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By AVI CREDITOR
MLS commissioner Don Garber's desire for a second New York franchise has not been a secret for some time, but Thursday he shed some light on the progress the league is making on securing a stadium site.
While addressing topics such as the growing league attendance, the new officiating program initiative, the league's new disciplinary measures and television ratings during a teleconference with national reporters, Garber touched on the latest involving New York City expansion and indicated that the league's unprecedented steps in ensuring that a stadium is in place before an ownership group is secured are making headway.
"The league is taking the lead on developing the stadium opportunity," Garber said. "It’s the first time we've ever done that as part of the expansion process. There have been nine teams over last 10 years to build stadiums, but this is the first one where the league is driving most the important aspects.
"Architecture, consultants and environmental all work for the league. We will put together a project and then we hope to be able to deliver to a potential owner. We’ve been working with the mayor's office, and it has been a great resource for us, helping to steer us to sites that can be developed and where there is enough community support and to achieve success."
Garber said the league has looked at 19 different sites over the last 18 months and is in the process of narrowing down the choice locations.
"We want to ensure that when this project is complete that we have the perfect site for a stadium, and we'll take the time, as long as it takes, to ensure we have the right site. That's how important this second team in New York is.
"It's too early to go public with what those locations are. We are focused on locations that have really strong public transportation access and are close to the urban core as possible."
Although Garber, who ruled out Belmont Park as a potential site, said that there are "no ongoing conversations with any specific owner" at the moment — including the Wilpon family and the new Cosmos ownership group — and he feels that as soon as the stadium site is selected and cleared, the ball will get rolling on securing an ownership group that will pay the hefty expansion fee to join the league.
"When the stadium is done, there's going to be no shortage of owners who will line up and want to pay $100 million for our 20th team," Garber said.
Future stadiums remained a theme in Garber's comments. With San Jose getting the green light to go ahead and built its new stadium and Houston set to open BBVA Compass Stadium in May, the league has its eye on rectifying the stadium situation for two of the league's original clubs.
D.C. United and the New England Revolution have perpetually been at the forefront of the stadium discussion, and Garber addressed the latest goings on with each franchise.
This week, D.C.'s city council passed a resolution calling on local government to come up with a long-term solution to keep United in the nation's capital. While the resolution itself guarantees nothing and is more a symbol of political support than actual tangible progress, Garber took note of the development.
"I applaud the gesture, and I hope that it is the beginning of a very quick path to finding a facility for the club," Garber said. "(D.C. United owner Will Chang) and (club president and CEO Kevin Payne) are commiteed to doing what they need to do to try and resolve the situation," Garber said. "Baltimore does remain an option for a stadium should they not be able to resolve their situation. I am watching the situation very closely."
As for this year, new lease terms and a restructured finanical agreement between the club and Events D.C., the operators of RFK Stadium, are set to be announced as the team is on the verge of opening up a 17th season at the aging ballpark.
"That's a positive sign and another indication of the District working with D.C. United," Garber said.
New England, meanwhile, is still in search mode, and Garber said that the subject of a new venue would come up when he next meets with club owner Robert Kraft, which was slated to be a breakfast meeting on Friday.
"There's an opportunity there that if we're able to get some public support, hopefully we'll be able to get something done," Garber said. "Our view is that if the Revolution have a soccer stadium in Boston, it will be one of the most vibrant environments in the entire league. So we are going to continue to try and work to see if we can get that done."