New York City Football Club plans stadium at Columbia Complex

Wednesday, Apr 29, 2015

“New York City F. C. is looking at sites all over New York City,” said Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for the team. “We are working with the de Blasio administration to find a world-class site for a soccer-specific stadium.”

Columbia had no comment on the talks, said Victoria Benitez, a spokeswoman.

While Major League Soccer has had a club in the New York area since 1996, the league had long wanted to establish a franchise in New York City itself, a potentially lucrative market ripe for a team of its own, executives say.

In 2011, even though it had yet to establish a second club in the New York region, the league considered building a 25,000-seat stadium on a 14.5-acre pier at the west end of Houston Street in Manhattan.

Officials said they would rebuild the dilapidated pier and allow youth soccer teams to use the facilities. But the project, which sits in Hudson River Park, ran into local opposition.

Two years later, officials were in discussions with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg about building a soccer stadium on 10 acres in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, where a professional tennis complex and a baseball stadium already occupied land.

Promises to spend $90 million to replace and upgrade youth soccer fields at Flushing Meadows did little to quell opposition there. That project was also hampered by the owners of the Mets, who demanded a prohibitively high rent for use of parking lots at Citi Field.

So the soccer league and the club were off to the Bronx, just south of Yankee Stadium. They obtained an option to buy a factory, where they planned to build a stadium. The factory, in turn, would be moved to a new building. But the option expired before the team could craft a deal with Mayor Bill de Blasio, Mr. Bloomberg’s successor.

They also looked at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens.

By then, M.L.S. had awarded the second New York team to a partnership of the Yankees and an investment group led by Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, which already owned the Manchester City Football Club of England’s Premier League.

Sheik Mansour, a member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi, is intent on establishing a global soccer brand. In recent years, City Football Group has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to export the City brand around the globe. It also controls Melbourne City of Australia’s A-League.

At first sight, the 23-acre Columbia University complex might not look like a suitable candidate.

The site’s sloping land, overlooking Spuyten Duyvil Creek, is already crammed with facilities for football, soccer, softball, field hockey and lacrosse. There are also a gymnasium, a tennis center, a boating center and a building housing athletic offices.

The plan, according to an executive briefed by the soccer club, would be to demolish the 17,000-seat Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium and replace it with a 25,000-seat stadium that could be used by New York City F.C. and Columbia’s Lions. The new stadium could cost $400 million.

The franchise would also spend as much as $30 million to rehabilitate the surrounding fields for Columbia.

Although the complex sits in the quiet Inwood neighborhood, there are subway stops for the A line and the No. 1 train within a 10-minute walk. The Marble Hill Metro-North Railroad station is also 10 minutes away. Parking, however, could be tight.

The sharing arrangement with a college would not be unusual in M.L.S. The Houston Dynamo share their stadium with Texas Southern University’s football team, and the Portland Timbers do the same with Portland State. The San Jose Earthquakes played at Santa Clara University’s Buck Shaw Stadium from 2008 to 2014 before moving into their own soccer-specific stadium in San Jose this year.