A small group of protesters took to the streets of Manhattan to voice their displeasure over the potential soccer stadium at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The protestors, from a few different organizations like Make The Road New York, chanted in English and Spanish “Whose park? Our park!” and “Our park is not for sale!” outside of the United Arab Emirates American embassy on East 47th Street in Manhattan on May 9.
Their reason for choosing the embassy was due to the recent news that Shiek Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the UAE and owner of the Premier League soccer club Manchester City, is interested in owning the Major League Soccer team that would play in Queens if the stadium is built.
Hilary Klein, Strategic Campaigns Director for Make the Road NY, led the rally and said that the City should not let Al Nahyan spend his money on the team and stadium and should instead concentrate its efforts on rebuilding the park itself.
“Flushing Meadows Corona Park is the most important green space for our community,” she said. “If the Shiek can pay with his own money to build a stadium, why is New York City talking about giving away parkland.”
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who has voiced his disapproval of the project in the past, continued to do so at the rally, calling it “the worst land deal since Peter Minuit bought Manhattan for 24 dollars.”
“There are so many problems with this, beginning with the fact that there was no bidding involved here,” Vallone said. “The Mayor and MLS have come in and decided that this was appropriate without asking the people of Queens.”
Other Community members who spoke out against the proposed stadium included Ed Westley, a Jackson Heights resident and member of Community Board 2, and Farzana Marshed, a member of the Queens Community House.
“Why do they want to do business here? They can develop anywhere,” Marshed said. “We are Queens residents; we have a lot of needs. Why do they want to do business in our park?”
A few days after the rally, Mayor Michael Bloomberg continued to throw more support behind building the stadium at FMCP.
At a press conference in Brooklyn on May 13, the Mayor said that the City intends to build new parkland at the vacant Flushing Airport. Bloomberg deflected criticism of removing the parkland at FMCP by noting that his administration has developed a record of creating new parkland throughout the City.
“There’s new parks in every borough. You’re gonna have the biggest new park in a century at Fresh Kills. There’s new parkland up in the Bronx. Every borough is getting new parkland. So total, on balance, there’s an enormous amount of new parkland. But, it’s not the only thing people need. A lot of people want a stadium to enjoy soccer,” Bloomberg said, according to published reports.
The 70-acre former airfield in College Point has been vacant since 1984, after LaGuardia Airport opened. There were plans in 2004 to turn the area into a distribution center for small businesses in the Borough, but that was shot down less than a year later after strong opposition from residents living near the area and then-Councilman Tony Avella.
While still in the planning stages of the new stadium, MLS has declined to comment on specific details of the proposal.
“MLS continues to work closely with the City to bring professional soccer to New York City; however, there is no deal yet and therefore we can’t comment on any specifics,” said MLS Spokeswoman Risa Heller in a statement.
Requests placed to the Mayor’s office seeking further comment were not returned as of press time.
Will Sweeney, a member of the Fairness Coalition of Queens, a group of civic organizations opposed to building the soccer stadium at FMCP, said that there are several problems with turning Flushing Airport into a park and it raises the question of environmental racism.
“You are taking away parkland from an area that is predominately Hispanic and giving it to an area that is predominately white,” he said.
He added that the airport has suffered from chronic flooding in the past, which served as another reason why the site was shut down in favor of LaGuardia, and is too far from FMCP to be considered replacement green space.
“If you were to try to walk there, it would take you over an hour,” he said. “If they want to replace the parkland, it has to be adjacent to Flushing Meadows Corona Park.”
Javier Valdes, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, also blasted the proposal to creating replacement parkland at the airport, citing the inaccessibility.
In a statement released earlier this week, Valdes also noted that the airport, located in College Point, is in an area with a higher percentage of white residents than Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which he argued was more accessible to the minority populations in Corona, Flushing, Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst.
“What the Mayor said is outrageous. His plan to force working class people of color to rent their park away to a billionaire for $1 a year in exchange for parkland in a wealthier, white neighborhood is insulting,” he said. “It’s out of touch and it’s unjust. We are calling on all elected officials in New York City to denounce this.”
Holly Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers 4 Parks, blasted MLS’ plan to build the stadium in an Op-Ed that ran in the New York Daily News earlier this week and posted on their website.
“Building a stadium on this site will alter not just the site itself, but the nature of the park altogether. The footprint of the arena would be up to 13 acres, but the directly affected acreage, as defined by MLS’s proposed circulation roads and pathways, would be at least double that. On game days, tens of thousands of fans traveling from Citi Field parking lots, the Long Island Rail Road and the No. 7 Train would overwhelm the park, exacerbating the already significant maintenance challenges this heavily used public space faces,” Leicht’s statement read in part.
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