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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Chronicle
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

MLS, Queens activists fight for small business support

The battle continues for small business support for a Major League Soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Signs pasted on storefront windows alluding to the proposal are vague, and although some individuals are clearly in favor or not of building a 25,000-seat stadium in the park, other business owners’ sentiments seem to come with as much commitment and knowledge as they might give to putting a flier up for a car wash or yoga classes.

Navy blue signs put out by MLS say at the top in bright green letters “Our Business Supports,” followed by “Let’s bring pro soccer to Queens.” At the bottom the the signs say “Our jobs, our team,” as well as listing a website and how to follow MLS’s efforts on social media.

The sign makes no mention of where the stadium would be. MLS President Mark Abbott told the Queens Chronicle that the proposed location in place of the Pool of Industry is the only site the league is looking at in New York City.

Similarly, the Fairness Coalition of Queens, a group of 14 grassroots organizations opposed to stadium construction in the park, has created a sign to also engage small businesses. The sign reads “Save our park” at the top and “Save Flushing Meadows Corona Park” in the middle and ends by asking people to call 311 to tell Mayor Bloomberg “Our park is not for sale. Invest in our park. Don’t destroy it.”

The sign does not mention the MLS proposal or anything else specific.

Additionally, Queens Development Group plans to revamp a nearby 23-acre plot on the north side of Citi Field called Willets Point and the parking lot on the south side of the stadium called Willets Point West. Proposals call for hotels, a million-square-foot mall, shops, exits off the Van Wyck expressway and housing. Construction of 2,500 units, 875 of them denoted as affordable, would be the last step although activists say that housing should be a top priority.

During the last few weeks canvassers for the FCQ have gone door to door, just like MLS did more than a month ago, asking businesses to display their respective signs in their storefront’s windows. So far, activists said, they have visited 299 businesses on Roosevelt and 37th avenues in Jackson Heights. Of those 238 agreed to hang the “Save our park” sign.

The Queens Chronicle conducted an unscientific sampling of the 1,000 businesses that MLS says support the stadium proposal by calling 21 of the establishments. Four businesses’ numbers were disconnected. Of the remaining 17, six were willing to speak on behalf of their companies.

Three of those businesses supported the proposal as laid out by MLS.

“We support it to encourage the youth to do sports and to stay here and play sports in their own borough instead of going out of the city,” Francisco Arnez, the owner of Mexico City Sport Corporation in Jackson Heights, said in Spanish translated into English by a co-worker.

“We are big soccer fans here,” Angelo Theodosiou, owner of the Jackson House in Jackson Heights, said. “It’s good for the community.”

“I figure it’s a good cause,” Eric Alcancara, an employee at Sunnyside Tattoo, said. “We try to support most community proposals.”

One person kept his true motives to himself.

“I support it now that I hear your voice,” an employee from Junction Boulevard Grocery in East Elmhurst said.

The owner of Frankie’s Pizza in Astoria, who wished remain anonymous, said he supported the stadium but wanted the field open to children of all ages.

“The stadium needs to be open to school groups and whomever wants to play,” he said “I don’t think it should be only for the professionals. You have to help kids who are 10 and 15.”

One speaker rescinded his support.

“The boss doesn’t support it,” Carlos Santos from A&J Auto Center in Corona said translating for the owner Fausto Augustine Collado. “He signed it and then he realized and said, ‘Why did I sign that?’ He didn’t really understand.”

Collado also signed a letter that said in the third paragraph “Building a soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and the economic activity it would create, would mean a tremendous boost to local small businesses like mine.” The letter was also presented in Spanish.

“The vast majority of people who signed letters put up posters, but there are a few who signed the letter and didn’t put up a poster and a few who did a poster but didn’t sign a letter,” MLS spokeswoman Risa Heller said.

The Queens Chronicle also surveyed the same ratio of businesses, which is six out of the 299, that hung FCQ signs. Out of those. four locations did not have an owner there to speak on the establishment’s behalf. One number was disconnected and one person opposed both the MLS stadium and the mall at Willets Points West.

“That place is going to kill most of the small business around here,” Carlos from Zebra Head in Jackson Heights said about the proposed mall. He voiced concern also about the stadium proposal. “They are going to take over the park. It’s not nice. Families with kids use the park. They are going to take a lot of natural area. They should go outside. Why don’t they build it in Central Park? I live four block from there. It’s the life of the city and I think Flushing Meadows Park is the life of Queens. I don’t agree.”

The list sent to the Queens Chronicle from MLS did not list contact names, phone numbers or addresses. The FCQ list provided all of that information.

Nick Petrie, an organizer with Make the Road New York, one of the member organizations with FCQ, said the coalition does not oppose a stadium in Queens.

“We are not opposed to MLS,” Petrie said. “We are opposed to the process they are taking and that the park is unnecessarily being divided up for a purpose that would not benefit the community.”

He said the group is focused on retaining green space. It opposes the stadium proposal as well as a plan for a million-square-foot mall. That asphalt-sealed area, called Willets Point West, is public land.

Some of the businesses FCQ canvassers visited had the MLS sign in their window. Some continued their support and refused the activist’s sign. Others took down the MLS sign and put up the FCQ sign, saying that they did not know that the area would be built in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“This shows that these proposals do not have to work against each other,” Petrie said.

According to Petrie and some individuals hung the FCQ sign next to the MLS sign. Early Tuesday morning  in a walk up Roosevelt Avenue from 80th Street to 86th Street revealed four businesses with signs — three with the MLS sign and one with the other. Each block has about 15 storefronts.

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