Both a destination and neighborhood park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a mecca for amateur soccer leagues, a gathering place for family picnics, and a respite for people of all ages. Much of the park is occupied by private institutions and facilities, but its core remains an irreplaceable public space that is actively used by tens of thousands of New Yorkers.
Yet it is on this very parkland that the City of New York now proposes to allow a private owner to construct a Major League Soccer stadium on the site of the 1964 World’s Fair Fountain of the Planets. It was recently reported that MLS has reached a deal with Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, to sponsor a New York-based professional soccer team and is close to reaching a deal with the City to locate a new 25,000-seat stadium – with capacity to expand to 35,000 seats – in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
As New York City’s leading parks advocate for more than a century, New Yorkers for Parks has a long history of opposing the alienation of parkland for private development and cannot support this proposal to build a private, 100-foot-tall stadium in the heart of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Building a stadium on this site will alter not just the site itself, but the nature of the park altogether. The footprint of the arena would be up to 13 acres, but the directly affected acreage, as defined by MLS’s proposed circulation roads and pathways, would be at least double that. On game days, tens of thousands of fans travelling from Citi Field parking lots, the Long Island Railroad and the No. 7 Train would overwhelm the park, exacerbating the already significant maintenance challenges this heavily used public space faces.
Because the site is literally on top of the Flushing River – raising a number of environmental and legal concerns – preliminary designs call for elevating the stadium on a tall berm, making an already looming structure even more imposing. And for most of the year, the stadium would sit vacant and unused, towering over the public soccer fields that would be relocated in its shadow.
Supporters of the stadium point to the drab condition of the once-iconic Fountain of the Planets and claim building atop this long-neglected space will improve the park. But the current state of this historically significant park – under-resourced and ill-maintained for decades – is no rationale for further privatization. Five years ago, the City’s Parks Department unveiled an ambitious plan for the park that included a proposal to fill in the Fountain of the Planets to create a great lawn – a vast, central gathering space which the park sorely lacks – and to daylight the Flushing River to help ameliorate the park’s endemic flooding and drainage problems. New Yorkers for Parks calls upon the City to make this part of the park the grand public space it has the potential to be rather than giving up on it and turning it over to private hands.
It’s important to recognize who would be most negatively affected by this proposed project. This section of the park is predominantly used by residents of the surrounding park-starved communities of Flushing, Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights – low- and middle-income neighborhoods that fall well below the city’s standard of 2.5 acres of open space per 1000 residents. Nearly 23 percent of the people living in these neighborhoods are 18 or younger. Childhood obesity in Corona, on the park’s western edge, is 51 percent, the highest in the city.
To be clear: regardless of the terms of the deal, the design of the stadium, or any offers of replacement parkland, New Yorkers for Parks cannot support a private stadium in the heart of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The location is simply wrong, and no modification or mitigation can make up for the loss of this vital open space.
We welcome efforts to bring a new professional soccer team to New York City. MLS is aggressively expanding across the country, and we support the league’s desire to broaden its reach, especially in the nation’s largest media market – but not at the expense of our city’s public parkland. We call upon the City and MLS to reconsider other locations for a new stadium, and to preserve our parkland for generations to come.
The above post appeared as a guest column in the May 13, 2013 edition of the New York Daily News.