles facing a project on a tight timeframe.
“No, hell no,” a stunned Courtenea Brown, who was entering the park to take a walk with her partner, said of the stadium idea. “That’s not fair… we got to have some type of say.”
That sentiment was echoed by Johnny V. Arias, who for decades has run a baseball league on the park’s parade grounds — which would have to close for months to make way for the new stadium.
“If they do this, this league is done,” Arias, the only person THE CITY spoke with who already knew of the plan, said in Spanish.
In a joint statement after THE CITY revealed the stadium plan, Rep. Ritchie Torres, Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilmember Eric Dinowitz praised the administration, while raising concerns that construction could “deprive the community of the use of a large part of the park for an extended period of time” and require state approval that is not assured.
They noted that the work could damage the park and the nearby Enslaved African Burial Ground while creating long-term traffic and security issues.
The officials took a swipe at City Hall’s closed-door approach, saying they “eagerly anticipate the administration’s unwavering commitment to community engagement.”
In a letter sent to City Hall last Tuesday, Bronx Community Board 8 chairperson Julie Reyes wrote, “We have serious concerns that there is not adequate time for the necessary disclosure, public comment, legislative approval, and review by public bodies and agencies that are both legally mandated and good practice for a smooth, well-planned event appropriate to its location.”
City Hall did not respond to a request for comment this week about the local pushback.
Spokesperson Brad Weekes previously told THE CITY that “New York City remains hopeful to be selected as one of the International Cricket Council’s host cities. Cricket is one of the world’s most popular sports, and it only makes sense to host their tournament in the melting pot that is New York City.”
The Adams Administration has cited an ICC analysis that projects the stadium will bring in $162 million in revenue, including $129 million for The Bronx, Crain’s reported. While the Abu Dhabi-based cricket group has yet to select New York as a host city, it has paid Manhattan lobbying firm Geto & de Milly $100,000 to pitch the Adams administration on the park plan, according to public disclosure records.
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson has also embraced the effort, saying that “Hosting the 2024 T-20 World Cup could be a significant win for The Bronx and one we should embrace.”
An Ambitious Alienation
Land use experts are skeptical, however, that the Bronx will be ready to host part of the World Cup by next June.
“Under what is known as the public trust doctrine, the state (or any subdivision like a city) holds park land not as a regular owner but as a trustee for the people,” Rebecca Bratspies, an attorney and professor at the CUNY School of Law, told THE CITY. “The land must be used for their benefit.”
“Thus, the city would absolutely need state legislation signed by the governor for any alienation of parkland,” added Bratspies, who specializes in environmental law.
While a judge could approve a temporary alienation of parkland, that’s unlikely for a project of this scope, environmental law attorney Christopher Rizzo told THE CITY.
“While courts recognize temporary and de minimis exceptions to the law, these exceptions are not intended to apply to a commercial operation of this magnitude,” Rizzo said, noting that several other laws and regulations would likely stop a stadium from going up so quickly.
Those include the State Environmental Quality Review Act that requires an environmental impact statement, a city zoning resolution mandating a special permit for stadiums, and a concession rule that would need to determine that the stadium is in the public interest.
Time is not on the administration’s side, both attorneys said.
“Addressing all these legal requirements requires a year, perhaps, two. And at the end there is no guarantee the decision makers will even be able to approve an operation of this magnitude,” said Rizzo. “I see no indication ICC or the government officials involved understand the laws that must apply here. I am deeply troubled by that.”
Bratspies also pointed out that the city would have to move at a “lightning speed” to clear the environmental review process, where a project has to document the impact it would have on the surrounding area, with that documentation then sometimes challenged in court.
“It’s not impossible that it could happen in six months, but everything would have to work perfectly,” said Bratspies. “If they were going to try to do that, they should already have started letting people know ‘This is what we’re thinking, here’s why it’s going to be great for you.’”
Skipping any of these steps could open the city up to legal challenges, and even a preliminary injunction by a judge could be fatal given the big scope and short timeframe of the stadium plan.
The ICC’s proposal for the stadium says that it would be taken down just after the World Cup, a promise familiar to long-time locals.
In the early 2000s, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg successfully built a water filtration plant beneath the Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course despite staunch opposition from the community, as extensively outlined by City Limits. The project had been initially proposed by his predecessor Rudy Giuliani.
Bloomberg and his Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, Chris Ward, got approval from the state legislature to alienate that parkland by promising Bronx elected officials more than $200 million in improvements to parks across the borough.
But what was slated as a $992 million project that would be completed in a few years ended up costing $3.5 billion once it was finished in 2011, four years behind schedule.
“I think people are rightly concerned when it comes to building things in Van Cortlandt Park,” Assemblymember Dinowitz told THE CITY earlier this month.