By Dana Rubinstein
August 8, 2023
Mayor Eric Adams has made no secret of his desire to push New York City as a sports mecca. He struck a deal in November to build the city’s first professional soccer stadium. He has pitched the region as a site for the 2026 World Cup final.
But the mayor’s latest campaign — having the city be one of the hosts for next year’s Men’s T20 World Cup in cricket — has run into significant opposition.
Mr. Adams wants to allow the Dubai-based International Cricket Council to build a temporary stadium with roughly the seating capacity of Fenway Park in the middle of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, right over the city’s largest expanse of cricket pitches.
In a pointed letter to City Hall on Monday, the New York Cricket League, which encompasses six cricket clubs, joined several parks organizations, two soccer clubs, a baseball league and two track-and-field groups in urging City Hall to find a new location. (A spokeswoman for the Cricket Council said the track in the park would be unaffected.)
“The only place that we play is Van Cortlandt Park,” said Godfrey Mitchell, the president of the New York Cricket League and an opponent of the plan. “So we have no other place to go.”
The International Cricket Council is proposing to host at least five days of play at a temporary stadium in Van Cortlandt Park next June for the Men’s T20. The council first approached City Hall about its proposal in March, both the city and cricket council said. Mayor Adams quickly got on board. The plans were reported earlier by The City.
Claire Furlong, a spokeswoman for the Cricket Council, said that New York City was regarded as one of five potential hosts in the United States, and that Van Cortlandt Park’s appeal lies in its status as the city’s epicenter of cricket. The temporary stadium would be built on existing cricket pitches, which would be upgraded. The council has promised to rebuild the rest of the cricket pitches once the tournament is complete.
“Cricket is one of the world’s most popular sports and holds special importance to countless immigrant communities who call New York home,” said Fabien Levy, the mayor’s spokesman.
Not every local cricket league opposes the stadium plan. The Commonwealth Cricket League, which said it has more than 90 clubs in New York City, argued that the $20 million proposal would help expand what is by some measures the world’s second most popular sport within the United States and bring much-needed resources to local players.
Ajith Shetty, the president of the Commonwealth Cricket League, accused critics like Mr. Mitchell of being “selfish.”
The heated dispute underscores a weightier public policy question that may play out in court. Indeed, attached to the letter sent to City Hall on Monday was a legal memo from a prominent environmental lawyer that may presage legal action.
“There’s tremendous legal risk for this proposal, and there is a very short time frame in which to resolve the legal issues,” said Christopher Rizzo, the memo’s author and the director of the environmental practice group at Carter Ledyard.
The city has told elected officials that turning over up to 20 acres of parkland to a private entity for an estimated six months is akin to holding a concert in a park, said Eric Dinowitz, the New York City councilman whose district encompasses the park. He said he would like the city to invest its resources in renovating an existing park stadium, south of the cricket pitches.
The project’s opponents argue the proposal is more akin to selling parkland and would require at least a year of public review.
“Parkland is not vacant space,” said Adam Ganser, the executive director of New Yorkers for Parks. “Our parks are not there to host large-scale events making them inaccessible for months at a time.”
Van Cortlandt Park, the city’s third largest, has a long history of conflict. A historical sign for the park notes that in 1655, a Lenape woman tried to steal a peach from a farm there belonging to Henry Van Dyck. Mr. Van Dyck shot her. Reprisals ensued.
At the turn of this century, the community pitched a failed battle to prevent the city from building a new water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park, a construction project that rendered a large portion of the park unusable for years.
On Saturday afternoon, nearly 70 cricketers were playing on the pitches at Van Cortlandt.
Of eight interviewed, none expressed support for the proposal, but all were open to alternatives.
“You know, you don’t want to come into a community and just throw things down their throat,” said Curtis Clarke, a professional driver and the president of the New York Masters Cricket Association. “It is a good proposal, but not the right location,” he said.