NYCFC stadium gets city council approval: ‘A cathedral of football in the five boroughs’

Major League Soccer’s New York City FC will finally have a place to call home, after New York officials on Thursday approved a vast proposal to build a 25,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium for the team in Willets Points, Queens along with surrounding development.

The $780-million, privately-financed stadium has been more than a decade in the making, ever since MLS approved NYCFC as an expansion club in 2013. The venue will be the centerpiece of a new neighborhood built adjacent to Citi Field, home of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets. The project includes plans for an elementary school and thousands of affordable housing units.

The approval is a “historic, once-in-a-generation victory” for Willets Point, city mayor Eric Adams said on Thursday from outside City Hall, where hundreds of NYCFC fans, union members, community leaders and elected officials gathered to celebrate the milestone.

“Eighteen months ago, we came together to lay out our vision for a new neighborhood born out of the Valley of Ashes, out of the valley of just car repair shops, out of a valley of unpaved roads (with) slick oil all over the place,” Adams said. “People rolled by (and) didn’t see the vision and opportunity. But we said, ‘yes, we could get it done’ – and we got it done.’”

The Willets Points revitalization project calls for 2,500 units of affordable housing, a 650-seat elementary school, 115,000 square feet of open space, and a 250-room hotel. The project also includes plans for retail. Construction will be backed by local union labor, bringing thousands of jobs to Queens, city leaders touted.

The stadium, which will open in 2027, will be adjacent to Citi Field and near the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open. At a 25,000-seat capacity, the stadium will be the seventh-largest of the current soccer-specific stadiums in MLS, tied with the team’s New Jersey-based rival, the New York Red Bulls.

The move is expected to be transformative for NYCFC as a club. For years, the club has had a nomadic “home” experience, playing most of its home games at Yankees Stadium, with occasional sojourns to Citi Field, Pratt and Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Connecticut, and perhaps most uncomfortably, at Red Bull Arena, the home of their local rivals. In 2022, the team played its home matches at five different venues, including a nominal home game in Los Angeles in a CONCACAF Champions Cup tie.

The stadium will also allow the team to explore new avenues for profit and growth at a crucial time when soccer’s popularity in the United States is exploding.

“It’s transformative for our club,” NYCFC CEO Brad Sims told The Athletic following the announcement. “Being a tenant is not a realistic and viable long-term plan for a sports franchise. Owning, operating (and) running your own facility 365 days a year is extremely important to be able to, I think, realize your potential. I think the one thing that has been holding back New York City FC in 10 years is infrastructure.”

Sims identified numerous new revenue streams that the stadium will allow for, including naming rights for the venue and premium stadium seating. Sims estimates that more than 80% of any professional team’s revenue is likely coming from sponsorships and premium seating. The club will also have the opportunity to explore hosting events, whether that be concerts or games not involving NYCFC.


The new stadium is anticipated to be open in 2027 (NYCFC)

“It’s gonna be a destination place,” Sims said. “Every summer, you’re now seeing all the biggest football clubs around the world come to the U.S. because they want to get fans. They want to get the U.S. market share. They’re looking for places to play, and they’re gonna want to be in New York City. They’re gonna want to be in our venue.”

Sims said he expects the stadium to be a “key venue” for the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams and, eventually, for World Cup qualifiers. Though the stadium won’t be finished in time for the men’s World Cup in 2026, Sims is optimistic it could be considered for the women’s World Cup in 2027, should FIFA award the United States and Mexico hosting rights for the tournament later this year.

“We just think it’s going to be this cathedral of football in the five boroughs,” Sims said.

Though plans for the Queens stadium were announced in 2022, the idea to build a soccer stadium in the borough was conceived years earlier. It has been a lifelong dream for council member Francisco Moya, the council member representing the area of Queens where the stadium will be built.

His Ecuadorian roots, he says, are what fueled his love for the beautiful game.

“It’s surreal, a lifelong dream of mine to do,” said Moya, who officials touted was a driving force for the proposal. “When I first got elected, I wrote a letter to (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber saying, ‘Look, I know the expansion is coming in 2013. I got a great place for you guys to come to here in Queens.’”

Six months later, Garber and the newly-elected member of the New York Assembly connected, Moya said, and the planning began.

“We’re not just building a soccer stadium,” Moya said. “We’re building a brand new neighborhood, something that has never been done in four decades in the city of New York, in the very place I was born and raised in. I learned how to play soccer in the shadows of Willets Point.”

“Now there’s going to be some kid who’s playing right now in Flushing Meadows, Corona Park, who one day is going to be able to have the opportunity to dawn the jersey of his hometown club, which is New York City Football Club,” Moya said. “I think that says it all.”

For longtime fans of the club, like Felix Palao, having a stadium “has been years in the making.” Palao, a member of the club’s supporters group, The Third Rail, recounted the countless rumors that came and went over the years.

“When those plans fell through, it did feel hopeless,” he said. “It felt like we had nowhere to go. To finally have a home, that’s all I’ve been wanting.”

Last month, NYCFC shared updated renderings of the primary entrance to the planned stadium, dubbed “The Cube.” The seven-story-tall entrance will be the first thing fans see when exiting public transportation to the stadium. It features 11,000 square feet of LED lighting in the cube, and is capable of projecting video, photographs and graphic elements during game time.

There remains an appeals process for the project, but the proposal is expected to breeze through the process unscathed. “We’re optimistic about the appeals process, and hoping to get shovels into the ground by late summer, early fall, when that process concludes,” Sims said, “and we’ll still be there target for ‘27.”

But there’s still plenty that needs to happen before then, he added.

“We still have a long way to go,” Sims said. “We still gotta get the thing built.”

(Photo: NYCFC)

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