Experts: Belmont Park soccer stadium faces obstacles

This is an illustration of the 25,000-seat stadium

This is an illustration of the 25,000-seat stadium that the New York Cosmos soccer team is proposing for a corner of Belmont Park in Elmont. The project would include a 175-room hotel, restaurants, retail stores and a public park on the northern section of the property near the racetrack. (Credit: Handout )

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The New York Cosmos' plan to build a 25,000-seat soccer stadium at Belmont Park faces potential obstacles, including a competing arena being considered in Queens and the prospect of playing in a start-up league, said industry consultants and sports stadium experts.

The Cosmos, a well-known franchise in the 1970s, submitted a bid last month to the state to build a privately funded $400-million stadium near Belmont racetrack in Elmont. The plan calls for a 175-room hotel, nine restaurants, retail stores and a 4-acre public park.

The Cosmos team, which folded in 1984 but was reborn last year, will play in the new North American Soccer League, which is considered a level below Major League Soccer, whose 19 teams include the New York Red Bulls and the LA Galaxy. The Cosmos will play their home games at Hofstra University beginning in August and hope to move into the Belmont stadium in 2016.

The team would face an uphill battle to turn a profit, said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economics expert and a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts.

"There is no way on Earth that if the Cosmos play in a second-division league that this type of investment makes sense," Zimbalist said. "This division would not provide enough revenue to support it."

Soccer consultant Jeff L'Hote said for the Cosmos to be successful, the team needs to play against premier talent in Major League Soccer.

"I don't know how realistic their plan is," he said. "They need to play in the top division to maximize their success."

But Cosmos chief operating officer Eric Stover said he is confident the quality of play in the North American Soccer League will improve enough over the next few years for it to be competitive with MLS.

"We would not make this kind of investment unless we believed the quality of play and club operations would improve," said Stover, who worked for the Red Bulls when the team built a 25,000-seat stadium in Harrison, N.J. "What you see with the Cosmos today is not what you will see in 2016."

QUEENS STADIUM PLANNED

A Cosmos stadium could face direct competition from a new MLS franchise 10 miles away.

With the backing of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, MLS is negotiating to purchase land in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to build a $300-million soccer stadium near Citi Field. That stadium would house an expansion MLS team that would start play in 2016.

Cosmos officials say they are committed to playing in the North American Soccer League and MLS officials insist they want to bring a team to Queens, not Long Island.

"Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is the epicenter of soccer, and we are thrilled at the prospect of bringing our 20th team there," said MLS spokeswoman Risa Heller.

COSMOS STILL WANT BELMONT

Stover said the Cosmos will pursue the Belmont project regardless of what is built in Queens. He plans to break ground on the Belmont stadium, which would be capable of hosting World Cup qualifying matches for the U.S. men's and women's national teams, next year.

"We welcome the competition," Stover said. "There are millions of soccer fans in the New York market and many of them are Cosmos fans."

Richard DeBrosse, president of the Elmont Youth Soccer League, said fans are "salivating" at the prospect of the Cosmos locating in the area. "More kids play soccer here than any other sport," he said. "This is ground zero for soccer."

The Cosmos are competing with at least one other bid submitted to the state's request for proposals. State officials have not disclosed the details of other proposals. The Empire State Development Corp. will send questions to bidders next week and hold face-to-face meetings at the end of the month, said state officials familiar with the process. ESD will make its decision by late spring.

The Belmont plan has the support of many local lawmakers and community activists, but it also has detractors.

"Stadiums do nothing for the community," said Pat Nicolosi, president of the Elmont East End Civic Association, who supports high-end apartments at Belmont. "They bring in people from all over, but that money does not stay here."

Cosmos officials say the project would generate $200 million in annual revenue, and create 500 construction jobs and nearly 3,000 full-time jobs.

"This is a project that would bring thousands of jobs to the area, as well as much-needed tax revenue to our local governments and school districts," said State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), whose district includes Elmont.

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