NEW YORK — We've heard MLS officials present the proposed stadium plan for a second expansion team in NYC to press gatherings and on media conference calls.
But for the first time on Tuesday night, MLS Commissioner Don Garber and league president Mark Abbott showcased the project to more than 500 locals at a townhall meeting held at the Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Park, just a stone's throw away from the proposed construction site. They also took some hand-written questions from those in attendance.
"I am a Queens guy," Garber told the crowd, which included a vociferous representation of the Borough Boys supporters club. "Like many of you, my family, my parents, my grandparents came to this country and they moved to Queens. This is where I spent the majority of my childhood … I know when my grandparents first came here they probably could never have dreamed that a kid from Queens could be sitting here today talking to all of you about fulfilling our dream, our dream of having this great game having a home right here in New York City."
The Commissioner proceeded to give the crowd an outline of the 100-percent privately financed stadium plan: the timeline, the 2,100 jobs it would create, the $60 million in annual economic activity and the promise of community service.
In addition, there was a detail about the stadium's capacity that was likely new to some following the story.
"We’re looking to build a 25,000-seat stadium," Garber said. "Sometime in the next 30 years, because we believe that this will be a popular team, we are looking for the right to expand it to 35,000 seats. We will not take any more land. We will not have to raise any roofs and we will not have to build it any higher."
The impact to the park itself was also a major topic, with MLS reiterating its plan to relocate the park space acre-for-acre — a "commitment by contract" — and renovate the popular soccer fields that are in desperate need of a facelift.
"[Local players] complain, 'Why don’t they fix the fields?'" said Luis Montoya, president of the Big Apple Soccer leagues, which play on the fields. "It's simple. [The park] doesn’t have money to do it. Now this problem is over."
Montoya was one of a number of representatives from various local organizations, who attended to show their support. They ranged from union chiefs (union workers gave the loudest cheer during Garber's address), Chamber of Commerce representatives and even the head of the Queens Hispanic Pastors Association. Queens high school championship teams also made the trek.
Local elected officials addressed the audience and expressed their interest in learning more about the final terms of the financial deal with New York City and the specifics of the replacement park land.
But many of those same officials still voiced their support for a stadium plan that would not only change the face of soccer in New York City. But it could also change the face of the league, according to Garber.
"Our goal is to be one of the top soccer leagues in the entire world by 2022. This team and this stadium will help us achieve that," Garber said. "You can’t be a dominant soccer league without having a dominant team in the largest and most important city in the world."