New Flushing Meadows Corona Park Alliance met with some skepticism

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver announced the official launch of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Alliance on Monday.

“Flushing Meadow Corona Park is an iconic park in our city,” de Blasio said, “and I know a lot of people in the community have fought long and hard to get this park the help it deserves.”

Ferreras-Copeland — a Corona native who had many of her earliest childhood experiences inside the park — said that she was proud to be able to give back to improve the space for coming generations.

“This is the park that is the only green space for many, many young people,” Ferreras-Copeland said, “so when I challenged myself to start this conservancy, I’m doing it for all those New Yorkers.”

The alliance is supported by initial funding from the United States Tennis Association (USTA), which will contribute $350,000 for the nonprofit’s first three years and $200,000 for the following 20 years.

According to the mayor’s office, the alliance’s board of directors is comprised of leaders in government, community and business, including Danny Zausner, chief operating officer of the National Tennis Center; Carol Conslato, director of public affairs of Con Edison; and Javier Valdes, co-executive director of Make The Road New York, a nonprofit reducing poverty in low-income Latino communities.

Although the creation of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Alliance is viewed by some as a clear victory toward increasing funding to the park, other officials and many advocates involved with other parks volunteer groups have expressed their own skepticism on the plan.

Councilman Rory Lancman was critical of representatives chosen to be on the Alliance’s board of directors, charging that there was no representation for the southern half of the park, which was a part of his district.

“Public appointments, public resources and public parks aren’t plums to be awarded to political allies,” said Councilman Lancman.

NYC Park Advocates President Geoffrey Croft was critical of the USTA’s involvement with the deal, saying that such arrangements grant organizations enormous power and decision-making authority over public land with little transparency and accountability.

“This deal is a sham,” Croft said, citing a 2013 deal signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo allowing the tennis authority to expand its flagship center two-thirds of an acre deeper into Flushing Meadows Corona Park land.

“This entire alliance initiative and model is based on businesses commercially exploiting Flushing Meadows Corona Park including taking parkland away from the public.”

President of the Queens Coalition for Parks Frederick Kress said that his group would be watching the new parks alliance closely to ensure transparency.

Kress recalled the 2012 indictment of former Queens Parks Commissioner Estelle Cooper for allegedly stealing over $50,000 from Unisphere, Inc. — a previous nonprofit group focused on the park — as a recent example of a conservancy that fell apart due to non-transparency.

“We are concerned about accountability for any group that comes into this park,” Kress said.