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Soccer stadium brawl kicks off

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The naysayers are beginning to come out in the debate over Bronx’s proposed new soccer stadium.

South Bronx’s stakeholders are organizing in anticipation of a deal that would bring a Major League Soccer arena to a 10-acre site between E. 152nd Street and the Major Deegan Expressway.

Mayor Bloomberg’s administration is buttoning up the final details with the New York City Football Club —a new MLS franchise mostly owned by an Abu Dhabi Sheik and part-owned by the New York Yankees —to build the 28,000-seat stadium one block south of Heritage Field, Yankee Stadium’s former home.

If the city and its partners close the deal, it will then travel the rungs of public review. Bronx’s borough president and the nearby community board are weighing whether to throw their support behind the project.

But some embittered locals are skeptical their concerns will be drowned out.

Community Access

If locals do decide to support the arena, they’ll want to be able to use it.

Key to the discussions going forward will be the extent that the surrounding community — one of, if not, the poorest in the nation — can access the space.

Demand for soccer in the Bronx does exist.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. painted the borough as crazy for the sport in a letter he sent this summer encouraging the MLS and the New York City Football Club to bring the franchise to the borough.

International friendlies hosted at Yankee Stadium so far have drawn massive crowds.

“The games already held here have had very high community interest,” said Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161th Street Business Improvement District. “Soccer is enormously popular here.”

But locals plan to push for more than mere tickets to games. Many remain bitter about the construction of the new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009.

“We tried to stand up for ourselves, but in the end we were steamrolled,” said Killian Jordan, who actively protested that stadium

Jordan hopes for a better deal this time around, and is looking at the nearby Kingsbridge Armory deal for inspiration. In that deal, approved this month by the City Council, the developers of what will be the world’s largest ice rink center agreed to a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in which they promised to hire locally, provide a 50,000-square-foot community space and fund local skating lessons.

Allowing locals inside the stadium on non-game days may prove crucial in winning community support. Goodman suggested an indoor fitness center as something locals could rally around.

“If they are going to build this stadium, they should let our kids in,” Jordan said. “They need to open it up so the people here can set foot in it.”

Parks fans bruised

An application for a new arena will also have to contend with park lovers still smarting from the 24 acres of parkland the city bulldozed in order to build the new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009.

Under the current proposal, the new soccer stadium would replace part of a debt-saddled garage the city built on parkland at E. 153rd Street and River Avenue.

Environmental activists remain sour that the land is not being used as a park.

“If parking isn’t needed, then let the community have its park back,” said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates, a city park watchdog group.

De Blasio shutdown?

Even if stakeholders do strike a deal, construction won’t start overnight.

The proposed soccer stadium would rely on numerous city land-use and zoning changes that require it to go through a Uniform Land Use Review Process, or ULURP.

It is unclear whether Mayor-elect Bill be Blasio would try to put the kibosh on the deal. De Blasio told the New York Times recently that he had “serious concerns” with the proposal, though he supported the Barclays Center basketball arena development project in Brooklyn.

Ben Kochman can be reached via e-mail at BKochman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742–3394
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