Five hundred Queens residents gathered Monday evening at a Catholic church in Corona — and they were not happy.
The residents of Corona, East Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights attended a Town Hall Forum at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, which is next to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Organized by Queens Congregations United for Action (QCUA), and the Fairness Coalition of Queens, they came together with elected officials, clergy, and community leaders [including Make the Road New York] to tell Mayor Bloomberg that their park is not for sale to real estate moguls and greedy merchants.
“Families in Corona need living wage jobs and affordable housing, not massive stadiums or shopping malls that will create poverty-wage jobs and only serve the interests of wealthy developers,” said Msgr. Thomas Healy, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows which has 10,000 members whose families depend on the park.
Healy was referring to a press conference held last June 15 by Bloomberg and the New York Economic Development Corporation to announced that plans for Willets Point, which had been approved in 2008 after extensive pubic review, had been significantly revised. The new developments, backed by a partnership of Related Cos. and Sterling Equities, were decided with little or no community input.
The new plan will begin undergoing an additional environmental review later this month and calls for developing public parkland for private use. The idea is to build a 1,400,000-square foot mall, two new stadiums and concert venues, several new parking garages and new roads valued at over three billion dollars. Construction of 2,000 units of affordable housing that were part of the original plan would now be delayed until 2025.
In addition, developers representing the New York Mets, the United States Tennis Association and Major League Soccer also want to develop public parkland for private use in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and are lobbying city and state officials for the right to do so.
“Imagine what would happen if they were proposing to build a stadium and a shopping mall in Central Park or in Prospect Park,” said Joseph McKellar, QCUA’s executive director. “The community is really upset, among other things, because the mayor had made a commitment to build affordable housing and now went back on that commitment. They are doing this because they think Latinos, which are the majority in this area, do not have any power.”
For 72 years, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the biggest green space in Queens, has been a place where thousands of families from across the borough come to “learn, play, and build community,” McKellar said. The neighborhoods surrounding the park depend on it as some of the only open space in Queens. Resident are some of the poorest in the city: 75% are people of color and 40% live in poverty.
“The construction of these developments would mean losing precious parkland used by 20,000 youth and adult recreational soccer players every week from adjacent neighborhoods,” McKellar said. “Besides, there is real concern about what, if any, benefits these developments would bring to the community.”
As the people gathered at the Corona church made clear Monday night, the community is saying no to the traffic these luxury projects would bring, and to poverty wages and seasonal jobs. What they are struggling for is affordable housing and jobs that pay living wages, not for a group of billionaire developers gutting their park to become even richer.
The message from Queens residents to Bloomberg and wealthy developers is clear and to the point: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park belongs to the community and is not for sale.
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