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Is FC Monterrey’s New Stadium Really “The Environmental Crime of the Decade?"

How cronyism in Monterrey, Mexico turned a beautiful park into a parking lot.
EPA/Mario Guzmán

On August 2, Enrique Peña Nieto, the President of Mexico, flew to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, to say a few words at the grand opening of Estadio BBVA Bancomer, FC Monterrey's new 51,000-seat soccer stadium. He and some hotshots at FEMSA, the company that runs FC Monterrey, toured the stadium, which took seven years to build. He kicked a ball around with the team captain Severo Meza, and then, in a press conference, he used the word "gran," as in "grand," three times in the span of thirty seconds to describe the stadium.


Lots of folks in Monterrey don't think the Estadio BBVA Bancomer is so gran, however. Victor Esparza called it "the environmental crime of the decade." Here's why:

As early as September 2008, Natividad Gonzalez, the then Governor of Nuevo Leon, and Jose Fernandez Carbajal, the President of FEMSA, had negotiated and talked publicly about the Estadio BBVA Bancomer. The chosen location for the new stadium was the Parque la Pastora, one of the few green patches in Monterrey—and, crucially, free of any structures requiring costly demolition. The planned stadium would take up about a quarter of the park's 100 hectares, which already was home to a zoo and amusement park. Nuevo Leon and FEMSA agreed to a contrato de comodato, which is basically a lease without rent. Governor Gonzalez was elated that the state would not have to pay a peso of construction costs, and in return would lease the land to FEMSA long enough for them to make their money back.

Read More: Inside LAFC's Stadium Maneuvering

On April 1, 2010, the Congress of Nuevo Leon approved a 60-year rent-free deal with FEMSA for them to build the stadium at the park. That is six decades of loitering. While the deal prohibits FEMSA from any gambling on the premises, they do get to sublease to merchants and sell liquor. The theory is that FEMSA would need six decades to recuperate the estimated $180 million in construction costs. Using basic math, the Nuevo Leon Congress assumed FEMSA earns only $3 million of profit per year off the club.


However, as Ivan Perez reported for Forbes in 2013, FC Monterrey earns about $10 million per year from its TV deal and about $8 million per year from corporate sponsorships. Unlike in MLS, Liga MX salaries are not publicly available, so we can only estimate the team's costs. However, if a star like Ronaldinho only earned $2 million per year while at Queretaro, they probably aren't sky high.

I sent an open records request to the Governor's Office in Nuevo Leon and asked for any proof that they checked the numbers FEMSA was tossing their way when they made the deal. They claimed that they didn't have any such documents and it was not in "their area of competence." I then tried to track down that contrato de comodato between Nuevo Leon and FEMSA online at the government's website. Nada. Zilch. I found other contratos de comodato, but not the big one.

FEMSA actually started construction in 2009 before the Nuevo Leon Congress had officially approved the contrato de comodato. They also forgot to obtain the necessary environmental permits. PROFEPA, a branch of Mexico's equivalent of the EPA, intervened and threatened to fine them 2.5 million pesos per infraction. Thus, construction ceased while FEMSA got their act together and filed the necessary paperwork.

In the summer of 2011, the Sustainable Development Division of the state government, funded largely by the United Nations and operating as an independent watchdog, recommended to the national government's Secretary of the Environment (Spanish acronym: SEMARNAT) that they deny FEMSA a construction permit because the stadium could damage the nearby La Silla river. In fact, La Silla river is (or rather "was") the last live, active river in the Monterrey metropolitan area. The river and surrounding trees and vegetation had served to help control flooding in the area. Many feared the stadium would "kill" the river and possibly worsen future flooding in the area. Of course, this warning and recommendation fell on deaf ears.


Parque La Pastora. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Instead, after a privately-financed 400 plus-page environmental impact study (the 31-page executive summary is available online). FEMSA admitted to wide variety of environmental impacts on soil, water, and wildlife, but claimed that they could minimize and offset them. On August 5, 2011, SEMARNAT agreed and conditionally approved the construction with a handful of conditions regarding the total surface area of construction, a 50 meter buffer zone on the periphery, and some other vague terms.

Despite the docility of the government, citizens continued to protest and raise environmental concerns. One Facebook group, Salvemos La Pastora, received over 5,000 likes. Other notable groups include Vertebra Nuevo León and el Frente Amplio Ambientalista del Municipio de Guadalupe. In addition to the loss of green space, nearby residents who suffered during the massive flooding in 2011 rightly asked: how is a new stadium going to make things any better? These groups staged numerous protests and some even hacked government websites in protest.

Veteran environmental activist Gregorio Vanegas Garza, President of Federación Libertad de un Pueblo, a nonprofit group of local residents, obtained an injunction on May 10, 2012, ordering a stop to construction because the City of Guadalupe had failed to allow a period of public comments as required by law. The City begrudgingly agreed, notified SEMARNAT, and work stopped for a two-month period. Then, angry comments now officially a part of the government record, construction resumed.


Still, two other important issues remained: traffic flow and the public cost to improve streets. I sent public record requests to the City of Guadalupe asking for any estimates or bills or contracts with any construction company to improve nearby roadways. They claimed said documents did not exist, but, lo and behold, a few weeks later, the Mayor, Cesar Garza Villareal, publicly announced it would cost 87 million pesos (about US $5.2 million) to improve one of the key bridges near the new stadium. And the money for those improvements will not be coming from FEMSA, but rather the already stretched municipal budget.

If opening day, August 2, was any indication, the traffic is going to be awful. The nearby highway and feeder roads were packed, and fans arrived late to the game, even by looser Latin American punctuality standards. Ironically, FEMSA played down the traffic issue by noting that traffic already was already bad anyway, and noting that there will only be at most two home games in a given week. However, FEMSA has clarified this year that they will be hosting concerts at the stadium to make even more money. With such a sweetheart rent-free deal, can you blame them?

The new stadium in Monterrey is an attractive building, but it's an ugly product of corporate greed and political ineptitude under the cover of faux-transparency. In fact, a new complaint has been filed with the government because stadium noise is negatively affecting the animals at the nearby zoo. Don't hold your breath for a good outcome.

If the past is any guide, there is little hope for the future. Just 59 years of rent-free suffering.