One Last Chance for MLS

Greenwich village resident outlines a major league vision for Manhattan’s pier 40.

In just ten days, the brand new and beautiful Red Bull Arena will finally open to soccer fans with a sold-out exhibition between Red Bull New York and Brazil’s famed Santos football club. New Yorkers will hop on the PATH train and in about a half-hour arrive at the Harrison, NJ, based stadium without most of the problems of traveling to the Meadowlands, the previous home of RBNY and the now defunct Giants Stadium.

But for many who live East of the Hudson River, the biggest problems still remain. Will the best soccer stadium in the country be able to draw fans across the river? Can a building straighten out a mismanaged franchise with a history of failure? Will there be a honeymoon, and if so, how long will it last?

RBNY has its new home, but another structure’s future also places the city’s soccer future in the wind. Pier 40, one of the largest and most-used sports facilities in Manhattan, is in dire need of rehabilitation. Just as with RBNY, many plans have failed. But Greenwich Village resident Patrick Shields thinks he has the answer. An ambitious answer…

Let’s see what This Is American Soccer discovered below.

One Last Chance for MLS in Manhattan

The current revenue reliant development mandate at New York’s crumbling and contentious Pier 40, at West Houston Street and the Hudson River, may be the only chance, ever, to create a modest and traditional, English Premiere League style Major League Soccer franchise on the island of Manhattan. If current law stands, and admittedly desirable pro-neighborhood changes in the state legislature in Albany do not happen, a historic business and branding opportunity for Major League Soccer in New York City will be lost if supporters and soccer investors do not act quickly.

Greenwich Village area communities know that short of legislative changes in Albany in 2010, the Hudson River Park Trust, which controls what happens to Pier 40, and the Hudson River Park Trust Act, will ultimately require the investment and cooperation of a single, large corporate tenant. This tenant would have to embrace community requirements for usage and shed the burden of the historic lack of success and consensus with larger, less neighborhood friendly organizations. The difficulty is that publicly developed revenue streams may not be enough to permanently maintain the pier, and will certainly not be available, up front, in the vast amounts needed to first rehabilitate it.

A stadium may be anathema to Pier 40 communities, or seem politically impossible, but look at small stadiums throughout the world, especially London. Pier 40 can be a spectacular Hudson River facility–part Craven Cottage, (the Hudson standing in as the Thames) and part Loftus Road of Queens Park Rangers. By decree of the Park Trust Act, not more than 50% of the pier may be allotted for commercial revenue producing uses, and at least 50% must be dedicated to public use. I think a soccer specific stadium, what could ultimately be known to soccer supporters as “the old Pier,” can fit into this available acreage while creating vast new public green space.

Loftus Road, Queens Park Rangers
Loftus Road, Queens Park Rangers

I argue that infrastructure investment can be soccer centric, and be soundly and prudently managed in acceptable neighborhood terms, for four reasons:

  • The patiently managed emergence of the sport and business of soccer in the U. S. A.
  • A potentially lucrative urban, iconic world class soccer franchise with a world market.
  • A small scale stadium which would be available at times to the public which includes a variety of the best backyard soccer goals in the world.
  • A growing and well managed corporate soccer partner willing to cooperatively develop a true massive increase in Pier 40 public green-space, i.e. MLS.

While started by the best of intentions, the failed efforts to update the pier to date are a prescription for the ultimate loss of Pier 40. A single, solid idea, with a single commercial partner needs to happen now. This would be a bitter pill to swallow for those in favor of corporation-free green space, but short of changes in Albany, (and where is the plan for that?) no one in the community has yet advanced a financially sound, revenue-based plan that the communities and the Park Trust control. Pier 40 Partnership came close on the ongoing revenue stream end, but the Trust seeks a long term financial home run which also includes drastic pier rehabilitation.

Rendering of Pier 40 Partnership’s vision of Pier 40

An editorial by Arthur Schwartz of Community Board 2 on possible Albany action references a crucial item from the Park Act, Section 7(2): “the Trust shall not be authorized to issue bonds, notes, or other similar obligations, whether or not negotiable or to contract to pay debt service on such obligations issued by any other entity”. “In other words”, Schwartz writes, “the Hudson River Park Trust can’t take out a loan, it can’t issue its own bonds, and it can’t have the State and City issue bonds which it is obligated to pay back. Why, many may ask, doesn’t the Trust just develop the Pier itself?”

I argue that with a soccer plan we can, as long as all corporate capital raised for the project is protected, earmarked only for use in pier rehab, and pier and stadium development. First funds raised from private investors must of course require this. Post-development and ongoing operational revenues would have no such restriction, and again go to the Park Trust general fund. We can do it without taxpayer funded issues, without borrowing, and without paying debt service on other investor contributions.

The New York Cosmos soccer community, the soccer business community, and Major League Soccer must make a determined and legit effort to find a group of U. S. and international luxury box lessees, raise $150,000,000 from them, assist pier development, and attract MLS ownership, with neighborhood and political priorities in place. The long term payoff for ownership, for Hudson River communities, and businesses old and new, would be enormous.

Ownership gets a flagship New York sports franchise in a growth industry with global export and branding. The community gets a well-developed, well-maintained pier with a single fitness-oriented business partner. Real park space, real revenues. Real access. No bond issues, no stadium rip-off. And all of this for the historically alternative Village, which could preside over American soccer’s most visible symbol of, “We’re here to stay.”

Still not tired of reading? Please also take a look at our Making of Pelada article, you won’t regret it!