By PHIL NOBILE
The New York City Football Club, a Major League Soccer affiliate which was set to train at Manhattanville College in Purchase, is taking their ball and going home.
Despite getting approval from Harrison’s land use boards and penning a deal with the Purchase area college, a lawsuit from three Purchase residents and the Purchase Environmental Protective Association—a non-profit located in Purchase that monitors development proposals in the area—has effectively stopped the project in its tracks with the club pulling out of the deal on May 29.
The project, which called for more than $10 million in renovations to the college’s gymnasium and the construction of two new regulation-sized fields, would have been donated in perpetuity when the club’s contract with the college ended in late 2019.
“It is unfortunate that a small group of very well resourced citizens chose to pursue this action against the college,” Jon Strauss, president of Manhattanville College, said. “Had this partnership come to fruition, it would have provided much needed capital improvements, important academic and internship opportunities, and invaluable publicity to the college.”
At the April 22 Planning Board meeting, a 4-2 majority vote approving the project was met with heavy criticism from members of the community as well as Michael Tokarz, president of PEPA, who vowed that the project “wouldn’t stand” and threatened lawsuits against the club, college and town. Residents cited possible noise and traffic issues in the community as causes for concern.
Holding true to his word, Tokarz and PEPA filed a lawsuit with the New York State Supreme Court on May 7, seeking a reversal of the Planning Board’s approvals and a temporary restraining order to halt construction from proceeding on the project. Although a judge refused to grant the restraining order on May 7, the case was set to go before the judge again on June 25.
Because the possibility of litigation could have lasted longer than a year, and because the team needs to be ready for play by early 2015, the New York City Football Club has abandoned the plan altogether.
The club, which initially told the Review in April it was looking forward to “being great neighbors” and a part of the community, expressed disappointment with the outcome of its plans.
“Over the past several months, New York City Football Club has engaged in a transparent, community-driven process required by the [Harrison] Planning Board,” Risa Heller, a spokesperson for the club, said. “We are disappointed that this group has worked to overturn the actions of the town appointed board, and that it has caused Manhattanville College to be denied this substantial improvement to their campus.”
From the beginning of the process, the club stressed it sought temporary training facilities while searching for a permanent stadium and home in New York City. The Planning Board agreed to a term of five years, adding a mandatory review would be required after that period.
Along with training, the club planned to host its youth farm team and summer soccer camps at the college, which the college president cited as a missed opportunity that could have benefited all of Westchester.
“The planned New York City Football Club academy teams and summer soccer camps would have been a great benefit to the youth of Purchase and Westchester County,” Strauss said. “Our student body and local youth have lost a tremendous opportunity here.”
The club’s inaugural season, which will begin in summer 2015, will be held at Yankee Stadium as it continues its search for a permanent home.
When asked for comment, PEPA Executive Director Anne Gold declined, saying “PEPA does not comment on matters in litigation.”