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Stadium, Mall Plans Remain On Table

New York City officially has a Major League Soccer team, it was announced last Tuesday, May 21, but where they’ll play is another story.

Backlash from park advocates has team owners eyeing alternatives to building an up to 35,000-seat stadium at the old World’s Fair site in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

“We welcome Major League Soccer to New York City, said Javier Valdes, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, which released a statement on behalf of the pro-park group Fairness Coalition of Queens on May 21. “We are pleased with their new willingness to consider other sites in New York. The proposal for a stadium inside the heart of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is deeply flawed and would irrevocably damage a vital community resource.

The team’s ownership has also caused some concern. Primary ownership will go to the Manchester City Football Club, which is in turn owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). U.S. State Department reports have identified several human rights abuses in the UAE.

The Fairness Coalition has called for a plan that “does not give away parkland to a documented human rights abuser,” according to Valdes’ statement.

The potential soccer stadium is one of three contentious proposed developments in and around the park. The others: A0.68-acre expansion of the United States Tennis Associa- tion’s Billie Jean King Tennis Center and the development of 23 acres of land at Willets Point into a shopping destination with a mall, hotels and housing.

City Planners OK

USTA Expansion

Last Wednesday, May 22, the Department of City Planning voted to cede the .68 acres the USTA has requested. The tennis organization will, in turn, give the city two parcels of land totaling 1.56 acres east of the center.

Park advocates have blasted the swap, noting that the land returned is composed of 5 tennis courts and open space, both of which are already accessible to the public.

The project will go before City Council for final approval later this year.

The plan has been contentious throughout the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

After a split, 3-3 decision between the six affected community boards, Borough President Helen Marshal gave the USTA’s expansion the green-light with a formal letter to the city, Apr. 11. The letter came days after the borough board was supposed to vote on the matter but did not reach a quorum.

In her letter, Marshall attached several stipulations to her support, including the replacement of the .68 acres, a fund for park maintenance and an agreement to use union labor for the project’s construction.

Community Boards Voting On

Willets Point Development

Queens community boards are also vetting the proposed $3 billion development of Willets Point into retail and commercial space, hotels and 2,500 housing units.

Affected Community boards are in the process of voting whether to support or deny the project-early stages in the ULURP process.

Community Board 7, which includes Willets Point, voted, May 13, to support the 22-18, though its land use committee overwhelmingly recommended denial, May 9.

Community Board 3 passed a resolution, May 23, to block the proposal by a margin of 30-1 with one abstention.

According to a copy of the resolution posted by Willets Point United (WPU), a group that states it is dedicated to fighting eminent domain abuse at Willets Point, the development would negatively effect the character of the neighborhood while creating undeeded traffic congestion.

After several requests, Community Board 3 did not provide the Times Newsweekly with a copy of the resolution by press time.

The WPU’s copy of the board’s resolution states there is no information about how the $1.87 million “infrastructure and traffic mitigation fund” would be used to mitigate congestion in the community board, specifically problem areas like 114th Street, Astoria Boulevard, 34th Avenue, Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard.

Concerns over the effects of increased car traffic on public health motivated the board’s decision, according to the WPU’s copy of the resolution.

Straphangers may also get a raw deal, according to the resolution.

Allegedly, the board cited a potential increase in ridership on the already busy 7 train and Q48, Q66 and Q19 busses as another drawback of development.

Economic impact was reportedly another serious concern among board members.

The WPU’s copy of the resolution states: “The current plans do not consider our community needs, nor acknowledge the impact the proposed plan will have on the commercial and residential displacement of our most vulnerable residents in Community Board 3 Queens.”

The board reportedly took issue with the plan’s development schedule, which promises the construction of a school and affordable housing units in 2028-10 years after the mall is slated to be completed.

The development is the result of a joint venture between Related Companies and Sterling Equities (owners of the New York Mets)-jointly called the Queens Development Group, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYEDC). The group will acquire an initial 23 acres of land adjacent to Citi Field to begin buildout of Phase 1, which will include a retail and entertainment attraction to the west of Citi Field, the NYEDC said in a Mar. 18 press release.

The plan would create over 5 million square feet of new development in a unified district, it noted.

The build-out will include retail spaces, hotels, and commercial uses, as well as a 2,500 unit residential community slated to offer 875 as affordable housing units, according to information from the NYEDC.

All told, the development is projected to create 7,100 permanent jobs and 12,000 direct construction jobs with goals to contract 25 percent of hiring to local businesses and Minority Owned & Women-Owned Businesses, the NYEDC’s release stated.

A public hearing regarding the development will be held at 10:30 a.m. on June 6 in the second floor conference room at Queens Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens.

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