The Fairness Coalition of Queens and local elected officials have joined together to demand that the United States Tennis Association (USTA) replace any parkland that is lost to its proposed expansion plans at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
The USTA submitted plans to the City Planning Commission this week to take more parkland to add to their 46-acre site at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Although the USTA is a wealthy institution with millions of dollars in surplus, it refuses to replace parkland it is taking away from the mostly low-income, immigrant community that uses Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
The USTA has officially asked for more public parkland to be alienated and added to their site for private control. The plan calls for a new 15,000-seat stadium and two new parking garages to be built on parkland. Additionally, to construct the new stadium, a major access road would be moved thereby making pedestrian access for residents of Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst, and East Elmhurst much more difficult.
“Parkland is precious. Once it’s lost, it’s lost forever. It is imperative that every inch of parkland that is taken away from public access by this USTA expansion must be replaced by comparable parkland nearby. It would very difficult for me to support any proposal to expand the USTA that does not include a proposal for replacement parkland,” said City Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who represents the district that includes Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
“Public green space is a vital part of our community. As the USTA seeks to expand their footprint in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, they should be held to the same standard as everyone else, and replace any parkland that is alienated,” said Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Corona). “Even if this parcel of parkland being alienated is small, the requirements are the same. The resulting changes should only increase the access to parkland for residents of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Corona.”
“Open space is at a premium in many parts of Queens, particularly in the densely populated communities closest to the park,” State Senator Jose Peralta said. “Although the USTA proposal calls for the alienation of less than an acre, every inch of newly alienated parkland needs to be replaced.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park is the heart and lungs of our community. Local families use it for recreation, family gathering, soccer, baseball, cricket, picnics, boating, running, and other exercise. 2.3 Million people live in Queens and our park is the largest & most important open space for these residents. 75% of the surrounding community are people of color. 40% live below the poverty. 51% childhood obesity in Corona — worst in the City. 20,000 people play soccer every week in the organized soccer leagues alone, not to mention all of the other users. This space is so heavily utilized that we can’t afford to lose one inch of public green space in our park.
The USTA expansion is one of three current development proposals for Flushing Meadows Corona Park. In total the various plans call for building a shopping mall, two stadiums, parking garages, new roads and other major changes to the park.
Many community members are also concerned that although USTA site is on public land – is not truly ‘open’ to the public. It has an imposing steel fence around the perimeter and large gates–so it’s certainly not considered an ‘open’ part of the park. The USTA charges approximately $40-60 per hour for the courts–with that money kept by the USTA even though the site is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. That cost puts the courts effectively out of the price range of most of the surrounding community of working class families. Additionally, by design, there is no signage or information that indicates that the site is open to the public or welcome on the premises.
During professional tennis events such as the US Open, there has been a long history of un-neighborly behavior like parking cars on grass, obstructing access to the park, and preventing community soccer teams from playing in the park.
“The USTA is pushing to build a larger stadium within the park without replacing the park land that they will be taking away,” said Maria Alvarado, member of Make the Road New York and resident of Queens. “To us that is unacceptable We need to make sure that the USTA replaces all the parkland that it proposes to take away,
“The hard-working families that live and worship in congregations near the park who utilize it frequently, feel that the USTA is not at all accessible to the local community,” said Joseph McKellar, executive director of the Queens Congregations United for Action. “Many families in these neighborhoods think that there is a huge imbalance of USTA community reinvestment when considering how much money they make compared to how much they do for the local community which is giving them this land.
About the Fairness Coalition of Queens: The coalition includes ALIGN, Asian Americans For Equality, Chhaya CDC, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Jackson Heights Green Alliance, Make the Road New York, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, Queens Community House, Queens Congregations United for Action, and Queens Pride House.
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