Wesley Hoffman has learned to enjoy his weekend urban biking excursion: a three-mile jaunt to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, with his two sons pedaling behind him. But now the Jackson Heights resident fears his biking days will eventually end, as the city mulls plans to undertake three development projects that would transform the park after years of construction work.
The proposed changes include two new tennis stadiums at the United States Tennis Association’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, a 25,000-seat soccer stadium to be built by Major League Soccer within the park, as well as a shopping mall next to Citi Field’s existing parking lot.
Hoffman expressed his dismay at the Community United Methodist Church in Jackson Heights Monday night during the second in a series of town hall meetings hosted by the Fairness Coalition of Queens, a collective of community groups lambasting the proposed additions to the park, claiming the plans would rob the community of the park’s remaining green space, dilapidated as it may be.
The Fairness Coalition of Queens, which includes Make the Road New York, the Jackson Heights Green Alliance and the Queens Community House, hopes the roving town halls will create a critical mass of voices demanding the plans are publicly vetted if not stopped outright.
The USTA and MLS counter that the proposals will ultimately be judged a positive addition for the park and community.
Any deal must pass muster at the city and state legislative levels, as well as be presented to the community. The law also requires all lost park space be replaced elsewhere within New York City.
The town hall meeting was spotted with rhetoric that pitted the proposals as a battle between massive corporate interests and a helpless community.
“Every inch of parkland we lose is parkland we won’t get back here,” said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst).
Stony Brook University Urban Planning Professor Donovan Finn offered a “reasonable worst-case scenario” that would leave the community with a fraction of the park’s 1,225-acres after accounting for roads, existing structures and the new additions. The Jackson Heights resident claimed the proposals, if they go through, would realistically lower the amount of useable green space to 258 acres with little in return.
“Developers see this park as a giant ATM machine,” he said. “If you don’t give away the land, they simply won’t build these structures.”
Finn specifically pointed to the USTA as a potential bad-faith actor in the whole deal, making an “incremental land grab” with the hopes of possibly repeating the process in a decade or more.
The sport’s governing body contends its plan would utilize only three quarters of an acre of parkland, which is currently a service road and not green space, and not an inch more.
“The USTA has no additional plan for expansion,” said USTA spokeswoman Alice McGillion.
MLS has promised to revitalize the park’s nine soccer fields as part of its plan, which would plop the stadium atop what is currently the Industrial Pond, past the Rocket Thrower statue just east of the Unisphere.
“Major League Soccer is firmly committed to making a major investment to significantly improve the park for the community while also replacing all parkland needed for the stadium,” said Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for the professional soccer league. “We look forward to our continued engagement with community groups and park users to understand community needs and how MLS can be a strong partner.”
The point, according to some at the meeting, isn’t to improve around the new additions, but simply restore the park to its former glory without incursions from outside.
“Unusable park space is being used,” said Hoffman, his son Felix in tow. “Imagine if there was more usable parkland.”
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