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Brad Sims: Expect stadium groundbreaking in late summer

NYCFC's CEO, and City Councilman Francisco Moya, discussed the journey to Willets Point approval in exclusive interviews outside City Hall after the City Council voted in favor of the redevelopment.

New York City FC CEO Brad Sims, COO Jennifer O'Sullivan (at each end of the Los Templados scarf) pose with supporters following the City Council's ULURP vote.

Yesterday afternoon, the City Council delivered the final approval necessary to clear the way for New York City FC to finally build a $780 million, privately-financed soccer-specific stadium as part of a massive redevelopment of Willets Point, Queens.

The team and its partners in both real estate development and New York City government joined together to hold a celebration-slash-rally in City Hall Park following the City Council's overwhelming 47-1 vote of approval.

Supporters of the soccer team turned out in strong numbers, as did members of local labor unions, all vocal in their reactions to the celebratory speeches delivered by New York City Mayor Eric Adams, City Council member Francisco Moya, City Football Group and NYCFC chairman Marty Edelman, plus other government, real estate, and labor figures of note. 

Members of the NYCFC first team—Birk Risa, Matt Freese, Maxi Moralez, and Maximo Carrizo—were in attendance and among the crowd on stage behind the event’s speakers, bringing to mind the scene at the Queens Museum in November 2022 when plans for the soccer stadium, along with 1,400 new units of affordable housing, a 250-room hotel, and 2.8 acres of public open space, were first rolled out to the public.

Following the speeches and celebrations, Hudson River Blue had a chance to speak, separately, with both NYCFC CEO Brad Sims and City Councilman Francisco Moya. Both Sims and Moya have spent years working toward similar ends: To get a soccer stadium built in New York City, and to redevelop the polluted, junkyard-littered "Valley of Ashes" that has long been Willets Point.

One last wait

The City Council's vote means there are no more approvals necessary, no more Willets Point-related votes to be held, with New York City's uniform land use review procedure (ULURP) complete pending a five-day window in which Mayor Eric Adams could veto the City Council's approval.

The official explanation of the ULURP process on the City of New York’s website specifies that mayoral approval is not required, with decisions by the City Council to approve or disapprove a land use application considered final unless the Mayor elects to veto.

A veto seems highly unlikely from Mayor Adams, given he called the development a "once-in-a-generation victory at Willets Point." So, the if we assume ULURP is passed and officially complete in the next few days without a sudden shock mayoral veto, when will construction begin on Willets Point Phase Two, and with it, New York City's first and only soccer stadium?

You'll have to wait at least 120 days. That represents the statute of limitations for any Article 78 court appeals to be filed challenging the project's ULURP approval—the only remaining recourse any party with a "generally cognizable interest" in the use of the land has to try to block the Willets Point project.

Here is how Brad Sims described this interlude period between the end of ULURP and the beginning of construction: "There's this 120-day period for potential appeals, generally these projects, almost any kind of project, could have some kind of an appeal. We're optimistic, we’re on a great path, now let's get through this process and make sure that everything's done-done-done, 100% locked and loaded. And then we'll break ground, hopefully late, or end of the summer, the beginning of the fall, and we can really get going."

Sims also said the stadium is "at the very, very end of the architectural process," while describing the parallel paths followed behind the scenes to get ready to commence construction as soon as mid-to-late August.

"It's been the political process to get us to ULURP, then the six- to seven-month ULURP process, along with readying of the construction site, land remediation, getting everything so that we are fully shovel-ready for when we're able to get in there, as well as that architectural and design process, getting to the point where we can get our construction documents done," said Sims. "So the ends of those things all come together right around the same time, which should be around the end of the summer."

One thing that won't hold up progress toward a stadium groundbreaking: The matter of sharing Citi Field's parking lots on NYCFC match days. Sims, when asked to confirm The Outfield's previous report a final parking-sharing agreement has been reached, said: "Yeah, it's done and we have everything, it's signed by all parties, and there's nothing outstanding, nothing hanging over our heads. We're full steam ahead."

"Surreal" becoming real

Early in conversation with each, both Brad Sims and Francisco Moya used the word "surreal" to describe the feeling now knowing the Willets Point project has just about crossed its (pre-construction) finish line.

Councilman Moya has worked for over a decade to bring a soccer stadium to Willets Point as part of its redevelopment, an effort that spanned three mayoral administrations.

It's now finally going to happen, with Councilman Moya telling HRB "We've been through so many stops and starts with this project, sometimes you begin to think it's never going to happen. But we established a great partnership with NYCFC and with Mayor Adams, who has been truly incredible, and built real organic support within the community.”

Councilman Moya also made a point to juxtapose the arrival of New York City's newest stadium, the first since the Brooklyn Nets opened Barclays Center in 2012, with the deals that led to past pro sports arena constructions.

Said Moya, "You have to look at every single sports franchise that's come into New York. They've gotten PILOTs and assistance from the city. Some have never even followed through on their commitments to provide community benefits. NYCFC came in when we were ready to move on this and said, 'Look, we're ready to put our stamp here in this community.'"  

That stamp includes hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent by NYCFC and its deep-pocketed owners on donations to area nonprofits, a new community center, scholarships, high school career and college readiness programs, and free soccer tickets, according to Councilman Moya in comments he made to the City Council's land use committee before it voted to approve Willets Phase Two.

Councilman Moya's vision for the future of Willets Point now also includes "Metropolitan Park," the casino-centric entertainment district billionaire New York Mets owner wants to create on the parking lots that currently surround his Citi Field. Moya has come out in favor of Cohen's development plan, and when asked about his vision for the future of Willets Point, Metropolitan Park included, the Councilman said:

“What we see here is the ability for us to really make a neighborhood with pull, a destination. The economics—this project is going to have 14,000 union jobs in the construction phase, estimated revenue to the city is $36 million annually, and, once it’s done, $6.1 billion total—it helps neighborhoods thrive, and I think it’s something that other cities will look to model. Because with the privately-financed stadium that we got, it helped the city do the infrastructure, and do the affordable housing units there that made this project work. And I think that that's the real benefit to all of this, a self-sustaining economy that will be in that neighborhood when all of this gets done.”

The legacy-makers

In his speech to the crowd from the podium outside City Hall, Francisco Moya referred to Mayor Eric Adams as "The Soccer Mayor," not only for his support of the NYCFC stadium, but for his role in bringing the 2026 FIFA World Cup Final, plus seven other World Cup matches, to MetLife Stadium across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

Councilman Moya said "Mayor Adams was tremendous in supporting this project, he said, 'Look, you run with it, tell me what we need, and we're going to get it done.' And, finally, we got this thing done."

Getting the deal done also likely hinged on the work of Marty Edelman, NYCFC's vice chairman. When asked about Edelman's work securing a soccer stadium for NYCFC, Brad Sims said it was Edelman's "project, his legacy, he's been pulling all the strings, going back well before I got to the club. He's been the number one guy doing this from day one, he's never given up, never slowed down."

Edelman was long at the task of securing NYCFC a stadium, though might have gotten a boost from Councilman Moya's efforts to get Mayor Adams to be pro-soccer and soccer stadium.

"It really didn't take much, it was taking him to a soccer game and seeing the energy himself from the fans. I think that that's the beauty of football, the beautiful game, it's a uniter. It's a universal language here that we all speak," said Councilman Moya of his Mayor Adams's soccer conversion.

Promises kept

When New York City FC won its MLS Cup in December 2021, Brad Sims made a public promise during the City Hall championship celebrations that he'd get a stadium built.

The City Council's final approval of Willets Point Phase Two and the NYCFC stadium made that a promise kept, but when reminded of that speech, Sims said "I made a public promise, but I think I also made a promise the day I took the job, you know, these are my two biggest things: Get a stadium built, and win championships-plural. So, you know, we gotta do some work to get to the plural part of the championship."

Another promise kept in all this: Building New York City FC's stadium inside the five boroughs of New York City.

"If we had gone outside the five boroughs, we could have gotten a stadium built a long, long time ago, you know, probably could have gotten three stadiums built," said Brad Sims.

"But it was a promise made to the fans, that we are New York City Football Club and we were going to build in the city, and we weren't going to look at options that were outside of the five boroughs," said Sims. "Our ownership has been committed since day one, made that promise to the fans since everyone that this is what we're going to do, made a promise to the city that we'll find a way to make it happen."

Promises made and promises kept, with the end of this lengthy approval process bringing an over-a-decade-long stadium saga for New York City FC to a close.

There are still nearly three full years to go before the Willets Point soccer stadium's eventual 2027 opening. A lot can still happen, but Brad Sims seemed to put it best:

"Hopefully everyone can take a breath and celebrate. We’ve got until 2027 to actually open this thing, so there's still a lot of hard work to come. But, man, it's been quite a journey."