Queens senator bids to landmark Flushing Meadows Corona Park

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The New York City Pavilion. (wallyg via Flickr)
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State Senator Tony Avellas has asked the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the site where Major League Soccer would like to build an arena, Related Companies and Sterling Equities would like to build a mall, and the United States Tennis Association would like to expand its National Tennis Center.

On February 20, Avella sent a letter to Robert Tierney, the chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, requesting the park be added to the city's list of scenic landmarks, like Central, Fort Tryon, and Morningside parks.

"The Park is a valuable asset for the city not only because of its green space and natural areas, but also due to its embodiment of historical structures and leading cultural and educational institutions," he wrote.

The park is home to a number of World's Fair relics that have fallen into disrepair, including the Philip Johnson-designed New York City Pavilion, the New York City Building, which for several years housed the United Nations, the Queens Museum of Art, and the Unisphere, which was granted landmark status in 1995.

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"We’ve long felt that Flushing Meadows Corona Park is of historic significance for many different reasons, and while I'm not ready to say should the whole thing be landmarked, but goddamn, obviously, there are areas of the park that are historically significant and deserve to be protected," said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council.

But there is, of course, more to Avella's request than an impulse toward preservation.

"I think it’s appropriate, especially with all this discussion ... about what I think is inappropriate development of the park," said Avella, whose district borders the park and who is also running for Queens borough president.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission had no immediate comment, but even in the unlikely event Avella's bid were to be successful, landmark status wouldn't do much to hinder development in the park, anyway.

The mayor appoints all of the commissioners to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is supporting all three developments. He's explicitly named Major League Soccer's proposal to put a soccer arena where the World's Fair relic, the Pool of Industry, now stands as one of the projects he'd like to see underway before he leaves office at the end of the year.

"It’s not going to be easy to landmark this, no question," said Avella.

Or, as Bankoff put it, "They work for the mayor at the end of the day."

And even if Avella did succeed in landmarking the park, to what effect?

"In terms of a park, it really doesn’t matter, because the Landmarks Commission is ultimately, unfortunately, only advisory," said Bankoff.

UPDATE: In a statement, Landmarks Preservation Commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon said, "We received this morning a faxed copy of the letter...and will review whether the park could be eligible for consideration as a scenic landmark."