QUEENS — Community groups welcomed an announcement Tuesday that Major League Soccer was willing to search for alternative sites to a proposed new soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a controversial move that some decried as a land grab.
The new development, supported by the mayor, came as MLS formally announced that a new professional soccer team would launch in New York City. The team, owned by the Yankees and Manchester City of the English Premier League, would be known as the New York City Football Club. It is expected to begin competing in 2015.
Previously, the league said the new team would play in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and MLS was looking to build a 25,000-seat stadium there, on top of the neglected Fountain of the Planets, a plan that would take away park space and has angered some in the community.
But in a statement about the new team on Tuesday, MLS said the league was open to "other potential sites" while "seeking a new permanent stadium in New York."
“Over the past year, MLS began discussions with the City of New York and other stakeholders about the possibility of constructing a new stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park (FMCP) in Queens,” MLS said in the statement.
“The Club’s new management will continue these discussions with local government officials, community residents and businesses, soccer leagues, and MLS. The Club will continue to review other potential sites as well.”
MLS representatives did not return calls seeking comment.
Some Queens groups praised what they saw as the league's change of heart.
“We are pleased with their new willingness to consider other sites in New York," Javier Valdes from the Fairness Coalition of Queens said in a statement. “The proposal for a stadium inside the heart of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is deeply flawed and would irrevocably damage a vital community resource.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that while he “always thought that the stadium in Flushing Meadows Park is the right place to put it...it’s not the only place.”
“I’m sure they’re going to continue to look and listen. And I just want to make sure that we do get a venue,” Bloomberg said.
Yankees President Randy Levine said Tuesday that the new MLS team could play its first season in Yankee Stadium.
"There are places to play until a new stadium is built," Levine said. "Yankee Stadium is a potential place to play. I think what’s going to happen with the new stadium is now that we’re involved and under the leadership of Manchester City, together we’re going to look and see whether we can [build] it in Queens or are there better places. We’re just starting that process."
Will Sweeney, a local activist and co-founder of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, said park advocates have identified several other potential venues for the MLS stadium in Queens, including Willets Point, Flushing Airport in College Point and the MTA parking lot on Roosevelt Avenue.
“There is a whole host of places that they can consider in Queens or in New York City in general,” Sweeney said. “We never thought that losing parkland should ever be part of the equation, especially in the case of a park that is as heavily utilized as Flushing Meadows.”
Some elected officials applauded what they said was the league’s openness to alternative stadium sites.
“I am encouraged by the willingness of the ownership of the new MLS franchise in New York City to seek alternative sites to the proposed MLS stadium in Flushing Meadow Corona Park,” Tony Avella, a state senator, who has been a critic of the Flushing Meadows stadium plans, said in a statement.
“Parkland is sacred and should be preserved, not given away to private developers, especially billionaires who can afford to buy their own land and now the New York Yankees, who received plenty of public support for their own stadium.”
Avella said Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is Queens’ most prominent park, “which provides open space and recreational benefits to thousands of borough residents and low and middle-income families.”
But some local soccer fans said they wanted to see the new team play at the proposed stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
Alfonso Vargas, president of Alianza Ligas Latinas De Futbol, which consists of 200 teams playing on the park’s nine soccer fields, said that he “would prefer the stadium in Flushing Meadows.”
“We want to have a stadium where we could see the major league games,” he said, adding that currently soccer fans have to travel to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. “It would be great to be able to watch the games in our own backyard,” he said.
He added that MLS promised to rebuild all the soccer fields in the park and had promised to allow local soccer players to use the proposed stadium's amenities, including the bathrooms.