New York City Reaches Deal to Build Soccer Stadium in Queens

New York City officials have reached an agreement to build the city’s first professional soccer stadium, the centerpiece of a giant mixed-use development that would transform a long-underutilized waterfront section of Queens.

The 25,000-seat stadium for the New York City Football Club is slated to rise on city land by 2027 in the Willets Point neighborhood of Queens, across the street from the right field foul pole of Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets, Mayor Eric Adams and the soccer team’s officials confirmed on Tuesday.

The stadium would be the first significant major-league sports venue to be built in the city since 2012, and is set to be the focal point of a 23-acre project that includes a 250-room hotel and 2,500 units of housing. Officials say the project would be the city’s largest development of entirely affordable housing since the Mitchell-Lama developments of the 1970s.

The deal represents Mayor Eric Adams’s initial major economic development initiative and comes as he is about to complete his first year in office. It also spells the end of two sagas: the team’s decade-long search for a dedicated soccer stadium and an even longer conundrum about the future of Willets Point, a once thriving conglomeration of auto body shops.

“Queens, which is the world’s borough, now will become the home of soccer, which is the world’s sport,” Maria Torres-Springer, the deputy mayor for economic and workforce development, said in an interview on Tuesday.

Unlike many stadium deals, including one for the Buffalo Bills negotiated this year by Gov. Kathy Hochul that included nearly $900 million in public funds, city officials said subsidies for this project are largely limited to infrastructure improvements at the site and property tax breaks for the stadium.

The soccer team will pay for the entire construction of the stadium, which is estimated to cost $780 million, city officials said. Neither tax-exempt bond financing nor direct city capital infusions will be used, according to Andrew Kimball, the president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The developers are not getting abatements on mortgage recording or sales taxes, he said. But the stadium owners will not have to pay real estate taxes for the duration of the lease.

A rendering of the soccer stadium, upper left, with Citi Field to the left and residential buildings to the lower right.Credit…The Related Companies

New York City owns the land on which the stadium and housing will be built, and will lease it to the football club and to a development team that includes Hudson Yards developer Related Companies and Sterling Equities, the development company partially controlled by the Wilpon family, the former owner of the Mets.

Over the course of the 49-year lease, the team will ultimately pay rent of up to $4 million a year to lease the land for the stadium. The team will have the option for a 25-year extension.

What to Know About Affordable Housing in New York

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A worsening crisis. New York City is in a dire housing crunch, exacerbated by the pandemic, that has made living in the city more expensive and increasingly out of reach for many people. Here is what to know:

A longstanding shortage. While the city always seems to be building and expanding, experts say it is not fast enough to keep up with demand. Zoning restrictions, the cost of building and the ability by politicians to come up with a solution are among the barriers to increasing the supply of housing.

Rising costs. The city regulates the rents of many apartments, but more than one-third of renters in the city are still severely rent-burdened, meaning they spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent, according to city data. Property owners say higher rents are necessary for them to deal with the growing burden of taxes and rising expenses for property maintenance.

Public housing. Thousands of people are on waitlists for public housing in buildings overseen by the New York City Housing Authority. But the city’s public housing system, the largest in the nation, has become an emblem of the deterioration of America’s aging public housing stock and is desperately in need of a financial rescue.

In search of solutions. Mayor Eric Adams has presented a plan to address New York City’s housing crisis that includes expanding affordable housing through incentives for developers and preserving existing below-market units. But the mayor’s critics say the budget still falls short of what is needed.

The project promises to transform the former industrial zone into a sports and entertainment destination site, comprising Citi Field, the new soccer stadium and the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which hosts the U.S. Open. And it could put the new owner of the Mets, the hedge fund manager Steven Cohen, in better position to win one of the three new state casino licenses up for grabs; he is in talks with Hard Rock to join forces to propose a casino by Citi Field.

The New York City Football Club’s search for a permanent home began in 2012, three years before the team played its first game. In the waning months of former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration, talks were underway to build a stadium for the team in the middle of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Those plans were derailed by local politicians and parks advocates, who objected to giving scarce, heavily used parkland to a team that could well afford to build elsewhere: Its majority owner, United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also owns the Manchester City Football Club, and its minority owner is the New York Yankees. The Mets also objected, demanding that it be paid to let soccer fans park in the lots around Citi Field. (The current plan calls for the Mets to receive parking revenue collected during soccer games.)

When the 2013 plan fell apart, the team announced it would play at Yankee Stadium for three seasons while it searched for a new site. Three years turned into nearly a decade.

Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer, preferred that new stadiums be built in urban areas where fans can meet at nearby pubs and restaurants before and after matches, similar to many stadiums in Europe.

“This is just another step toward this vision that we want our club to be embedded in the community that’s accessible to fans,” Mr. Garber said of the new stadium.

The team considered nearly 20 locations around the city. Some were floated and then dropped, including land along the Hudson River near Greenwich Village and Baker Field, which is owned by Columbia University, because of complaints by neighbors, costs and other issues.

In 2020, just before the pandemic took hold, the owners of New York City F.C. and a group of local developers were close to a deal that would have built a soccer stadium as part of larger development that would have replaced parking lots and an elevator parts factory not far from Yankee Stadium. The deal appeared to fall apart in 2021.

Playing at Yankee Stadium — with games scheduled when the Yankees were on the road — was less than optimal: Baseball fields have uneven dimensions, making for odd sightlines and tight corners for soccer. The quality of the field, which must be repurposed for each soccer game with, for example, the pitching mound removed and sod put over it, has also been criticized.

Despite it all, the team won its first M.L.S. Cup last year.

Despite playing on a converted field in Yankee Stadium, the New York City Football Club won its first Major League Soccer cup last year.Credit…Mike Segar/Reuters

To build a bigger following in Queens, the team will play some of its games in Citi Field until the new stadium opens.

“It’s pretty much of a fantasy,” said Marty Edelman, the football club’s vice chairman. “We’ve been an itinerant tenant in a number of different spaces. I think our fans need a different GPS every week to figure out where they go to watch us play.”

The saga of Willets Point has lasted far longer than the team’s search for a stadium.

Once a dumping ground that inspired the “valley of ashes” imagery in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the land eventually morphed into the Iron Triangle, once the city’s largest collection of auto body repair shops and scrap yards, some of which sustained families for generations.

In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan to put apartments and office buildings on the 60 acres bounded by Citi Field, the Whitestone Expressway and Flushing Creek. His plans expanded to include a shopping mall on a parking lot technically mapped as parkland, prompting a lawsuit that stopped the project in its tracks.

Mr. Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, re-envisioned the plan to prioritize affordable housing, and during his second term, announced a remediation of the polluted site to allow for 1,100 apartments and a school. Most of the more than 200 businesses that made up the Iron Triangle have since been evicted, or bought out. A plan to relocate many of them to the Bronx failed.

City officials said only two businesses remain at the site; Mr. Kimball said the city is in the process of acquiring those sites.

Waiss Mohibi, who owns garages there, said the city has pressured him to leave, in bad faith. He said he has four years left on his lease and he will not leave without a buyout.

“You give me a good deal, I’ll get out,” he said. “If you don’t, I stay.”

The 1,100 units announced by Mr. de Blasio in 2018 will be incorporated into the 2,500 unit total Mr. Adams will announce on Wednesday.

The stadium project and additional housing will have to go through the city’s onerous land review process, which is heavily reliant on the support of the local council member. In this case, that council member’s support is not in doubt.

“I’m a kid who grew up playing soccer in the fields right across from Willets Point,” said Francisco Moya, a councilman who has been pushing for a soccer stadium in Queens for years. “We hope to create the same kind of passion that we see throughout the world, where some kid right now who’s playing on Field 11 in Flushing Meadows Corona Park will one day be able to don the jersey of the team that plays right across the way from them.”

Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

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