Major League Soccer may provide a lift to winter racing in New York.
The owners of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, John Kluge and Stuart Subotnick, a negotiating with state and local officials to build a 25,000-seat soccer stadium next to Aqueduct.
The stadium wouldn't be for the MetroStars, however. Last year, Kluge and Subotnick exercised an option to create a second MLS franchise in the New York City area. The second team may be playing by 2002.
Subotnick, who is president and chief executive of Metromedia, said the stadium is good for soccer and good for New York racing. He should know since he has owned and raced Thoroughbreds since 1996 including homebred Arkansas Derby (gr. II) winner Balto Star.
"We want to share Aqueduct with NYRA, which I think would be interesting if we can pull it off," Subotnick said, referring to the New York Racing Association, which owns Aqueduct. "It may create some additional fans for racing. In turn, we hope we can pull some of the people who come out for the bigger events to come back with their kids to watch a soccer game."
The $70 million stadium would be built on the west end of Aqueduct's 200-acre site, behind the northern end of the grandstand near the subway tracks. Additional soccer fields would be built around the stadium and made available to the community. The complex could also include a hotel, a small convention center, and retail shops that would sell sports equipment and memorabilia--for horse racing and soccer.
NYRA president Terry Meyocks said the soccer stadium could create new opportunities for the Queens racetrack.
"Just like we've worked with the local communities to develop the Belmont Festival, we could do the same thing with the soccer stadium," Meyocks said. "It would probably enhance Aqueduct."
The financing of the stadium is still be working out and could prove to be a major stumbling block, according to the New York Times.
Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, said the Aqueduct site is a good location because of its access to highways and subways. The state, however, is unlikely to underwrite the stadium's construction.
"We realize that soccer is one of the fastest growing sports," Gargano told the Times.
"But we have repeatedly said that we're not going to use taxpayer money for stadiums, though we will help with transportation and infrastructure."
Meyocks said discussions have not advanced enough to determine whether NYRA would invest anything in the project.
The Aqueduct project is one of two stadium projects for Kluge and Subotnick. They want to build a new stadium for the MetroStars in Harrison, NJ, across the Passaic River from Newark. The MetroStars now play in Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands.