By Rich Bockmann
A coalition composed of various community, immigrants’ rights and environmental groups marched to Flushing Meadows Corona Park over the weekend to protest three proposed developments they say would deprive the park of its civic nature.
Members of the Fairness Coalition of Queens said plans to construct a Major League Soccer stadium on 10 to 13 acres where the Fountain of Industry sits should be considered in the context of two other proposed developments: the expansion of the United States Tennis Association’s facility and the proposed mall in the parking lot adjacent to Citi Field.
Combined, the three proposals would occupy several acres of parkland — which each project is required to replace — but since the soccer stadium has the earliest proposed build date, its environmental impact study would not take into account the other two projects.
“Any one would be a concern,” said Hilary Klein, of the Jackson Heights-based Make the Road NY, one of the coalition’s member groups. “But as far as the coalition is concerned, all three should be considered together as opposed to one at a time.”
More than 100 people marched from the Our Lady of Sorrows church in Corona to the proposed site of the stadium Sunday.
With Klein translating from Spanish, coalition member Luis Gonzalez said the community’s passion for soccer did not translate to support for the stadium.
“I play soccer in the park,” he said. “Our community loves soccer. But that doesn’t mean we want a soccer stadium right in the middle of the park. The kids in our community desperately need open space to exercise. Childhood obesity is a major problem. Where are our kids supposed to play?”
Klein said the group was focused mainly on the soccer stadium because it has gotten the most media attention as MLS has been publicly touting its plan, including a survey the league released last month showing support among Queens residents at a recent Borough Board meeting.
Major League Soccer has pledged $10 million to rehabilitate the park’s soccer fields and said the stadium would be a boon to the eastern edge of the park, which suffers from neglect, but Klein said that was not a fair trade-off.
“That’s not an excuse for a corporate project in a public park,” she said. “There are other solutions.”
Over the past two years, City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), whose district includes the park, has allocated $2.5 million to replace six of the park’s soccer fields.
Ferreras said she was excited about the prospect of bringing MLS to Queens, but she had serious concerns over the impact the stadium would have on the park.
“Also, I continue to hear serious concerns from my community about all these development plans for our park. In addition to the soccer stadium, there are plans for a mall, parking garages and the expansion of a tennis stadium — all inside our park. We are just at the beginning of this process,” she said. “I’m confident that we can all work together to improve the park for the betterment of the community.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.