Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Flushing Meadows Park Development Projects Blasted

Willets Point, Related Cos. development schemes provide classic examples of most troubling legacy of the Bloomberg administration’s approach to economic development.

Aerial rendering of the Willets Point proposal. Image Credit: EDC.

The largest of the three projects being proposed in Flushing Meadows Corona Park - Willets Point West - would seize more than 30 acres of public parkland to build the City's largest mall at 1.4 million Square feet.  The city has been chipping away at the only green space many Queens residents have since Robert Moses remade it for the World’s Fairs in 1939 and 1964.

The City Council votes on the USTA expansion today.


Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is Queens’ crown jewel. But the busiest park in the borough is threatened on all sides, according to an editorial in the New York Daily News.  

Queens’ landmark park started out as the “valley of ashes” in The Great Gatsby. Robert Moses remade it for the World’s Fairs in 1939 and 1964, bringing the observation towers that the movie “Men in Black” used for a launching pad.

But ever since, the city has been chipping away at the only green space many Queens residents can reach. In 1964, the state let the Mets occupy 100 acres of the park, followed by 42 acres for the tennis center. In 2009, the Mets built Citi Field on parkland, but got to keep the acres they already had.


Now there’s more. Recently, the tennis center was given another acre of the park. Then the Related Companies announced they wanted to build a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping mall and parking garage on the parkland-turned-parking-lot next to Citi Field. (The land is supposed to revert to recreational use now that it’s no longer needed by the Mets.)

Next, Major League Soccer set its sights on 13 acres of the park just past the huge silver globe called the Unisphere. Observers expect they’ll ask for stadium-size tax breaks, too. The plan would bulldoze the famous Fountain of Planets. Ironically, that area already hosts some of the 1,500 soccer games played in the park each summer—but they’re just teams of regular New Yorkers, not leagues owned by well-connected investors.

Fountain of the Planets. Families enjoying the area where Major League Soccer hopes to build a controversial
$ 300 million, 35,000-seat soccer stadium/concert venue  in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park located on the Flushing River. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) 

Next to the park, on city-owned land in Willets Point, small business owners are being evicted from their rented spaces to make way for more parking, more retail and a hotel. Local advocates are furious that the affordable housing that is supposed to be part of the Willets Point redevelopment plan will be delayed for 15 years, if it is built at all.


These proposals are classic examples of the most troubling legacy of the Bloomberg administration’s approach to economic development. The city has approved dozens of real estate mega-projects on city- or state-owned land, or on property where the city has changed zoning rules to suit developers. They all promised “economic development,” but haven’t increased employment or reduced poverty.

There are alternatives to nibbling away at park space and handing out tax breaks. The city can make smart public investments in parks, schools and other needs. Any tax breaks need to be targeted to companies that actually hire new employees.

The next mayor should also focus on industries that build the middle class. Instead of letting hotels and superstores encroach on manufacturing zones while providing low-wage and part-time jobs, the city should study the success of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and develop partnerships in industrial zones like Hunts Point or the Brooklyn Army Terminal to create better jobs.


If the city decides to continue offering subsidies to big-name deals, the next administration should make sure those subsidies include local hiring and wage requirements. Already, dozens of municipalities, from Los Angeles to Minneapolis to Washington, make sure their tax subsidies support projects that create living-wage jobs for city residents.

With the next mayoral election just four months away, the candidates and other elected officials should stand up for good public space and smart economic development. That means opposing the projects in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

It looks like community action will head off one of them, telling the soccer league to build their stadium somewhere other than a busy park. The City Planning Commission votes on another plan, the shopping mall and parking garage that targets land next to Citi Field, in just a few weeks. Voting “no” and bringing this land back to Flushing Meadows would mean parkland within walking distance for another 25,000 residents.

If we can’t all spend our summers at garden parties like Gatsby, we at least need the green of a great city park.

Tarry Hum is professor of urban studies at Queens College. Greg Smithsimon is professor of sociology at Brooklyn College. Laura Wolf-Powers is assistant professor, City and Regional Planning, at University of Pennsylvania.

The USTA expansion would utilize an additional acre of public parkland,  remove more than 400 trees,  bring in an additional 80,000 people, and increase traffic in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park which is already severely impacted by the USTA.  The City Council votes on the expansion today.

Read More:

City leaders would do grave disservice by chipping away at 
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens
New York Daily News -  July 19, 2013 - By Tarry Hum, Greg Snithsimon and Laura Wolf-Powers

Bronx BP Pushes For MLS Stadium In Borough
A Walk In The Park - June 13, 2013 - By Geoffrey Croft

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