New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently announced a landmark deal to completely redevelop Willets Point, Queens, into a brand new neighborhood that will not only offer a new soccer stadium for Major League Soccer’s New York City Football Club, but also 2,500 units of 100% affordable housing, a 250-room hotel, and a new 650-seat K-8 public school. As the mayor mentioned during the announcement, the plan to redevelop Willets Point has been in the works for decades, and it’s something that the two previous mayors took unsuccessful stabs at. The deal that the city has struck with New York City Football Club’s owners finally ends the uncertainty over what was to be done with the so-called “Iron Triangle” - the hub of junkyards and auto repair shops that have come to identify Willets Point. With Citi Field and the Billie Jean King Tennis Center close by, a new soccer stadium would fulfill the project’s vision of making Willets Point into a city sports center.
At its premise, the deal seems like a huge win, not only for the administration, but also for the city, given the fact that the owners of New York City Football Club have promised to foot the entire $780 million bill for the stadium. There are numbers, of course, that tout the supposed economic benefits of building the soccer stadium. With other stadium projects, there were challenges to those claims, especially when these venues are built using public subsidies. As the mayor continues his soccer agenda with a visit to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, we take a look at some of the city’s other sports venues and their financing.
New York City FC Soccer Stadium
Year built: 2027
Projected cost to build: $780 million
Cost to taxpayers: TBD
The plan to redevelop Willets Point will consist of a public-private partnership between the city, the owners of New York City Football Club, and the Queens Development Group. While the full details of the agreement are still nascent, here’s what we know so far: The team has agreed to pay the full $780-million price tag for the stadium. That’s the price of the stadium alone, no word yet on how the adjacent developments would be financed. The team won’t pay any real estate taxes, but they will have to pay about $4 million annually as part of the 49-year agreement to lease the city land on which the stadium is to be built. Per the New York Times, any kind of public funding would be directed toward infrastructure improvements and property tax breaks.
Year built: 2009
Cost to build: $2.3 billion
Cost to taxpayers: $1.2 billion
The cost to build the 2009 Yankee Stadium was quite the saga. At its inception, it was estimated that it would cost $1.3 billion to build. This figure ballooned to almost double, when the team requested amenities such as parking garages to compliment the stadium. As the sports field blog Field of Schemes reports, the city granted the Yankees public subsidies in the form of tax-free municipal bonds. According to a study conducted by the Brookings Institution, because these bonds are tax free and the federal government ends up losing out on the revenue, the government ends up subsidizing a large portion of the building cost. In the case of Yankee Stadium, the study found that the federal government ended up subsidizing the stadium for about $431 million. An additional study from Stanford affirmed that while a large amount of public money is used for building sports stadiums with the belief that it’ll spur economic growth, sports stadiums in fact don’t produce the significant amount of benefit that is promised.
Year built: 2009
Cost to build: $830 million
Cost to taxpayers: $614.3 million
The New York Mets were also recipients of tax-free municipal bonds that they used to fund the construction of Citi Field. The same Brookings Institution study mentioned above has the Mets right behind the Yankees as having received the second-most amount of federal subsidies at $185 million. Like the Yankees, public money used to fund the Mets’ stadium came in the form of subsidies and tax breaks.
The new Buffalo Bills stadium
Projected year built: 2026
Projected cost to build: $1.4 billion
Projected cost to taxpayers: $850 million
When Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that she would give the billionaire owners of the Buffalo Bills a public handout of $850 million to help them build a new stadium, she was met with criticism. The bill was to be split between the state footing $600 million and Erie County putting up $250 million. In an effort to ease the state’s share, Hochul then played hardball with the Seneca Nation by asking a court to freeze the nation’s bank accounts, which ultimately handed over the $564 million in backlogged debt that it had owed the state as part of their agreement to share casino revenue. However, of that $564 million, only about $418 million is expected to be put up for the stadium.
Year Built: 2021
Cost to build: $1.5 billion
Cost to taxpayers: $68 million +
The UBS Arena located in Belmont Park on Long Island is a multipurpose indoor area meant to be the home stadium for the New York Islanders. Stadium developers and the state claimed the arena was privately funded, but a Village Voice investigation found that the land the state leased for the project was not properly assessed. The Buffalo-based Investigative Post found that the state subsidized other components of the project, including an LIRR stop and construction of stores and offices, to the tune of $68 million. The estimated 20-year, $350 million naming deal that was struck with the Swiss investment bank UBS was said to be critical in the project’s financing, according to Islanders owner Jon Ledecky.
Madison Square Garden
Year built: 1968
Cost to build: About $100 million in 1964
Cost to taxpayers: $875 million and counting
Madison Square Garden has a long history that stretches back to 1879, making it one of the oldest sports venues in the city. There have been four separate iterations of the Garden through the years, with the fourth and current version being placed on top of Penn Station in 1968. The main money story surrounding MSG has been the 1982 deal negotiated by then-Mayor Ed Koch that has exempted the Garden from paying any property taxes since then. Years later Koch claimed he thought the tax abatement deal was only supposed to last 10 years, when it has in fact been perpetual. According to recent calculations by The City, MSG has been saved from paying a total of $875 million in property taxes over the past 40 years and there is apparently no expiration date on the tax abatement. With MSG’s special land permit that allows it to sit on top of Penn Station set to expire next year, there has been even more conversation about whether it may be time to move the Garden to yet another new location.
Year built: 2012
Cost to build: $1 billion
Cost to taxpayer: $860 million
The plan to build the Barclays Center was part of the messy 2004 Atlantic Yards development project that has yet to be completed. After years of back and forth between the city and local community members, construction for the Barclays Center was able to start in 2010 after a court ruling approved the city’s use of eminent domain to clear out the area for the arena. A University of Pennsylvania case study, estimates the public cost to be around $860 million for the arena alone. That includes $551 million in tax-exempt municipal bonds and $200 million in cash subsidies.
Correction: This post has been updated to more accurately reflect the public cost of the UBS Arena.