Ever since the Post’s Albany columnist Fred Dicker reported on Monday — based solely on two unnamed sources — that a deal for an MLS stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is “close to being wrapped up” and that construction “could begin early next year,” the story has bounced around the journoverse like a free kick off Tobin Heath. WNYC chimed in with the news that Mayor Bloomberg had cited the project semi-approvingly (“My understanding is there’s a lot of sentiment in Albany that they would be willing to do it”), while Bloomberg News did the same for Gov. Cuomo (“We support bringing major league soccer to New York and are working with MLS to make that a reality”). Deadspin, meanwhile, went off on an unnamed-source tangent of its own, insisting that “a really rich dude from the UAE” is in the lead to buy a Queens expansion franchise, which may or may not end up being a revival of the New York Cosmos.
Before everyone rushes out to buy hideous Pele throwback jerseys, though, take a deep breath. Conversations with public officials and community activists make it clear that any Queens MLS stadium still has enough hurdles to clear that there’s no way on earth construction will begin in the next 12 months. And some obstacles — in particular, the one with a baseball-headed mascot — could end up deep-sixing the project before it ever gets off the ground.
The report (sorry, “exclusive” report) by Dicker that started this whole thing was based on only two sources, one entirely unnamed, the other referenced only as an “excited state official.” (Make your own damn joke.) Given that Dicker’s beat is Albany, the likely scenario is that some capitol official — Assemblymember Francisco Moya, who last month penned a Daily News op-ed calling Flushing Meadows “the perfect location” for an MLS stadium, is a reasonable suspect [UPDATE: Moya’s chief of staff Meghan Tadio says: “It wasn’t us”] — wanted to spread the word that things were proceeding apace in the legislature, which must sign off on “alienation” of any New York parkland that’s going to be converted to other uses.
Before the legislature can alienate city parkland, however, it needs to receive a “home rule” message from the city council giving it the go-ahead. When the Yankees wanted to seize Macombs Dam Park for their new stadium, Bronx councilmembers happily obliged, firing off a home rule message in a mere eight days. In Queens, though, this will require the signoff of councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who’s been publicly cautious about the MLS plan. Ferreras spokesperson Tarik Coles told the Voice last week that while his boss “is in support of MLS coming to Queens, it’s just a matter of things being done correctly” — including soliciting community input on how and where to replace the public soccer fields that would be razed to make way for the Cosmosphere, something that’s still very much up in the air.
Ferreras’ approval would also be required for the next stage of the process: <http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/luproc/ulpro.shtml/>ULURP, the uniform land use review process that all rezonings and changes in land use are required to undergo in the city. (Even if MLS were to try to argue that a stadium isn’t a new use of parkland — because it would still be a public park, and buying a ticket to soccer is, um, a form of recreation? — the league would still presumably require ULURP to get a long-term lease on the space.) This would require an environmental impact statement to be drawn up, which would trigger a nine-month series of mandatory public hearings, at which point we’d already be well into the second half of 2013, if not beyond.
And even if Ferreras is brought around to full support for the stadium — say, via something involving Chris Quinn and extraordinary rendition — MLS could still face an even more formidable foe. By all accounts, Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon are less than thrilled about someone other than themselves opening a soccer stadium in Queens, especially after their initial interest in buying an MLS expansion franchise fell by the wayside thanks to their Madoff-spawned money woes. There’s also the little matter that any soccer team would want to use the Mets’ parking spaces for its fans — and the Wilpons already have their own plans to partner with uberdevelopers Related on a shopping mall in their parking lot. A lot, incidentally, which is also technically part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. (Flushing Meadows is the unofficial city record holder for “most stuff that you would never think would be in a park.” Not to mention “most stuff you wouldn’t think would exist in this century.”)
In planting his story, what Dicker’s Albany informant was most likely after was to jump-start the MLS plan, giving it a higher profile as it enters into the ring to battle it out with the U.S. Tennis Association’s proposed expansion, the Mets’ Willets West project, and maybe even a casino. Which is exactly what he got, courtesy of the aggregatoverse. We’re so easy sometimes.