By Orlando Lee Rodriguez
A proposal by the New York Cosmos, the city’s legendary team from the 1970’s, for a brand-new 25,000 seat soccer stadium and development at Belmont Park, may sink Major League Soccer’s plans to build a stadium on city land in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
The $400 million, privately funded proposal named “Elmont Town Crossings” was submitted Wednesday by the Cosmos to the Empire State Development Corporation for review. The development would be located on the Queens-Nassau border and would feature almost 250,000 square feet of retail space, a 175 room hotel, a public soccer field and a 4.3 acre park.
A decision is expected to be made within 90 days and may play a major role in the level of continued support for any new Flushing-Meadows stadium.
The question, if the Cosmos proposal is approved, may become can another soccer team realistically compete in the same market against the brand recognition and generational fan base that the Cosmos, who haven’t played a game since 1985, have had for more than 30 years.
“Sport in the modern age is a competitive business,” Seamus O’Brien, CEO of the New York Cosmos said to ESPN. “Here there is a site that that has been tendered by the state. They have asked for proposals that have a predetermined set of parameters. We believe we’ve hit those absolutely straight on. To be frank, I don’t know where MLS is at, but it won’t affect us in what we want to do.”
The developments Elmont, NY location places the proposed stadium literally a few feet outside of New York City’s governmental jurisdiction. Approval of the project would be authorized by the state, not the city. The project is expected to create over 3,000 full-time permanent jobs and 500 construction jobs. Building the project alone would generate more than $500 million for cash strapped Nassau County.
It had been anticipated that the Flushing Meadows stadium proposed by the MLS would be built with the popular Cosmos team in mind. However, the Cosmos play in the North American Soccer League (NASL), a direct competitor to Major League Soccer (MLS). The Belmont Park proposal points to commitment by the Cosmos to remain in the NASL for the foreseeable future.
“We are completely focused on being successful in the NASL,” Cosmos COO, Erik Stover said in answers to questions on the teams website. “We are already seeing the NASL growing rapidly with new investors and new clubs. Further, we expect to field a team that will feature comparable talent to MLS franchises in a few short years.”
Unlike Major League Baseball or the NFL, the MLS does not enjoy a monopoly status over U.S. professional soccer. FIFA the sports international body, has clashed with the MLS over team promotion and relegation, as is standard around the world. The MLS schedule has also been an issue for FIFA, leaving open an opportunity for the NASL.
In addition to the Cosmos proposal, community resistance has been significant against any new Flushing-Meadows stadium with opponents complaining that it would eliminate heavily used parkland.
There has also been loud disapproval of any Queens based stadium project from the New York Mets, who view any new facility near the brand new Citi Field as competition.
Last week officials from the Mets confirmed that they are willing to let an MLS expansion team play at Citi Field, eliminating the need for a new stadium nearby. Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who is running for Queens borough president, supports the Mets idea of sharing an existing facility.
“We have a state-of-the-art stadium sitting there waiting to be used a few yards away,” Mr. Vallone said to the New York Daily News. “This way we get to keep the parkland and we get Major League Soccer in Queens.”
Meanwhile, officials in Nassau County have given the Cosmos proposal their full support. In Elmont, NY- a New York City border town hit hard by the recession, officials and business groups were thrilled about a rise in prospective tax revenue and a bump in depressed property values.
“Bringing a stadium, retail, restaurants is just the shot in the arm our local economy needs,” said Kevin Law, Long Island Association President. “Elmont Town Crossings will enable us to take a step forward.”
The Cosmos proposal would enable the team to break ground in 2014 if approved. Construction of the stadium would be complete in 2015 and would be led by Turner Construction, who built Yankee Stadium and McKissack and McKissack who built Nationals Park in Washington D.C. The stadium would see its first game in 2016.
Infrastructure improvements to the Cross Island Parkway and Long Island Rail Road links are also included into the proposal.
“We plan to build a state-of-the-art stadium that will make the entire region proud,” Mr. O’Brien. “Belmont is an ideal location and a win-win for everyone involved. Elmont will realize much needed economic growth.”