Is NYCFC’s Stadium Ready to Ramp Up?

New records shed light on the push to finalize development details before NYCFC’s stadium proposal begins public review.

It’s safe to say this year hasn’t gone according to plan—including the one set of plans NYCFC fans have been waiting years to see finalized. In February, NYCFC CEO Brad Sims confirmed reports by The Outfield and the New York Times that the club was preparing to go public with a stadium proposal in the South Bronx, just south of Yankee Stadium. “In the coming months,” Sims wrote in an open letter, “we will take further steps to formalize our participation in the public approval process.” Instead, those months brought a global pandemic, mass protests over the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a brief murder hornet invasion, even a James Sands assist.

But through it all, the developer Maddd Equities and its army of consultants have been working behind the scenes to move the stadium plan forward. New public records shed light on two longstanding challenges—relocating the GAL Manufacturing factory and removing a highway ramp—that have occupied developers as they get their ducks in a row before entering New York City’s public land use review process, which restarted this month after a six-month hiatus.

The Major Deegan Ramp

Ever since NYCFC first looked at building a stadium on the GAL site in 2013, the nearby Major Deegan Expressway ramp has stood in the way. Last October, The Outfield reported that Maddd had hired Tonio Burgos & Associates to lobby for “an update of the East 153rd Street ramp,” an early sign that plans were heating up again.

Though stadium work has gone quiet for the last six months, new public records obtained by The Outfield show Tonio Burgos and other parties have made progress in conversations with the state department of transportation about ramp changes—but plans aren’t yet final and, as of last month, a critical ownership question remained unsolved.

Images from a presentation by NYCFC’s stadium development partners to the New York State Department of Transportation.

Unlike a 2013 plan that would have removed the northbound entrance ramp to Major Deegan, Maddd’s current proposal would eliminate a southbound offramp at Exit 6 and shorten a southbound onramp, removing the ramp option at East 153rd Street. Planners have examined traffic data from game days as well as normal patterns, and are finalizing agreements with the city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) that would ensure NYCFC and the Yankees would not play at the same time.

Developers have proposed turning a large portion of the existing highway ramp into a pedestrian walkway from the soccer stadium to the Harlem River waterfront. “Activating the waterfront” was a key recommendation from last fall’s Urban Land Institute panel that studied the possibility of a stadium development along the River Avenue corridor. “Any stadium or rezoning should ensure there is safe and prominent pedestrian and bike access over or under the highway down to the waterfront,” a member said at the most recent meeting of the local community board. “We cannot and should not have to rely on the Metro North station to cross over to the waterfront or walk through a mall parking lot.” 

A preliminary sketch for the pedestrian walkway that would connect the stadium to the riverfront.

Developers first presented ramp plans to the state department of transportation late last year, followed by a more formal proposal in May of this year. When the department replied with comments in July, they highlighted a problem: the question of who would own what was left of the highway ramp. Developers had proposed that NYSDOT would retain ownership of the pedestrian bridge west of the Metro North tracks, as well as the decommissioned Major Deegan ramp. “We would have no interest in owning or maintaining a bridge which is not open to public traffic,” the department replied. 

Though developers have stayed in touch with government agencies, the ownership question remained a sticking point as recently as last month. “The ownership issue will need resolution,” a NYSDOT official wrote in an internal email last month. “City claims to support this project, but per EDC does not want the long-term responsibility of ownership. I can’t see where any State Agency would want this property long term. I think we need to directly contact City Agencies to ascertain interest in the property.” 

“We had proposed to transfer to NYC but they have no interest in owning the ramp. We need to discuss ASAP on our approach,” another transportation official wrote in an email on August 26. Representatives from NYSDOT and NYCEDC did not respond to requests for comment.

Relocating the GAL Factory

A highway ramp isn’t the only thing that needs to go to build NYCFC’s stadium. The GAL Manufacturing elevator parts factory sits squarely in the proposed stadium footprint—there’s a reason it’s referred to as the “GAL site.” But while the New York Times has reported that Maddd and NYCFC are in contract to purchase the factory, the company’s search for a new home has been an ongoing issue. 

In May of last year, emails showed David Quart of the development firm VHB working with NYCEDC to find a relocation site for GAL. (Quart has since registered as a lobbyist for Maddd and worked on the ramp issue.) Last November, GAL brought on its own lobbyists, from the law firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, to lobby on the subject of “Procurement – Construction & Economic Development Benefits.” According to an email obtained by The Outfield, the firm reached out to the Bronx Borough President’s office in January to request a meeting about relocating GAL within the borough to keep its hundreds of jobs nearby.

“As you know, quiet efforts are underway to plan for the major redevelopment of properties south of the Stadium, which would include a new soccer stadium at the site of GAL Manufacturing factory and offices, and surrounding properties,” a DHC lawyer wrote. “GAL’s property is the lynch pin of this $2B development plan, that I’m told will include the creation of 1,200 jobs, hundreds of affordable housing units, commercial uses, as well as the noted soccer stadium.”

A representative for GAL declined to comment for this story. The Bronx Borough President’s Office did not respond to requests for comment. 

The Road Ahead

NYCFC and its partners still have some loose ends to tighten up before the stadium plan is likely to enter public review. The Outfield has not been able to confirm whether any formal meetings have been held to resolve the Major Deegan ramp ownership issues. The Federal Highway Administration will have to sign off on any plans involving decommissioning an off ramp. And finding a new home for GAL remains a key issue, though the company’s own involvement in the search seems like a sign that it’s ready to relocate from the stadium site. 

In an email dated February 3, Quart laid out a timeline that included reaching a ramp agreement with NYSDOT in the final quarter of 2020, with a published environmental statement and ULURP certification—steps that would take the proposal fully public for the first time—to follow in the first quarter of 2021. The roadmap included completing land use review in the fall of 2021 and beginning construction in early 2022.

So maybe 2020 still won’t bring any good news on the stadium front, but Sims’ statement that the pandemic may not have set back the development timeline remains plausible. If we can all just survive this forsaken year, maybe we’ll finally see some public progress toward a home for NYCFC. ❧

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Image: Presentation from stadium developers to NYSDOT