Hundreds of Queens residents, upset that the city is considering various development proposals that could bring a shopping mall, two stadiums and two parking garages to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, gathered at a local church last week to voice their opposition. The 1,255-acre park is the largest in Queens and residents fear the projects would deprive them of vital green space.
The community meeting at Our Lady of Sorrows church and school on Sept. 17 received wide coverage in the ethnic and community media, including Queens Tribune, Queens Courier and Queens Latino. Several non-profits and religious groups organized the town hall meeting, which was attended by local elected officials, including State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Elmhurst), Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).
Queens Tribune quoted Monsignor Thomas Healy, pastor of the 10,000 member church who hosted the event:
“We are the closest community to Willets Point. That’s why we are here tonight,” Healy said. “Families in Corona need living wage jobs, not massive stadiums or shopping malls that will create poverty-wage jobs and only serve the interests of wealthy developers.”
In addition to protesting against the Willets Point development Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced in June, which would include the construction of a 1.4 million square foot shopping mall on public parkland, residents in attendance also voiced concerns over proposals made by the United States Tennis Association and Major League Soccer, who are currently lobbying for park alienation rights.
The USTA’s proposal, expected to undergo public scrutiny this fall, calls for a $500 million construction project that would expand the National Tennis Center with two new stadiums, two parking garages and the relocation of seven tournament courts.
The MLS wants to build a $300 million stadium on the site of what is now the Pool of Industry. State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who did not attend the town hall meeting, supports the proposal.
“A privately funded soccer stadium to replace a big hole in the ground filled with dirty water is a good deal for soccer fans and the park-goers who would get to enjoy the many upgrades to the park,” Peralta said. “And we can certainly use the construction, game-day and permanent jobs that the stadium would create.”
Peralta’s may be backing the soccer project, but Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras is not, according to the Queens Courier.
“We understand that each inch of land we give up is an inch we are not getting back,” she said. “Today this [meeting] has shown to the world that our community does matter, and that our park is our park.”
The USTA maintains that its proposed two stadiums and two parking garages will not impact the park “in a footprint perspective.” USTA’s managing director Danny Zausner has previously said: “We’re taking our existing parking lots in that perimeter and building up,” according to the Courier.
The other interested developer is the Wilpon family, owners of the New York Mets, who want to use parkland west of Citi Field to build a 1.4 million square feet mall, which would be the city’s largest.
Donovan Finn, of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, made a presentation at the meeting outlining the impact of these projects, reported Queens Latino. Finn said if the projects were approved and completed, the 1,255 acre park would be reduced to only 258 acres of green space.