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Bronx Soccer Stadium Proposal Debated at Public Meeting

By Alice Speri | January 16, 2014 11:56am
 Critics and supporters debated the proposal to build a new soccer stadium in the South Bronx at a town hall meeting on Wednesday. 
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CONCOURSE – Critics and supporters of a proposal to build a new soccer stadium in the South Bronx packed a large room Wednesday evening for the first public discussion of the plan since reports last December that the city was close to striking a deal with the New York City Football Club.

The new professional soccer team, co-owned by the Yankees and the English Premier League’s Manchester City Football Club, has eyed a lot on River Avenue and 157th Street, on the site of a current garage owned by the near-bankrupt company that runs the Yankee Stadium parking system, and GAL Manufacturing, a family-run factory that employs 350 people.

The current proposal would require tearing down both, as well as altering an existing ramp to the Major Deegan highway.

The plan irked local residents and community organizers — many still furious over the new Yankee Stadium which, they said, was yet another mega development project “rammed down the throats” of low-income Bronx residents. But both soccer and Yankees fans came out in support of the stadium, praising the baseball team for its community work and touting the possibility of jobs and an economic boost to the area.

Cary Goodman, executive director of the local Business Improvement District, who organized the meeting, said involving the community from the start was a first, which had not happened when Yankee Stadium and other local projects were discussed.

“We are having this meeting so that the community feels empowered right from the first step,” Goodman said before the event.

Opinions at the meeting split. Critics said the borough needs more than the promise of temporary, minimum-wage construction jobs. They argued that billionaire majority owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan should not receive public funding, and said the neighborhood was already “fooled once” with Yankee Stadium and should learn its lesson.

“Why are they getting so many tax breaks? It doesn’t make sense,” said resident Reynaldo Punzalan. “What makes you think that your kids are gonna be allowed to practice in this stadium?”

Yorman Nunez, a community organizer, said low-income residents would hardly benefit from the deal and reminded the audience that commitments to community benefit agreements for previous projects went unfulfilled.

“The only thing that qualifies as significant community benefits are the things that will actually lift this community out of poverty,” Nunez said. “The reality is that if this stadium gets built the way projects are passed in this city, most of the residents surrounding the project would be spending most of their lives enriching someone else.”

But Yankees supporters thanked the team for its contributions to local youth organizations and food pantries, while soccer fans said bringing the team to the Bronx would promote sports and health, and enrich local youth, many of whom are immigrants from central and South America, where soccer is extremely popular.

“We love baseball, but I think soccer is something that is valuable and lots of people enjoy, it’s the No. 1 sport of the world,” said Johnny Rivera, of Harlem RBI, who praised the Yankees’ “deep pocket” generosity with local nonprofits. “We support you.”

Others expressed enthusiasm for the project, as long as it respects community concerns.

“The more vocal people tend to be those who are against it, but that doesn’t necessarily give a full snapshot of the community,” said Andrew So, who runs South Bronx United, a soccer league for local youth. “I know there are people who are very wary of the big corporation coming in, but there are a lot of people who embrace soccer and could potentially embrace the team.”

However, Leo Glickman, a board member of “Uptown Soccer Academy,” and one of several representatives of sports clubs for low-income youth in attendance, disagreed.

“You know how many soccer fields you can build instead of a 30,000-seat soccer stadium?” Glickman said. “They don’t need a soccer stadium, they need soccer fields to play, and more importantly, jobs.”

Elected officials and representatives from the Yankees attended the two-hour meeting, which was packed beyond the room’s capacity of 400.

“This was very informative and enlightening,” said Brian Smith, Yankees senior vice president for corporate and community relations. “We value everybody’s feedback.”

The stadium deal — which would reportedly cost $350 million and be largely paid for with city funds — has not been officially announced, though rumors that the club would look to set up in the Bronx have flared after community opposition stalled plans for a stadium in Queens. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has long called for the team to move to the borough while other Bronx officials, including Rep. Jose Serrano, said the stadium should not be funded by taxpayers.

“Any stadium must be paid for without public funding, not receive special tax breaks and have no negative impact to shared community spaces,” Serrano said in a Wednesday statement to DNAinfo.

New York City F.C. CEO Ferran Soriano denied that the club is close to signing a deal on the new stadium, but said that it will announce a temporary home “in a matter of weeks." He said the club is still considering several venues and is not “in a rush” to make a decision.

“We need the community to embrace us. This is a home, not a building,” Soriano said in an interview last week. “We don’t want to get it wrong. We want a place where we feel good, where the community feels good. If it takes more time, no problem.”

Goodman said regardless of outcome, Wednesday’s meeting signaled a move towards more “participatory development” in the Bronx.

“There is a new administration that looks like it’s encouraging people to be involved with development issues in the area,” Goodman said. “We have a blank slate now, we can write what we like.”