Every piece of public green space is a precious commodity in Queens. At the top of list is Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a sprawling 900-acre expanse that plays host to the US Open, Citi Field and the ambitions of developers who want to build a mall on a parcel outside the ballpark.
Flushing Meadows also happens to be the people’s park, where residents come to play cricket, hold soccer matches and attend ethnic festivals. Others just chill, strolling around the Unisphere and the foundations on a Sunday afternoon.
As Queens’ profile has risen—the Lonely Planet travel guide called it the top spot to visit in America last year—interest in staging a major music festival in the vast park has grown. Such an extravaganza could burnish the borough’s reputation internationally.
There are at least three promoters with plans to transform part of Flushing Meadows into a concert venue that would require the audience to pay admission. But it would also mean making that section off limits to regular parkgoers.
Borough President Melinda Katz has been cautiously receptive to the idea, which would put Queens on an even bigger world map as the destination for tens of thousands of music fans. She has acknowledged the obvious benefits, but has expressed serious reservations about renting out public parkland for events where patrons must pay.
This would set a precedent in Queens, where it has never been done before.
Several Queens lawmakers have been cheerleaders for a giant music festival, which they believe would make the borough a showcase for the city and bring jobs, as well as tourism, to the county. On the other hand, civic groups, the Queens Civic Congress and at least two community boards have been opposed to the plan even though some of the promoters have vowed to be good neighbors.
Katz, concerned about the lack of public policy on for-profit use of city parks, sought guidelines from the de Blasio administration and this week she got an answer. The Parks Dept. denied all current applications by private companies to hold large-scale concerts requiring admission fees in Flushing Meadows.
Katz called Mayor de Blasio’s decision “fair” and said it gives the city time to develop an official policy on whether to close down parks and rent out the space to private companies.
The borough president was on target by pressing the administration to draw up a citywide framework for how our parks should be protected. When the profit motive comes face-to-face with public land, there is room for both sinners and winners.