By Jon Craig
The threat of litigation from Harrison neighbors of a town-approved professional soccer facility at Manhattanville College has prompted the New York City Football Club to practice elsewhere.
Representatives of the new Major League Soccer team, which won 4-2 approval in April from the Harrison Planning Board to rehabilitate an outdoor practice field and an indoor facility to train at Manhattanville’s campus in Purchase said the likelihood of costly lawsuits left development off of Route 120 unviable at this time.
The New York City Football Club, co-owned by the Yankees and Manchester (England) City Football Club, proposed removing outdoor tennis courts and converting outdoor fields into a regulation-size field with new lighting for practices. The project also proposed removing a pool at the college’s 56,000-square-foot Kennedy Gymnasium so indoor practice turf can be installed.
But three local residents including prominent attorney Michael Tokarz expressed concern about increased traffic, noise and the possibility the facilities will become a permanent training site for the team. Soccer practices were expected to begin on the Manhattanville campus in January 2015.
The soccer team continues to search for a permanent home stadium in New York City. The team also secured permission to play its first 17 home games next year at Yankee Stadium.
Officials from the 173-year-old college, which will not incur any of the proposed renovation costs, expressed disappointment over the loss of the “state-of-the-art-facility.” The college offered the soccer team a five-year lease with options for two, one-year renewals.
Tokarz, chairman of the non-profit Purchase Environmental Protective Association, had insisted the project would change the character of Manhattanville College, through a “corporate takeover.”
The soccer team also planned to sponsor an academy for up to 100 youths who would use the fields at night and on weekends.
The soccer team’s site change application explained that only 35 parking spaces are needed for players and coaches and that the impact on traffic would be negligible. But that was operating under the assumption that the team will only use Manhattanville’s campus as a practice facility, and possibly a few exhibition matches.
“It is unfortunate that a small group of very well-resourced citizens chose to pursue this action against the college,” said Manhattanville President Jon C. Strauss. “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.”
Tokarz and the Purchase Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit with the New York State Supreme Court on May 7, seeking a reversal of the Harrison Planning Board’s OK and a temporary restraining order to halt construction. The case was expected to proceed on June 25, before the soccer team dropped 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.”
“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.”
Harrison Supervisor Ron Belmont said he was disappointed the Manhattanville plan fell through. “It’s done,” he said Monday. “It was a win-win for everybody.”