There are so many ways a city park like Flushing Meadows-Corona Park can die.
You can underfund it, which the city has tried on a regular basis. You can chew away at its edges, as the city has tried with great vigor, encouraging the Mets’ owners to construct a huge car-attracting mall on the northern edge of the park.
And you can let sports franchises lay claim to its precious core. The Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations allowed the Yankees to build on a South Bronx park, with promises to replace the lost space. Now the Bloomberg administration appears to look favorably on Major League Soccer’s proposalto place a 25,000-seat stadium smack in the middle of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
I wrote of this endangered Queens park last week.
Major League Soccer has commissioned an architect to draw up pretty and crowd-pleasing drawings for the stadium. Already these plans have drawn cheers from some local politicians.
The proposed stadium, however, has drawn vigorous opposition from residents in the immigrant-rich neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, Flushing and Jackson Heights, who rely on this densely used park for a weekly dose of open green space.
But the United States Tennis Association could prove the most intriguing and deep-pocketed opponent of the soccer stadium. Many local residents look with suspicion on the U.S.T.A., as it, too, plans to take another small bite out of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It wants to build a new tennis facility and parking garages. (Officials note in their defense that more than half of the fans at the United States Open tournament arrive by mass transit.)
This said, the tennis association often is a reasonable neighbor. When it cut a deal with the Dinkins administration to build a new facility in the early 1990s, it agreed to build dozens of tennis courts and let residents use them most weeks of the year.
The tennis association also pays about $2.5 million a year to the city, although Bloomberg budget officials set aside no specific portion of that tithe for Flushing Meadows.
Tennis officials view a soccer stadium with concern. Unlike Citi Field and the National Tennis Center, a soccer stadium in the middle of the park would sit a substantial distance from subways and trains. And it most likely would require more roads and parking, crossing close to the tennis center.
And soccer officials have spoken of using the stadium for concerts, all of which would make it a cacophonous neighbor for the tennis complex.
“It raises a lot of concerns for us,” said Gordon Smith, executive director of the association. “We ought to be considered in a very different light, because we raise almost none of those complications.”
For now, however, local residents offer the loudest opposition. With the help of organizations like Make the Road by Walking, Good Jobs New York and NYC Park Advocates, they have packed usually obscure and sparsely attended “scoping hearings” with hundreds of people to register their disapproval.
The atmosphere at one such meeting last week fell well short of welcoming. While officials from the city’s Economic Development Corporation fiddled with their BlackBerrys and checked the time, the officials running the meeting did not offer simultaneous translation in Spanish, Bengali and Urdu to those who needed it. That omission runs counter to city guidelines.
The city official who acted as the moderator of the hearing affected the condescension of an Eton headmaster. “I have been a college professor,” he informed the boisterous audience. “I will wait until you are silent.”
How very good of him.
The Pratt Center for Community Development has issued a pointed new critique of the various plans for the park.
To all of this, many of the city’s news media have contributed more than a little confusion of their own. A reporter for Gothamist, a news Web site, consistently frames the battle as one between small-minded NIMBYs and a terrific new stadium.
Other reporters dismiss Industry Pond and the Fountain of Planets as a stagnant and “man-made” body of water that is “fenced off” and sits in a remote corner of the park.
These are curious bills of indictment. Nearly every lake in the city park system is man-made, and more than a few are fenced off. For instance, two of Prospect Park’s ponds are, unfortunately, fenced off, and no one has yet suggested paving those watery expanses. And the notion that the Flushing Meadows pond sits at a far remove from the park center is a fantasy. Visitors might discover this for themselves on any weekend by joining the crowds and food vendors congregating around the pond and soccer fields.
A few years back, the Parks and Recreation Department offered its ownstrategic plan for Flushing Meadows, a visionary document that called for fewer cars and more natural areas, and for unshackling Industry Pond. The plan would rip up the asphalt, tear down the fences and create an open expanse of grass and water.
The report’s language lacked eloquence, but its vision was expansive.
Parks department officials so far have kept a careful silence on the new proposals. They perhaps face a choice of deferring to those who frame the future of the park in terms of revenue, or finding their own voice as guardians of this often neglected park.
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