Major League Soccer, in pursuit of a Queens stadium, searches for new parkland

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The site of the proposed Major League Soccer stadium. (d.p.hetteix via Flickr)
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Major League Soccer is in discussions with the M.T.A. and local elected officials to determine where it can build a new park to replace the piece of Flushing Meadows Corona Park where it would like to create a $300 million, 25,000-seat professional soccer stadium.

The league is working on a detailed memorandum of understanding right now, according to State Senator Jose Peralta, who is privy to the negotiations.

The transfer of public land to a private party is no easy task. Not only must the state formally "alienate" the land, but Major League Soccer must replace it with other parkland.

"The closer the better," Peralta told me.

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And that process, which is bound to be a politicized one, has only just begun.

The league has its eye on M.T.A. land that falls along the western bank of Flushing Creek, the body of water that travels south from Flushing Bay, past Willets Point to the west and paralleling, at times, the Van Wyck Expressway, on its way to Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

That land may be composed, at least partially, of wetlands, according to the M.T.A.

And while the Parks Department's portfolio encompasses wetlands, it's hard to imagine that community members will be satisfied with a new park if they can't use it—even if it's replacing a portion of a park (the parcel M.L.S. is eyeing is currently a man-made lake) that they also can't use.

"[Major League Soccer] is evaluating potential sites and Parks will then review any proposals they submit,” said Phil Abramson, a Parks Department spokesman, in an email.

Further, the use of the M.T.A. land would require the acquiescence of the M.T.A., which seems doable, for a price.

M.T.A.’s chairman Joe Lhota told Capital recently he was "absolutely not" opposed to selling holdings to offset parkland taken up by a stadium, "as long as it's a fair market value."

There's also at least one city-owned site in play, an empty lot bounded by the Rego Park Crescent and Forest Hills, according to Peralta.

To sweeten the pot, the league has also told elected officials it will renovate the now derelict soccer fields surrounding the proposed stadium site.

"The seven soccer fields are in very bad shape," said Josh Goodman, chief of staff for State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky.

Whatever land the league and the relevant parties settle upon will, presumably, be an improvement over what's there now.

In 1965, the 25,000-square-foot Fountain of the Planets in the Pool of Industry, where the league would like to build its stadium, was the largest fountain in the world and a marvel of modernity.

"Rockets are fired from 464 launchers; lights totaling 150 million candle power cast their brilliant colors at water and sky; and music plays over loudspeakers,” read the Official Guide to the New York World’s Fair.

Now it's more like a birdbath.

“It is a lake that people jog around,” said Tarik Coles, a spokesman for Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras. “And ducks fly into the lake. There are geese in that lake.”

Perhaps not for much longer.

“I believe this is a great project for the community," said Assemblyman Francisco Moya, one of the principal advocates for the stadium, who called from Barcelona, where he had flown to watch his favorite soccer team (Barcelona) play Real Madrid. "I believe that Major League Soccer will do everything that they can do make sure that there is community input and that they replace the parkland that is taken away," he said.