Concerned Over Arena Plans In Flushing Meadows
Over 500 residents packed the auditorium at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Corona on Monday night, Sept. 17, for a town hall meeting in which concerns were raised about development projects planned for areas of Flushing Meadows- Corona Park and Willets Point.
The Fairness Coalition of Queens, a group of nonprofit religious and community organizations, scheduled the session to give the community an opportunity to learn about three major projects planned for the area and its potential impact on surrounding neighborhoods.
Among the standing-room only audience were a large contingent of elected officials including State Sen. Tony Avella and City Council Mem- bers Leroy Comrie, Daniel Dromm and Julissa Ferreras.
The proposed plans include the construction of a new 25,000-seat soccer stadium for a potential Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise near the Fountain of the Planets at Flushing Meadows Park, a new 6,000-seat tennis arena at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center operated by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the construction of a new shopping center next to Citi Field by Sterling Equities, the owners of the New York Mets.
Several parking garages and roads are also planned to be developed within Flushing Meadows along with these projects, according to the Fairness Coalition.
“Most alarming, these three proposals are concurrent, yet there has been no public acknowledgment by the city or any of the applicants of the potential cumulative impacts of these multi-billion dollar demolition and construction projects,” the coalition stated in a press release issued on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
The group further charged that the area “is threatened by corporate interests who want this valuable public asset for their own private gain at the expense of the largely working class, immigrant population of Queens.”
The organization was formed with the goal of protecting the park and surrounding neighborhoods as well as ensuring that the projects are conducted “in a responsible manner with community input.”
Plans for the soccer stadium and the expansion of the National Tennis Center will require acres of parkland to be acquired for use, as previously reported. By law, the city must acquire other land for public parkspace in the city equal to the amount of parkland lost for a project.
Plans for the construction of a new shopping center adjacent to Citi Field were announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Queens Development Group-of which Sterling Equities is a partner-in June. The proposal was classfied as being a part of the Willets Point redevelopment plan.
The coalition charged that this classification is an attempt by the city “to circumvent the ULURP process” and “minimize public input.” They also claimed that the USTA “does not intend to pay for the land, nor would it replace the parkland” lost for the tennis center’s expansion.
Furthermore, the Fairness Coalition added that the development of the MLS soccer stadium would result in the loss of over 18 acres of land (published reports indicated that only eight acres would be needed) and “substantially” increase “automobile and truck traffic within the park and surrounding neighborhoods.”
“Flushing Meadows Corona Park is like the lungs of Queens. It is one of the only green spaces where our families can exercise and play,” said Msgr. Thomas Healy, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows, who noted that local families depend on the park. He expressed alarm over the proposed sites for the development plans.
“The park is one of the only green spaces youth like me have to recreate and exercise. And we are upset that our community has been left out of discussions between Mayor Bloomberg and private developers,” added Luz May, a leader with Queen Congregations United for Action.
“Billionaires want to put a shopping mall on park land, and I can tell you from my own experience that promised jobs will be poorly paid, without benefits, and most likely part-time. Salaries for these jobs are so low and it’s impossible to raise a family with those wages. We don’t need more of the same,” said Maria Alvarez, a member of Make the Road.
Gustavo Gil, a participant leader from Queens Community House, said, “Flushing Meadows Corona Park is important to the people of Queens because many of us live in small apartments and crowded conditions. The park provides us with the space we need to relax, exercise, breath fresh air and spend time with our families. FMCP is not only our park, it’s our backyard in Queens.”
“Too little park space would be left if these developments were to happen. So we can’t allow it. The only real park we have is Flushing Meadows. Everyone in the community needs this space,” said Jose Reino, a member leader at New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE).
The Fairness Coalition includes the following community organizations: ALIGN, ALLFUT Soccer Leagues, Asian Americans For Equity, Eastern New York State Soccer Association, Jackson Heights Green Alliance, Make the Road New York, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, Queens Community House, and Queens Congregations United for Action.