Report: Sheikh wants Queens soccer team

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Flushing Meadows-Corona Park has been eyed for a 25,000 seat Major League Soccer stadium.
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park has been eyed for a 25,000 seat Major League Soccer stadium.

Queens may yet get its own pro soccer team.

The New York Times has reported Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, whose private group owns England’s Manchester City
soccer team, is in talks with Major League Soccer (MLS). Bin Zayed is a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber reportedly wants a $100 million expansion fee from the potential owner. That marks a huge spike compared to the $40 million Montreal’s new team had to pay last year.

The fee would come on top of an estimated $300 million for a proposed 25,000-seat stadium. Discussions for the venue include the possibility of expanding to include 10,000 more seats in the future.

Garber told reporters he hopes to make an announcement within the next few weeks on a deal with the city.

Spokesperson Risa Heller said MLS is still in talks with potential owners, but could not give specifi cs at this time.

“While we are making progress on the New York expansion team, we have not finalized the ownership agreement,” she said. “Our discussions with potential ownership groups remain private.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pushed for an MLS stadium in one of his last initiatives before his term ends later this year. He
told reporters last week he was confident the stadium will come to Queens—along with the MLS’ twentieth team.

“Hopefully we’re getting close to announcing a new soccer stadium here in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park,” he said.

But the rumored deal has activists and elected leaders up in arms for a number of reasons.

Alfredo Centola, a co-founder of Save Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, said although Bloomberg will push for a deal, there is enough resistance from the community to block the project from getting the green light.

“They’re going to try to make it go through,” Centola said of city officials. “We’ve got a very strong push to try
and stop it. With the amount of pressure that we’re putting on them, I would hope not.”

Councilmember Daniel Dromm said he was upset a deal could be struck with a sheikh from a country whose human rights record has come under criticism.

“I was shocked to read in The New York Times that the Bloomberg administration is negotiating to give NYC parkland away to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, an oil billionaire that helps rule a country where gays or lesbians [sic] is a crime punishable by death,” Dromm said in a statement.

Even if a deal is cut with the city, approval for the plan has to go through a rigorous review process. MLS officials would have to reach
out to all affected community boards during a Uniform Land Use Review Process to get an advisory vote from the community. The borough president also has to give an additional recommendation vote.

Because the project would remove 10 to 13 acres of parkland, both the City Council and the State Senate would have to vote on the displaced green space.

MLS would have to fi nd replacement parkland. Many Queens leaders say that would have to be reasonably close to Flushing Meadows.