NYCFC Stadium Plans Gather Steam in the Bronx
New records show preparations for a soccer stadium near Yankee Stadium.
There's smoke rising in the South Bronx, and it's not coming from the Yankee Stadium smokestacks. Although a deal to build a soccer stadium next door to New York City Football Club's current home has yet to be announced, a drumbeat of local activity—including records obtained by The Outfield—suggests the club's days of playoff games at Citi Field may soon have an end in sight.
For more than a year, developers and officials in the Bronx have discussed the possibility of a soccer stadium just south of Yankee Stadium, on a site long targeted by NYCFC. New public records, lobbying disclosures, and an upcoming planning meeting show increasing preparations for a stadium development at the same subway stop where the club now plays.
The Return of the GAL Site
In May, an NYCFC fan named Alexander Schaefer noticed a mention of a "pending soccer stadium development" in the minutes of a general board meeting of Bronx Community Board 4. The community board oversees a section of the South Bronx around Yankee Stadium where NYCFC has sought a home of its own as far back as 2013.
But the latest stadium push was underway well before fans caught wind this spring. The plan appears in Community Board 4's minutes as far back as October 2018, when a general meeting discussed a potential soccer stadium centered on a parking garage and adjacent properties at 153rd Street and River Avenue. In February 2019, a CB4 planning document for fiscal year 2020 noted "the potential development of a soccer stadium" among a number of developments that "underscore the critical need to develop the 153rd Street Bridge."
If that address sounds familiar, it's because NYCFC has been here before. The location—often referred to as the GAL site, after GAL Manufacturing Corporation, whose 100,000-square-foot factory occupies part of the proposed stadium footprint—has been one of the club's targeted stadium sites since before its inaugural season. An earlier proposal there received outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg's blessing but fell apart in 2014 after parties failed to come to terms.
The map above outlines properties that could be part of a stadium development at the GAL site. In 2018, the developer Maddd Equities announced a binding agreement to buy GAL's central parcel with the goal of developing an NYCFC stadium and affordable housing there. The New York City Parks Department owns the triangular property to the east, between 153rd Street and River Avenue, where the parking garages mentioned in Bronx Community Board 4's meeting minutes have suffered from financial problems. According to public records, other properties outlined in red are owned by BTM Management and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
When Maddd Equities announced its agreement with GAL last summer, NYCFC would confirm only that the proposed development was one of "several options" the club was pursuing. But as planning activity around the GAL site increases, that search appears to be narrowing.
"You'll Hear it From Me First"
New York City Councilwoman Diana Ayala, whose district includes the GAL site, has publicly downplayed plans for a stadium there. At a May meeting of Bronx Community Board 4, Ayala described the 153rd Street location as just one of three NYCFC was considering in the Bronx and Queens, though she acknowledged that the club appeared to prefer the GAL site.
Ayala assured community board meeting attendees in May that if there was news about a stadium development in their neighborhood, they would hear it from her first. Her office did not respond to recent requests for comment.
Through a public records request filed with Ayala's city council district, The Outfield learned that Ayala has been discussing Bronx soccer stadium plans since February 2018. In October 2018 she met with a group including Cary Goodman, the executive director of 161 Street Business Improvement District, to navigate community concerns around a plan to combine a soccer stadium with affordable housing and retail developments. Though details of the plan were not yet fleshed out at the time, the named developer was Jorge Madruga, the founder of Maddd Equities.
Following Goodman's meeting with Ayala, he requested a report from the city's Independent Budget Office on Ayala's behalf to assess the prospective impact of a new stadium in the area. Last week, Goodman's 161 Street Business Improvement District published the results of a survey of local businesses' attitudes toward a soccer stadium development. According to survey highlights Goodman provided to The Outfield, 67% of respondents said that a stadium was "a good idea" and 36% would like it to be paired with affordable housing, as Maddd Equities has proposed.
At the May community board meeting, Ayala told The Outfield that if Maddd Equities and NYCFC presented a stadium proposal, she "would be happy to hear them out." She said she knew Madruga's company by reputation as a good developer that "gets communities," citing its affordable housing plans.
A public records request returned emails and meeting invitations from January 2019 between Ayala and Charles Samboy, a Bronx representative of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, with the subject line “MADDD Equities - Soccer." Neither Samboy nor Ayala responded to requests for comment on the content of the meetings.
The Bronx Lobbying Shift
As recently as 2018, NYCFC still appeared intent on pursuing a stadium deal in Queens. New York City records from last year show the club's lobbyists, Martin Edelman and Geto & de Milly, targeting Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who in 2017 called the possibility of a soccer stadium at Willets Point "very realistic."
This year, NYCFC abruptly shifted its lobbying efforts to target Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. on the subject of "issues in connection with [a] proposed sports facility." Diaz was an early proponent of a Bronx soccer stadium and in 2013 wrote a public letter to Don Garber urging MLS to build a home for NYCFC in the borough.
Maddd Equities may have begun its own stadium lobbying push even earlier, around the time it announced its deal with GAL in July 2018. Records from that period show that Maddd brought in two new lobbyists to target officials on the subject of "Affordable Housing and Associated Real Estate in the Bronx." One of the developer's new representatives was Stanley K. Schlein, a "heavyweight" longtime lobbyist for the New York Yankees who lobbied Diaz regarding a soccer stadium on the Yankees' behalf in 2014. (The Yankees are a part owner of NYCFC.)
During the most recent lobbying reporting period of 2019, Maddd Equities paid Tonio Burgos & Associates $20,000 to lobby on the insignificant-sounding subject of an "update of the East 153rd Street ramp."
How many ramps are on East 153rd Street? Exactly one: the same northbound entrance ramp to the Major Deegan Expressway whose removal was part of the earlier GAL site stadium proposal in 2013. Maddd Equities and Tonio Burgos & Associates did not respond to requests for comment.
One of the most frequent targets of Maddd's 2018 lobbying efforts was James Patchett, the president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. In response to a request by The Outfield for records involving a potential soccer stadium in the South Bronx, NYCEDC withheld documents on grounds that their disclosure "would impair present or imminent contract awards." The corporation did not describe the contracts.
Stadium Planning Goes Public
This week, stadium planning around the GAL site will receive its most public airing yet at an event conducted by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute. Earlier this year, ULI approached the Bronx Department of City Planning to offer "technical assistance panels" on land use challenges. The department "thought immediately of CB4's interest in planning work around the Yankee garages/proposed soccer stadium area," according to a March 13 email from DCP Bronx Borough Director Carol Samol to Paul Philps, the district manager for Bronx Community Board 4.
The technical assistance panel will be a two-day event, starting with a tour of the GAL site and stakeholder interviews on Tuesday, followed by a public meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at 1501 Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, where the panel will present its findings.
Among the panelists is Neil MacOmish of the architecture firm Scott Brownrigg, which released a statement touting MacOmish's background in sports stadiums and his selection as a panelist "to inform the design and lead the community engagement of the new soccer stadium in New York City."
"We think ULI would bring a good neutral voice to planning work in the area," Samol wrote to Philps in her email, "especially as the project becomes more real." ❧
Image: Franz Kaisermann, Inner View of the Colosseum