Debate emerges over festivals in Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Promotional material from the Madison Square Garden Company
By Gabriel Rom

As Queens’ global recognition rises, some residents worry that the borough, overcome by its newfound status, could lose its family-friendly character.

That anxiety was on display last week as Community Board 6, which covers Forest Hills and Rego Park, debated how to handle an application to rent out Flushing Meadows Corona Park for an international music festival, as well as rumors of more applications in the city pipeline.

The Madison Square Garden Company has announced that it is seeking to host a three-day music festival at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in June 2016, bringing an estimated 75,000 attendees each day.

Joseph Hennessy, chairman of CB 6, was staunchly opposed to the idea.

“We do not want Flushing Meadows park closed for any period of time during the 365 days of the year,” he said at the Dec. 9 meeting.

While the final decision lies with the city Parks Department, Hennessy drafted a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio in hopes that he would intervene on the board’s behalf.

Some members of the board complained that the letter did not go far enough and pushed Hennessy to amend it with stronger, more unambiguous, language.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who made a surprise appearance at the meeting, spoke of the need to establish a citywide policy regarding private use of public park land.

“We’re happy that we’re a destination,” Katz said. “Maybe it’s right, maybe it’s wrong, but at the end of the day you can’t make policy based on just one application.”

Peter Beadle, a board member, said his concerns were allayed by the festival organizer’s pledge to schedule three days for remediation, as well as its promise to provide money for the park for future improvements. He added that while the festival would take up a large section of the northern end of the park, it would still leave two-thirds of the park open.

“What’s important to me is the festival’s pledge to be a good neighbor,” Beadle said.

The festival’s schedule includes a free showcase of local music, which supporters said would be a giveback to the community.

According to festival organizers, the free “Queens community celebration” will include a concert with “diverse, locally represented artists, local vendors, activities, games and rides as well as a Knicks’ basketball clinic and court refurbishment dedication.”

“As people pay more attention to us they give us more opportunities to share with everybody what makes the borough great,” Beadle said. “This park is part of our package, — the important thing is to find the right balance.”

Prameet Kumar, a Forest Hills resident, asked the board to reconsider its opposition to the festival, saying it would be a boon for the Queens economy while pointing to similar events in Washington, D.C., Austin and throughout the country.

“I think this would be a win for Queens,” he said. “This is our moment to shine.”

Kumar’s remarks were met with a mixture of applause and sniggering.

“He has his head up his derrière,” a board member muttered under their breath.

“He has a good point!” shouted another.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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