The New York Cosmos, one of the world's best-known soccer franchises of the 1970s and resurrected last year after nearly three decades of dormancy, proposed Wednesday to construct a 25,000-seat, privately financed stadium at Belmont Park racetrack.
Plans for the $400 million project were submitted last week to New York's Empire State Development Corp., which will decide later this year on how to develop the 400-acre racetrack property in Elmont, just east of New York City.
A new soccer stadium could be an economic boon for struggling Nassau County following last year's announcement that the National Hockey League's New York Islanders were relocating to Brooklyn in 2015.
"This is an exciting prospect that will create jobs and complement Nassau's sports entertainment tourism plan," County Executive Ed Mangano said in a statement.
Seamus O'Brien, chairman and CEO of the Cosmos, called Belmont "an ideal location and a win-win for everyone involved. Nassau County and Elmont will realize much needed economic growth, and local residents will have a year-round premier destination they can call their own."
In the 1970s, the Cosmos played in the North American Soccer League, and attracted worldwide attention by signing some of the greatest players of the day including the legendary Brazilian star Pele, Italy's Georgio Chinaglia and West German star Franz Beckenbauer. The NASL disbanded in 1984, but the Cosmos played one more season in 1985 as an independent team before folding.
Last year, the Cosmos announced plans to play in the revived NASL beginning in 2013; home games this season will be played at Hofstra University's former football stadium in Hempstead, N.Y.
The NASL of today is a second-division, small-budget league with teams in Atlanta; Bayamon, Puerto Rico; Blaine, Minn.; Cary, N.C.; Edmonton, Alberta; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and San Antonio. The top American soccer league, Major League Soccer, has a New York franchise, the Red Bulls, playing in Harrison, N.J.
The MLS last year proposed a stadium be built in neighboring Queens for an as-yet-unnamed soccer franchise to rival the Red Bulls. That team would play near Citi Field, the home of baseball's New York Mets.
MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said in a statement Wednesday that the league is continuing to work with New York City and local officials on the Queens project. "We continue our discussions with a variety of potential ownership groups, all who are very interested in being involved with the division I soccer league in North America," he said. "MLS continues to support the development of the lower leagues."
The Cosmos said in a statement that the team wasn't "in a position to comment about any other stadium proposals," but added that the franchise believes "in the strength of our proposal and the increasing interest in soccer both nationally and regionally."
The Cosmos' proposal, called Elmont Crossings, includes nine new restaurants, retail space, a 175-room hotel and a 4.3-acre public park. Team officials say it would create more than 500 construction jobs and over 3,000 full-time permanent jobs.
If approved, the team expects to break ground in 2014. Retail sites would open in 2015 and the team could begin play in the spring of 2016.
A spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corp. said proposals for the property are currently being evaluated for feasibility, economic impact and experience of the project team.
New York State Sen. Jack Martins, whose district includes Belmont Park, called the proposal "an exciting project -- a real game-changer for the community, the county and the state. It will create thousands of short and long term jobs and economic opportunity where we need it most."
Each June, the racetrack hosts the final leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. Cosmos officials say they would not schedule events at the soccer stadium on dates that coincide with major races at Belmont.
Welcome to the RSL Cup blog
I've been a fan of Real Salt Lake since it joined MLS and took to the field in 2005, and I've been a fan of MLS since it began in 1996. Lately however I've started to worry about the path MLS is taking and the poor decisions they are making that in my mind threaten the growth of soccer as a whole in the US. (see "Columbus conspiracy" section) Soccer in America will grow only when we have a vibrant and diverse minor league system, something that MLS seems to be smothering at the moment. (see "American soccer wars" section) Let's keep our eyes on the situation and hope for the best, a future where grass-roots soccer and the minor leagues can not only exist but flourish, as well as where the contributions and history of the league's early clubs are appreciated and preserved.