Bronx pols, locals mount growing opposition to cricket stadium in Van Cortlandt Park

From left to right, City Councilmember Eric Dinowitz, Rep. Ritchie Torres and State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz hold a press conference to oppose the city's proposal to allow the International Cricket Council to build a 34,000-seat stadium in Van Cortlandt Park for the T20 World Cup.
From left, City Councilmember Eric Dinowitz, U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres and state Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz hold a press conference on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023 to oppose the city’s proposal to allow the International Cricket Council to build a 34,000-seat stadium in Van Cortlandt Park for the T20 World Cup.
Photo Camille Botello

The city’s proposal for a 34,000-seat stadium to host the International Cricket Council’s 2024 T20 World Cup in Van Cortlandt Park was met with growing opposition in Riverdale Friday morning.

During a joint press conference at the park’s Parade Ground Athletic Fields, Riverdale pols joined community groups and members of the public to send a clear message to City Hall: They want to see this project die. 

“In my 20 years in government, both as a staffer and as an elected official, I have never seen such a massive proposal have such little community engagement,” U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres said, whose congressional district includes Van Cortlandt Park. “We in the community feel blindsided, and even betrayed by the sheer suddenness of the city’s decision to construct a massive stadium in our local community, in our local park, without the barest attempt at community engagement.” 

The International Cricket Council (ICC), based out of Dubai, has put the park on its list of potential host locations for the games in June 2024 — with lofty plans to build a temporary stadium that seats more than Madison Square Garden. According to the ICC, next year will be the first time the T20 World Cup will take place in the United States. 

Somewhat like baseball, cricket requires a batter to hit a ball from a bowler (similar to a pitcher) to score runs. The sport is particularly popular in Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies — although it’s played all around the world. 

Godfrey Mitchell, the president of the New York Cricket League (NYCL), said if the deal goes through the entire league will be left without their fields. 

“This is our turf, we have nowhere to go,” he said. “You can’t take us out (of) the house and don’t find a place for us. You can’t displace us.”

In a letter sent to Mayor Eric Adams in late July and obtained by the Bronx Times, NYCL representatives and others in the local cricket community asserted their opposition to the project on two grounds — that the recreational leagues would lose field access for the majority of the 2024 season, and that local community groups’ objections have been overlooked. 

John Moore, a coordinator with the NYCL who signed the letter, told the Bronx Times that Adams has effectively stonewalled the league and refused to respond to the written correspondence. The ICC agreed to have a Zoom meeting with the NYCL, and even though Moore said the council was uninterested in alternative venues for the tournament, he at least appreciated the reply.

He said of the mayor’s office, “They certainly weren’t interested in a discussion with us.” 

Spokespersons from Adams’ office refused to answer specific questions from the Bronx Times about whether or not the mayor plans to respond to written correspondence, whether he thinks the project is actually feasible, who has the final say on the stadium, and when he’ll make the decision whether or not to move forward with the location. But, his office did offer a statement about the mayor’s thoughts on the tournament. 

“Cricket is one of the world’s most popular sports, and holds special importance to countless immigrant communities who call New York home,” a mayoral spokesperson said. “It only makes sense to host the International Cricket Council’s Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 in the melting pot that is New York City. As the five boroughs continue to serve as an international sports destination, holding this tournament in New York City also has the potential to generate $150 million in potential economic activity and create thousands of new jobs. New York is ready to deliver a tournament that no other city will be able to offer and bring this long overdue sport to the best city on the globe.”

Kids play soccer at the Parade Ground Athletic Fields in Van Cortlandt Park on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023.
Kids play soccer at the Parade Ground Athletic Fields in Van Cortlandt Park. Photo Camille Botello

Milford Lewis, the treasurer of the NYCL, said New York City’s cricket community is “vast,” “deep” and “inclusive.” Lewis is from the South American country of Guyana but has lived in the city for 46 years.   

“Cricket is the pulse, my pulse,” he said. “It beats in our hearts, we grew up through it.” 

Lewis said the space in Van Courtlandt Park’s Parade Ground Athletic Fields that the city and ICC are recommending makes up three fields the NYCL uses on a weekly basis.  

“If we allow a stadium of that magnitude to be erected here it will rob a whole generation of cricketers a place to play,” he said. 

State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Riverdale Democrat whose district runs through Van Cortlandt Park, said in July he was excited at the prospect of hosting the 2024 T20 World Cup in the Bronx — just not in the park. But he joined in full opposition Friday — calling the plan a “hare-brained scheme,” even though he doesn’t think it’ll ever come to fruition. 

The proposal that details a 19.5-acre section in the southeast corner of Van Cortlandt Park, including an area for concessions and a stage for entertainment, will likely run into both legislative and legal battles.

According to the New York State Park Alienation Handbook, “Parkland alienation occurs when a municipality wishes to convey, sell or lease municipal parkland or discontinue its use as a park.” Since the proposed venue would be a commercial, for-profit stadium, it seems likely the plan would require alienation.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will ultimately make that call. 

In order to alienate parkland, legislation would need to be enacted by the state Legislature and approved by Gov. Kathy Hochul. However, both local state representatives, Dinowitz and State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, have now gone on record opposing the project. 

Christopher Rizzo, a lawyer who has worked on park alienation issues for more than two decades and who lives in the area, told the Bronx Times in a previous interview that there are numerous laws and legal requirements that “almost certainly” come into question with this project, such as the Public Trust Doctrine, the State Environmental Quality Review Act and the NYC Zoning Resolution – all of which pertain to the way a private project could impact a public park.

“I see no indication (that the) ICC or the government officials involved understand the laws that must apply here,” Rizzo said back in July.

Many local residents and groups show up to oppose the cricket stadium in Van Cortlandt Park on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023.
 Local residents and groups rally to oppose a cricket stadium in Van Cortlandt Park on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023. Photo Camille Botello

Additional issues voiced by both community groups and elected officials included concerns over parking, environmental impact, security and the area’s already strained infrastructure. Nick Dembowski, the director of the Van Cortlandt House Museum that sits at the end of the Parade Ground area, said for weeks this summer there were no functioning lights or plumbing at the southeast corner of the park where the stadium would sit.

Others in opposition on Friday included Riverdale’s City Councilmember Eric Dinowitz, the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, the Advocacy and Programs at New Yorkers for Parks, the Bronx Arts Ensemble, Dwaine Perry, the chief of the Ramapo Munsee Nation, and the 6035 Broadway Owners Corporation.  

Sandy Almeyda was at Parade Ground Athletic Fields on Friday morning with his wife Marrissa and 7-month-old daughter Simone. An area resident, Almeyda said he tries to take two or three runs per week in Van Cortlandt Park. 

“This is a gem of the community that should be shared,” he told the Bronx Times. “For it to be disrupted is absurd.”

This story was updated at 11 a.m. on Sept. 5 to include a statement from Mayor Eric Adams. 

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