$100K grant to fix College Pt. fields under fire

By Cynthia Koons

A $100,000 donation for the College Point ballfields from the developer poised to construct a wholesale business complex on the site of the former Flushing Airport has not appeased College Point residents opposed to the ambitious commercial project.

Civic leaders continued to hold steady this week in their resolve to protest the proposal for a complex that would contain 180 small businesses situated in the neighborhood of the College Point Corporate Park.

A contribution of $100,000 of the $175 million proposal created by College Point Wholesale Distribution Development LLC would go toward further construction of the College Point Fields, a sports complex that has been closed for seven years after illegal fill was found on the site in the late 1990s.

This $100,000 would mark the first time a private developer has contributed to the ballfields since the city assumed responsibility for the project, Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said.

He said the city did not mandate the developer to contribute to the ballfields, as far as he knows.

“The ballfields are already committed to being developed by the city,” College Point Board of Trade President Fred Mazzarello said Tuesday. “They’re trying to make it look like, ‘Look what we’re giving you.’ We don’t want the development.”

Community leaders called the $100,000 donation “crumbs” and even went so far as to question whether or not it was a bribe.

“This is a very gray area,” Avella said of the ethics behind the donation. “It has been traditionally a great source of controversy. It almost sounds like it’s a community bribe.”

A similar community fund was negotiated when PathMark supermarkets opened a store in Laurelton. The store agreed to pay $400,000 into a fund that would be used for local businesses to combat the decline in traffic that was expected once the larger store opened. Community organizations are also eligible for the money.

Avella has been the loudest critic of the development of the Flushing Airport site. He and other community leaders were infuriated when they learned the project would include no recreational facilities.

Avella was especially upset after he was not invited to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s press announcement of the project last month. Instead his neighboring city councilman, John Liu (D-Flushing), stood beside the mayor in his capacity as chairman of the Transportation Committee of the City Council.

The city announced its intention to spend $8 million to complete the road extension of Linden Place, an exit off the Whitestone Expressway that will connect to 20th Avenue, which is adjacent to the airport site.

Community members maintain that the road extension project is long overdue and would appease traffic problems without the addition of the wholesale business complex. The wholesale development is planned for mostly Korean business owners.

“One of the things that I’ve been raising is the issue that the College Point and Whitestone communities have been bearing the impact of the College Point Corporate Park without any benefit,” Avella said.

A spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corp., the city agency that selected the developer, said the city still stands behind the development and hopes to work with the community in passing the proposal.

Janel Patterson of the EDC said donations to the community are not uncommon.

“It’s not totally unusual that they would include some sort of community amenity in their proposal,” she said.

A donation of $100,000 to the College Point Fields, Avella said, would not increase the city’s capacity to build there.

Mazzarello pointed out that the city is already in a contract to build the College Point Fields and that any contribution from the developer would only offset the cost of construction for the city agencies.

“Every benefit that you could list, putting that property back on the tax rolls, employee taxes, the $100,000 — they all benefit the city,” Mazzarello said.

Work on the College Point Fields has been stalled for years, ever since the city took control of the park after finding illegal fill dumped on the property.

The fields were being reconstructed by the College Point Sports Association, an organization of 1,300 young athletes that once leased the property, when the fill was discovered. The dumping on the site cost the group its lease on the property and years of waiting for the fields to reopen.

Under the city’s control this past year, the construction of the sports park has been stalled by multiple conflicts between contractors and the Department of Design and Construction.

Workers are on the site of the ballfields completing the restrooms, bleachers and roller rink. That construction is considered “Phase 1” of the development of the park. Plans for “Phase 2” of the ballfields’ construction will not be considered until the current work is completed, which is expected to be done this spring.

The ballfields were once entirely funded by private donations through the College Point Sports Association.

He said he would be suspicious if the project passed and the $100,000 went to something other than the ballfields.

“Having some sort of other recreational use going to something else would raise serious issues,” he said.

He and other community leaders plan to rally on Saturday, March 13, on the service road of the Whitestone Expressway, just south of 28th Avenue, in the vicinity of the Flushing Airport property.

Mazzarello said he would be standing behind Avella at the event.

“There’s not one direct benefit to the community,” he said of the proposal. “The quality of life in the community is the first thing that should have been considered, and it was never considered.”

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

More from Around New York