Major League Soccer won’t get a Queens stadium without a fight

At a Flushing Meadows Corona Park meeting in Corona. (Dana Rubinstein)
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A Major League Soccer stadium may be a good fit for Flushing Meadows Corona Park and the soccer-loving communities that border it from a marketing perspective, but as a packed Monday night meeting made clear, the project won't materialize without a fight.

"There's a lot of issues here," State Senator Tony Avella told Capital, shortly before the meeting began. "You can't just say, 'Oh, that sounds like a great idea."

"Why are they choosing our flagship park?" asked Councilman Daniel Dromm, an hour and a half later, talking to a reporter as the meeting at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic church in Corona continued behind him. "Why don't they put this in Central Park?"

Well, why don't they?

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"Because they always dump on Queens," he said. "And this time, I don't think they're going to dump on Queens and be able to get away with it."

Beyond Dromm, about 250 people, most of them of people of color, were talking about Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and the developments set to transform it and its environs.

This was the first public meeting of the Fairness Coalition of Queens—an amalgam of a dozen or so groups like Make the Road New York and Queens Congregations United for Action—whose first task, according to Make the Road deputy director Theo Oshiro, will be "making sure there's a voice for the community" in the ongoing developments impacting Flushing Meadows.

Certainly, there's a lot happening in and around there. In addition to Major League Soccer's stadium plans, the Bloomberg administration has reached a tentative deal with developers to build a large mall to the west of Citi Field, and new parking lots, some retail and a hotel, (and perhaps also, ultimately, housing) to the stadium's east, on an industrial swath of land known as the Iron Triangle that now houses small businesses.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Tennis Association wants to implement a $500 million expansion of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that includes two new above-ground parking garages in the park.

"In my professional opinion, I think all of these plans are deeply flawed," said Donovan Finn, an urban planning professor at Stony Brook University, who gave the policy keynote of the night, complete with a slide show, and who argued that Major League Soccer would need at least 20 acres of parkland to build its stadium.

Earlier estimates had Major League Soccer requesting fewer than 10 acres.

"That's the new number from what I understand," said Finn, when asked where he got it.

A Major League Soccer spokesperson told Capital that the stadium would need no more than 13 acres, which is both smaller than Finn's estimate and larger than the original ones.

Either way, Major League Soccer will have to overcome several obstacles before it can break ground. It must find replacement parkland elsewhere—a process it has already begun—and then get state approval for the land swap.

The stadium will also have to go through a land use review process that entails getting City Council approval.

"Out of all the proposals, Major League Soccer is one that the community embraces," said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, whose district encompasses the park.

But she said the league's timing is bad, with the stadium proposal coming at the same time as nearby USTA and Citi Field developments.

"It almost feels like everything is being rushed," she said.