Thursday, April 12, 2012

MLS NY2: Pier 40 Meeting

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Travel back in time with me to March 2011 when I wrote this article on the potential use of Pier 40 on the west side of Manhattan for a potential MLS stadium for a second franchise in the city (MLS NY2). Absorb, absorb, absorb. Now travel to the present day and this article in the New York Times (NYT) on a meeting last week between MLS and the Hudson River Park (HRP) task force on the use of Pier 40 for a potential MLS stadium.

To summarize the NYT article, MLS had a formal discussion with the HRP group and with city and state officials in attendance about the use of the pier. The issue is that the pier is part of the overall Hudson River Trust, roughly five miles of land along the river that was given to a public group for 30 years in an effort to conserve public green space. As part of the trust, some portions of the property is designated for commercial use such as Chelsea Piers, Pier 57, and Pier 40 which currently houses soccer fields and a parking garage. The current agreement requires a 50-50 split between commercial space and public space for those zoned areas, so it isn't like the entire pier could be used for a stadium. The reason for the meeting with MLS was because the HRP has been losing revenue year after year, revenue the group uses to maintain and improve the parks. Just a few years ago, I don't think the HRP group would have even met with MLS, but the funding situation is a bit dire and the need is real for another revenue stream.

No one would argue that Pier 40 would be an incredible site for a soccer stadium; surrounded by water on three sides with the Manhattan skyline practically hanging over the field. The New York Cosmos group, as part of their own site evaluation process for a stadium, have focused on Pier 40 as their preferred site. MLS was happy to get a soccer specific stadium built anywhere for the Red Bulls back several years ago, but they will settle for nothing less than a marquee location for NY2. But I don't think Pier 40 is going to happen after all and here's why.

1.   The pier itself is falling into the river and needs almost $100M in repairs to replace the steel pilings and the pier deck; even if it was to be used as a parking garage and not a soccer stadium. Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, the current crown jewel of MLS stadiums, cost $200M to build as did Red Bull Arena in NJ when it opened in 2010. A stadium the meets or exceeds either of these would be expected for NY2, that would put the price over $300M before the typical NYC "construction bump-up". When it's all said and done the location could cost $500M to complete.

2.   It's too close to Red Bull Arena. Unless MLS plans to rename the team "Red Bull NJ" and rely on the legions of fans from Hoboken, Jersey City, and Newark to fill the seats in Harrison, any stadium on the lower west side of Manhattan would draw away fans. Just take a look at the "Red Bull Transportation HUB" page on the team's site and you will see that they are focused on drawing the lower Manhattan fans. I think it would be a mistake to put the teams so close together, but crazier things have happened; the Giants and Jets have shared a stadium for decades!

3.   Building a sports stadium on a pier would be very difficult and would send the cost up significantly. I have a bit of engineering background under my belt, and not to bore you with specifics, the idea of trying to place a 25K person stadium on steel piles in the river is nuts. If you keep in mind, just like Red Bull Arena, that most of those seats will be covered with the field opened in the middle, the canopies act as giant sails when the wind blows. Those wind forces get transferred from the canopies to the walls and down to the foundations, which in this case is a bunch of piles in the Hudson River. It's not to say it can't be done, anything can with enough money, but typical pier structures are limited to three to four stories in height in most cases.

MLS isn't stupid, they know the challenges of building on a pier and dealing with a quasi-public-private park management group. Why did they meet with HRP if the challenges may outweigh the return? Quite simply they are keeping all of their options open, but are now to the stage of holding public meetings on specific sites with the goal of announcing a location before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office in just over 18 months. In all honesty, I think that the other sites in Queens and Brooklyn that we mentioned in our most recent NY2 Stadium article are more likely and still on the radar for MLS. What are your thoughts on the stadium search in the Big Apple? Post a comment and let us know.

1 comment :

  1. As I have posted before in other soccer blogs and I will be suprised if this does not happen there is only one site that makes any sense to build a soccer only stadium for the rebirth of the New York Cosmos. That site is flushing meadows in queens . This stadium could be constructed in the parking lot next to citi field .The cosmos would have to build 3 story parking garages to make up the difference in loss outdoor parking spots that the mets would encounter. Look what the Yankees did with public parking in that congested area of the Bronx they built going up. That area is a soccer hot bed plus the transportation is already in place highways , trains etc. Location is everything in business.


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