Flushing Meadows Corona Park: Lots of land, little upkeep

Flushing Meadows Corona Park. (jann_on via Flickr)
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Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which is more than twice as big as Prospect Park, has about a quarter as many staff tending its flower beds, pruning its trees, collecting its litter and performing other maintenance and administrative functions.

Central Park, which is also smaller than Flushing Meadows Corona Park, has more than eight times as many workers.

This is in part a reflection of the reality that, in a system in which parks rely for the costs of upkeep on public-private partnerships, there are winners and losers.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the go-to park of the minority-heavy, largely working-class Queens neighborhoods that surround it, is a loser.

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“These numbers are not surprising at all because the large parks that have public-private partnerships have the ability to bring in a lot more additional resources than parks that are strictly under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department,” said Holly Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, a parks advocacy group.

The disparities in wealth that characterize New York City neighborhoods are reflected in some of its parks.

Last weekend, Lisa Foderaro, of the Times, reported that Flushing Meadows Corona Park was only able to raise $5,000 in private funds last year. 

Thanks to a record-setting gift from John Paulson, the Central Park Conservancy was able to raise more than $100 million.

Here's more:

[Flushing Meadows Corona Park's] bicycle and walking paths are cracked and pitted, [Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy boardmember Frederick] Kress said, and its natural areas are overgrown with invasive species. “Central Park is doing pretty well,” said Mr. Kress, who is also president of the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces, noting that though Mr. Paulson’s home on Fifth Avenue overlooks Central Park, he grew up in Queens. “I’m not saying he owes anyone anything, but how about you give Central Park $98 million and Flushing Meadows-Corona $2 million? That two million would have gone so much further in an underappreciated park.”

All of which is reflected in those staffing levels.

Right now, 18 full-time workers and 17 seasonal workers, all funded by the city, maintain the 1,255 acres of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“This number rises during the warmer weather months and also does not include the nearly 150 additional full-time workers and dozens more seasonal employees, who perform more specialized tasks throughout the borough of Queens including Flushing Meadows Corona Park,” emailed Parks Department spokesman Phil Abramson. “This includes forestry staff, specialized maintenance workers (who do things like maintain ballfields and fix fences), or trades people (carpenters, electricians, etc.) who also tend to this park.”

Compare those numbers to Central and Prospect Parks, which are operated on behalf of the city by, respectively, the Central Park Conservancy and Prospect Park Alliance.

Central Park’s 843 acres are administered and kept in shape by a staff of 291, only 17 of whom are paid for by the city.

The rest, all 274 of them, are funded using private monies, like the $100 million that hedge funder John Paulson contributed to the conservancy last year, bringing its endowment up to nearly $200 million.

Prospect Park, meanwhile, has 585 acres, which are administered and maintained by a staff of 135, 43 of whom work for the city. The rest, 92, work for the Alliance.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park may not be surrounded by as much residential wealth as either Prospect or Central Parks, but Leicht said there are reasons for optimism.

At the present, Flushing Meadows Corona Park is the site of three major development proposals: The United States Tennis Association wants to expand its National Tennis Center there; Major League Soccer has proposed building a soccer arena in the middle of the park; and Related Companies, in a joint venture with Sterling Equities, wants to build a big mall on the parking lot west of Citi Field, which is technically also parkland.

“What you have in Flushing is you have a bunch of corporate entities,” said Leicht. “You have USTA, the Mets, Related Companies, maybe you have soccer, maybe you don’t. ... I don’t see any reason why with the right leadership and vision here you can’t create the kind of public-private partnership this park deserves and would make it as great as these two parks.”

At the moment, none of them contribute money directly to improving or maintaining the park.

Major League Soccer has promised to fix up the soccer fields surrounding its proposed arena, if it gets built.

And the U.S.T.A., in exchange for acquiring more parkland for a planned expansion of its tennis center, has proposed underwriting some park improvements.

None of them have made any public long-term financial commitments to the park.