A rendering of New York City Football Club's new stadium...

A rendering of New York City Football Club's new stadium project in Willets Point. Credit: NYCFC

A 25,000-seat soccer stadium in Willets Point, Queens was approved Thursday by the New York City Council.

The privately financed $780 million project will give a permanent home across from Citi Field to New York City Football Club, a Major League Soccer team that continues to play home games at that stadium and at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. 

"There is not a better location for New York City's only soccer-specific stadium," said Jennifer O'Sullivan, NYCFC's chief operating officer, in a phone interview. "It will unlock a huge soccer fan base on Long Island, and the proximity to Long Island Rail Road and to major highways just brings the game a little closer to all those fans."  

The mayor's office, in a release, said the project, expected to be finished before the start of the 2027 soccer season, will transform an area once dominated by auto repair shops into the city's "newest neighborhood," with thousands of new apartments and accompanying infrastructure. Critics, including community advocates and the city councilman who was the sole dissenter in a 47-1 vote, said city leadership was squandering a chance to build significantly more housing.   

Council member Shekar Krishnan, who represents parts of northern Queens and cast the "No" vote, called the promised job creation "anemic" and the housing inadequate. "We do not have a stadium crisis in our city. We have a housing crisis," he said. The stadium deal "squanders an opportunity to use these scarce public resources for the people of New York City," he said.

A January, 2023 preliminary analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office estimated that the city will fail to collect $516 million in property tax revenue on the city-owned stadium site over the 49-year term of the team's lease there.

In interviews, a staffer for Brooklyn-based Black Institute, an advocacy group, and Robert LoScalzo, a Whitestone, Queens producer who is making a documentary about Willets Point, also criticized the project. "Who wants to live in a very small residential neighborhood adjacent to an empty soccer stadium directly across the street from Citi Field, which is likewise empty the vast majority of the year?" LoScalzo said. 

A spokesman for the city, William Fowler, said in an email that NYCFC will pay up to $4 million in yearly rent to the city. He  called the budget office's analysis flawed, saying the site had been contaminated and languishing before development. He said the deal, which will bring repaved streets, new trees and a school to the area, was comparable or better than other municipal sports stadium deals the city analyzed.   

Councilman Francisco Moya, who represents the area where the stadium will be built, said at Thursday's hearing that “This is a once in a lifetime chance to build a new neighborhood, and we’re doing it the right way.” Moya, who grew up playing soccer in Corona Park and, as a state Assembly Member, played on that legislative body’s pick-up soccer team, called the stadium plan a “historic development project.”

Under an earlier phase of Willets Point revitalization, construction of 1,100 units of affordable housing is already underway, the mayor's office said in a release. Phase 2 will bring the the stadium, along with 1,400 more apartments and a hotel. The project is the city's largest for "all-affordable housing" in 40 years, according to the release.  

NYCFC will partner with developers Related Companies and Sterling Equities, a company led by former Mets owner Fred Wilpon, to build out the 23-acre site.

Andrew Tucker, president of NYCFC's fan club, Third Rail, wrote in an email that he was heartened by the prospect of a permanent home for the team. “Being a nomadic tenant of over six different ‘home’ stadiums over the years has hurt the fan base as well as the players … The fortunes for everyone will change drastically in 2027.”

Yankee Stadium offers awkward sightlines for soccer and “most of the noise generated by the supporters section doesn’t carry across the field,” wrote Tucker, a mortgage banker who lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn but works for Westbury-based Meadowbrook Financial.

Relocating to Queens may cost the team fans from Connecticut, Westchester and New Jersey, he wrote, “but the club is hoping to tap into Long Island to make up the difference.”

About a hundred of the Third Rail’s 1,000 members are Long Islanders, he said. They will now be able to reach games by train or by highway without paying bridge tolls.

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