Owned in part by the Yankees and a billionaire from Abu Dhabi, the New York City Football Club (NYCFC) has been seeking a permanent home since its formation in 2013. Since this time it has been playing most of its home games at the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
A site for a potential NYCFC Stadium has been proposed near Macombs Dam Park, bounded by East 165th Street to the north, 149th Street to the south, Grand Concourse to the east, and Harlem River to the west. As with any major league sports venue, the new football stadium will have significant impact on the both the residential and business communities within the neighborhood. So, what are these impacts? And in addition, how can a new development of this nature and scope be a welcomed, connected, and engaging addition to the neighborhood?
To address this the Community Board Four (CB4) in the Bronx approached the Urban Land Institute New York (ULI) to conduct a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP). ULI is a non-profit education and research organization, which provides leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining communities worldwide. Its New York Technical Assistance Panel provides expert multidisciplinary and objective advice on land use and real estate issues facing Governments, public agencies and non-profit organizations. Drawing from its extensive membership base ULI New York conducts one and two day panels offering unbi¬ased, pragmatic solutions, best practice advice, and market-based strategies to local decision-makers on a wide variety of complex land use challenges, ranging from site-specific projects to public policy questions.
The Bronx Community Board Four TAP Panel comprised of real estate professionals with development, finance, legal and design expertise and included Board Director and Head of Design Research Unit for global architectural practice, Scott Brownrigg, Neil MacOmish.
With over 36 years of design experience, Neil is an expert in the design of sporting venues. Having worked on the 2010 Ryder Cup venue – Celtic Manor in Wales, UK, the SWALEC Stadium, Wales in preparation for the 2009 Ashes Test, the home of the Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey team in Wales, the Kia Oval Cricket Ground in London and the International Sports Village destination in Cardiff to name but a few. As a specialist in stadia design, he has a knowledge and under¬standing of sightlines, spectator movement, media and back of house facilities including outside broadcasting requirements. And, how these can integrate into complex urban fabric and existing communities. This experience proved a valuable asset to the technical panel. In particular, Neil understands the consequences of the stadium management plan in terms of access, safety, evacuation and acoustic sensitivities on adjacent and surrounding neighbourhoods. Perhaps uniquely, Neil has also played soccer professionally.
Together with studying the site, the panel interviewed a variety of community stakeholders and arrived at three key categories of recommendations to address as the NYCFC stadium discussions progress as follows:
Here Neil talks us though his approach to the design of stadia and its application in designing the new stadium for NYCFC.
“I believe that with the design of sporting venues such as the NYCFC, openness, transparency and connectivity are key. Experiencing a sporting event begins way before the stadium entrance and includes both the journey and the arrival. Whilst its design should be welcoming, its form should not be detrimental to its function, which should allow for flexibility and multi-purpose use. Importantly it must take into account connections to the surrounding environment.”
He goes on to say, “The experience of a sporting event does not start at the stadium entrance, but includes the journey, the theatre of arrival and sharing a collective urban memory of place and event. Stadium designers, cities, and communities have begun to realize the benefits of designing professional sports venues to serve multiple functions beyond that of hosting sporting events. Many contemporary stadiums are highly visual and experiential in design and function. The design is visually pleasing and welcomes and encourages visitors to come in, explore, and enjoy the space. Stadium design today is also taking into greater account the facility’s connections to the surrounding environment and oftentimes uses design to blend the inside and outside experience.”
Providing more than just soccer, the new stadium has the opportunity to provide additional purposes. Stadiums can act as community hubs providing venues for local events, as well as educational centres, business incubators and food industry start-ups. This would enable the stadium to be open for other days of the year, rather than just match days, having a huge knock on effect and positive impact on local businesses.
Ensuring the activation of space around a stadium can be just as impactful as the activation inside the stadium. The external facility can engage visitors and provide additional commerce. Neil goes on to suggest “Creating a community plaza on the exterior with activities for children can help to build up a future fan base. It can provide screens to broadcast live games which also help the community engage, it can also allow for a programme of events including art installations, farmers markets, providing more of a destination than the initial stadium itself.”
The importance of listening and engaging with communities at an early stage of the process should not be underestimated. It can bring about job creation and local hiring opportunities for construction phases; community programming initiatives including training, youth development and specialist hospitality training; And there are huge opportunities to integrate local businesses into the new development, with a big push on sourcing products and food locally. In supporting vulnerable members of the community including Veterans and at-risk youth, sports venues are being encouraged to explore how the new venue and its operations can support programmes for these members of the community.
For the Bronx, where culture is diverse, soccer provides a shared interest. Locating the NYCFC stadium in this neighbourhood could provide a huge range of civic opportunities for communities located here.
In appraising the site, connectivity to the stadium is a key consideration. With a rich transport infrastructure, the proposed NYCFC stadium site is served well by car, bus and subway. However, the challenge is in facilitating the connections between transport infrastructure and the neighbourhood. The ability to introduce walking and biking options will require large-scale improvements to be made to corridors and the redesign of many intersections, which are currently unsafe and unappealing to pedestrians. Street greening and landscape enhancements will also contribute to an improved pedestrian experience, providing natural beauty and shade. It also provides the opportunity to address the current street-level retail which in the study areas, which can be inactive at certain times of the years with little structure. A more co-ordinated approach to retail could help serve residents and visitors alike, and stimulate pedestrian traffic.
There is a compelling opportunity to re-envisage the eastern edge connections to Mill Pond Park, with the Children’s Museum located at the north end and the new addition BronxPoint at the southern tip of
the park. To provide a primary corridor in the District, help stimulate activity along River Avenue, and redevelop underutilized parking structures at Bronx Point and near Yankee Stadium to the north into mixed-use residential. These two new anchor points will create a better-framed corridor allowing a potentially thriving of amenities and street level retail, with community facilities on the first floor and residential on the floors above. Building up a successful retail and community corridor reinforces the community aspects that can be achieved through a potential new NYCFC stadium.
In addition, the panel looked into congestion issues, recommending that the public should use shared modes of transport i.e. public transport above cars. This could be encouraged by reducing parking around the stadium to open up new walkable development opportunities for restaurants and shops, implementing “right pricing” parking, improving accessibility and wayfinding at egress points and introducing a more frequent service on game days; the introduction of metered parking on some key commercial corridors, and residents parking could also be considered.
As Neil summarizes:
“It’s important to keep the following three goals front of mind: design the NYCFC stadium for positive contribution to the neighborhood year-round; enhance connectivity and reduce congestion in the study area; and plan for a community-focused neighborhood environment.”
As such, the panel recommended that CB4 work with the stadium’s owners and developers to address the following:
Considerable focus should be placed on reducing vehicular congestion and enhancing pedestrian and vehicular connectivity throughout the study area.
Neil concludes: “The proposed addition of a new professional soccer stadium to CB4’s district in the Bronx is an exciting one. And, whilst there are a number of challenges and considerations in association with its realisation, if these are carefully managed, I have no doubt that the stadium could make a positive impact on the neighbourhood and community. Strategic developments of this type can greatly add to the civic quality of the immediate environment – they can become an enabler for social, environmental, economic and community change – as long as the design parameters are clearly defined in the first instance and this fundamental objective is embraced as part of the vision and the detail”.
This article uses extracts from the ULI NY report “Bronx Community Board Four TAP: Neighborhood-Focused Strategies for Future Growth. Read the full report here.
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