Beep candidates wary of soccer site

Beep candidates wary of soccer site
Photos by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta

The field of candidates hoping to fill the shoes of Borough President Helen Marshall have varying opinions on whether or not Major League Soccer should build a 25,000-seat stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The current field heading into next year’s elections includes state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik, former Forest Hills Councilwoman Melinda Katz, Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).

Some of the candidates were vehemently against the controversial plans to plop the stadium on the site of the Fountain of Industry, a site northwest of the Unisphere, while one was opposed to the idea.

A vocal opposition has emerged decrying the loss of public parkland that would be associated with the project.

Avella has aligned himself with that opposition and rejected outright the fundamental idea that building on the borough’s largest green space is not acceptable.

“I was at the rally against it,” he said. “I like the idea of a soccer stadium. I oppose the location and want to see more specifics.”

Avella added that if MLS gets tax breaks as has been rumored, in his eyes it would contradict the league’s claims that the stadium would be built without public money.

Comrie is the chairman of the Council Land Use Committee and said as such he could not state his support or opposition to the project until the Council members whose districts abut the site had made their opinions known — a process he follows for any other land-use proposal.

“I normally try to work with the members involved before I take any position ahead of them, since things are still evolving,” he said.

Grodenchik has not heard enough specifics to make up his mind.

“There are a lot of questions that have not been answered,” said Grodenchik, who said he does not oppose the idea of development in the park, but needs to see more details like how the project will be financed and the dimensions of the proposed structure before he can make up his mind.

Katz, who formerly chaired the Council Land Use Committee, also indicated that she needed to learn more about the proposal before making up her mind, especially since other developments are taking place on public parkland and any more greenspace taken for private gain, a process called alienation, is a serious issue.

“I think it’s got to be looked at overall,” she said. “Alienation of parkland should never, ever be taken lightly.”

Peralta had emerged as an early supporter of the project, citing its economic impact on the borough, but the lawmaker said he is withholding the final thumbs-up until he is certain MLS will replace the 10 to 13 acres of parkland the stadium will occupy, should it be built.

“I share the concern over lost park space, which is why my final support is contingent on the replacement space that is secured,” he said. “If that concern is addressed, there is a great deal to like about the project — jobs, economic activity and improvements to the park, all privately funded.”

Vallone took special issue with the question of where the replacement parkland will go.

“It is not possible for me to support this project without knowing any specifics,” he said. “I would need to know exactly where the comparable parkland will be. And I’m not going to accept vague promises.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.