NEW YORK — For the first time since identifying Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as a potential stadium site for the league's 20th expansion team, MLS officials are now openly discussing details of the project with local residents and media.
The latest installment of those grassroots meetings involved a Wednesday roundtable with local Hispanic media at the league headquarters in midtown Manhattan, where league president Mark Abbott answered questions about the plans.
It's a project that's been in the works since August 2011, when the league first put a team together to investigate more than 20 different locations for a stadium site in New York City.
Earlier this year, that search honed in on Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, which has the available land and is also close to public transportation, including both the NYC Subway and the Long Island Railroad.
But as importantly, it is the "home of soccer in New York City right now," according to Abbott.
"It is probably the most diverse community not just in New York City, not just the country, but arguably the world," Abbott said. "So if you were to pick the ideal location for a soccer club in the world, it would be in Queens and it would be in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park."
The plans call for a 25,000-seat stadium (expandable to 35,000 seats) to be constructed on the current site of the park's Industry Pond, a 6.5-acre cement structure that was built for the 1964 World Fair but that is no longer operational (at ight).
The economics are straightforward: The stadium will be entirely funded by the club's owner and it will create an estimated 2,200 construction jobs, 160 full-time jobs and 750 part-time gameday jobs.
Abbott said the league is in preliminary discussions with a number of ownership groups and indicated that a likely timeline will see the new owner identified in 2013.
But first things first: The league is currently engaged in a grassroots effort to explain the project and respond to detractors who feel that the stadium will be taking up precious park space.
"If you look at where the stadium is going, it will take up approximately one acre of any green space that currently exists and we will replace that green space elsewhere,” Abbott said. “We will replace whatever parkland is taken up by the stadium with parkland somewhere else nearby."
Abbott also said that any relocation of existing community soccer fields would take place before the construction of the stadium starts and that the NYC Parks Department would continue to manage all nine fields. MLS will be refurbishing each of them in phases with all-weather turf surfaces.
"What we believe is that because of the economic development we’re bringing, by making the park a better park and by bringing a game that the neighborhood and community loves, and by being part of that neighborhood and community, there will be strong support for the project," Abbott said. "We’re very optimistic about how that process will work."
Depending on when the stadium deal is finalized, Abbott said that preliminary plans have construction starting in 2014 and the team launching in 2016.
"This is our priority in terms of our next expansion, which will be our 20th team," Abbott said. "We haven’t made a determination about the timeline for expansion beyond that."
There's plenty of work that lies ahead, but Abbott is optimistic that the league's efforts can succeed in bringing pro soccer to Queens.
"I don’t see any particular hurdles," he said. "We’re going to be having meetings with people in the community to try to further address those questions. That’s going to be an important part of the process because we want the community to embrace the project.
"While there will undoubtedly be bumps in terms of construction and other things that can arise, we’re very confident in our ability to complete the project."