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NYCFC Willets Point stadium to enter public review process

This (digitally rendered) stadium is about to go under the official ULURP microscope. Image courtesy of NYCFC.com.

The planned New York City FC soccer stadium in Willets Point is about to enter a crucial new phase. 

The redevelopment of Queens that will include NYCFC’s stadium is expected to be certified into New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) on Monday, October 2nd, according to statements made by project stakeholders during a September 13th Queens Community Board 7 meeting. 

That early October certification will start the clock ticking on a lengthy period of public review, recommendation, and discussion about the billion-dollar Queens development that includes the $780 million NYCFC stadium.

The entire ULURP process can last over 200 days, so while October 2nd will mark an important start date, final approvals of the stadium project might not be in place until late April 2024—assuming all goes smoothly throughout the many still-to-come ULURP phases.

Parking problems persist

Certification into ULURP appears to be full steam ahead despite no agreement being in place for NYCFC stadium attendees to utilize the parking lots that surround Citi Field, which was confirmed during the community board meeting by Ethan Goodman, an attorney who represents the Queens Development Group.

Goodman described conversations with the Mets as ongoing but unresolved, and indicated that alternative parking solutions would be studied and included in the Environmental Impact Statement that’s put together for this new portion of Willets Point redevelopment. 

The parking complication first came to light back in May when a report from The City indicated billionaire Mets and Citi Field owner Steve Cohen opposed NYCFC’s stadium in Willets Point and was “playing hardball” over sharing his parking lots with the new soccer arena.

Those Citi Field parking lots are where Cohen wants to erect his own new casino-centered development, and the parking lot sharing looks like it’s still being utilized as leverage by Cohen as he wages an extremely expensive and thus far unsuccessful campaign to bring a casino to Willets Point.

Event parking out at Willets Point shouldn’t be hard to come by for either Mets or NYCFC fans, given the fact that Goodman of the Queens Development Group also made it clear to Community Board 7 that all parties are in agreement that they will not schedule Mets and NYCFC games on the same day.

Goodman said that, in the event game postponements and rescheduling lead to NYCFC and the Mets playing on the same day, the games will be staggered by a minimum of seven hours to ensure there’s enough time for one crowd of fans to clear out before another crowd of fans descends on this stadium-packed corner of Queens.

The next dominoes to fall

Another date to keep an eye on: Friday, September 29th. That was flagged during the Community Board 7 meeting as when to expect the release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the “Phase II” portion of Willets Point development that includes the NYCFC stadium.

Once that statement is available, it might shed some light on potential non-Steve-Cohen-controlled parking alternatives the project’s developers are studying—or it might not, since it only has to be a draft version at the time of ULURP certification.

The Draft Scope of Work released in March for the NYCFC-connected Willets Point redevelopment stated that “Applicable zoning regulations require one parking space per 25 stadium seats,” and with 25,000 seats set to surround the Etihad Pitch inside Stadium Name Stadium, NYCFC will need to find 1,000 parking spots to comply with those zoning rules.

When the project is certified into ULURP, the first group to get a chance to weigh in on the proposal is local Queens Community Board 7. Community boards have purely advisory roles in the ULURP process, all they do is make a positive or negative recommendation.

Advisory or not, ULURP still officially begins with the community board having a 60-day window to hold a public hearing and solicit feedback about the stadium-plus-housing-plus-more proposal, then submit its recommendation to the City Planning Commission and the Queens Borough President’s office.

From there, Queens BP Donovan Richards (who spilled the beans on the Queens stadium plan a week before the official announcement) gets his own 30-day window to evaluate the proposal, possibly hold a hearing, and then make his own recommendation. Those are just the first two of five total phases of review baked into the official ULURP flow chart, as it’s very much a marathon, not a sprint.

Others to call Willets Point home?

One question raised by an attendee during this most recent Community Board 7 meeting: How else will the public be able to utilize NYCFC’s stadium, given there are only 17 home matches in a standard MLS regular season?

The answer given by Daniel White, senior account executive with longtime NYCFC-retained PR and lobbying firm Geto & de Milly, referenced plans for there to be “robust public and community access available throughout the year” for NYCFC’s new stadium.

Chris Campbell of The Outfield added some potential context for what those “public and community accesses” might look like, courtesy of the term sheet the developers signed with New York City. One of the added uses makes it sound like another professional soccer team will be calling the new stadium home:

What team might this refer to? Back in April, NYCFC surveyed season ticket holders about their interest in a professional women’s team also potentially playing at the new Willets Point stadium.

While the language in the term sheet is loose enough to mean a simple relocation of NYCFC II could work as an “additional professional soccer user” of the stadium, the fact that the team recently went out of its way to gauge interest in the women’s game only a few months ago still seems significant.

A NYCFC-affiliated women’s team remains only a hypothetical, but it’s another potential bit of intrigue to re-emerge as the much-anticipated stadium project gets set to embark on New York City’s slow, complex, fraught land review procedure.

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