Pointing to an old airfield, Bloomberg says soccer arena parkland is in fact ‘replaceable’

Bloomberg in Gowanus on Monday. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Countering an increasing chorus of criticism, Mayor Michael Bloomberg today defended his administration's plan for a Major League Soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, pointing out that the league intends to build a new park to make up for the space it plans to occupy in the existing one.

Critics, including, most recently, the city's main parks advocacy group, have argued that the parkland in question is irreplaceable to the surrounding communities, many of them poor.

"It's not irreplaceable," said the mayor today, during an event in Gowanus. "In fact, there's…Flushing Airport, which is gonna be turned into a park. So the total parkland will be the same."

Flushing Airport is a 70-acre decommissioned airfield in College Point, next to the Whitestone Expressway.

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"Nature has thrived on the site since the airport’s closing," reported the Times in 2009. "Proposals have been floated to use it for a heliport, a warehouse, batting cages, driving ranges, even a blimp port, echoing the site’s use as a docking station for Goodyear blimps in the 1960s and ’70s. None of the ideas amounted to anything, and the property remained closed."

According to precedent, Major League Soccer would replace whatever parkland it displaces to build a new arena.

The league has been scouring the borough for replacement parkland, and the old airport, which used to be the city's largest, has been mentioned before as a possible site, but never confirmed.

"M.L.S. continues to work closely with the City to bring professional soccer to New York City; however, there is no deal yet and therefore we can't comment on any specifics," said the league's spokeswoman, Risa Heller, in a statement.

But Will Sweeney, a spokesman for the Fairness Coalition of Queens, which opposes the stadium, said the Flushing Airport site raised several red flags.

"It's only accessible by car, and a supermajority of the users of Flushing Meadows Corona Park walk there," said Sweeney. "It has chronic flooding problems, which is why they closed the airport. ... And to take land that is readily accessible to people of color and to replace it in a white community, we think it's an environmental justice issue."

The mayor today argued that the Flushing Meadows Corona Park parcel that would be used for the stadium is not particularly good parkland, anyway.

"Keep in mind, that that end of the park has seen its better days," said the mayor today, referring to the under-maintained, yet heavily used Flushing Meadows Corona Park. "There's not a lot of money to fix it. This will improve that area. The new parkland will be great parkland. And there's a lot of things that people want, to enjoy life and recreation. Some is organized things in stadiums, like soccer, which has become very popular as our immigrant community has become larger here."

The mayor also pointed out that his administration has, "created an enormous amount of new parkland all along the waterfront, Brooklyn, and the west side, and now the Lower East Side. There's new parks in every borough. You're gonna have the biggest new park in a century at Fresh Kills. There's new parkland up in the Bronx. Every borough is getting new parkland. So total, on balance, there's an enormous aount of new parkland. But, it's not the only thing people need. A lot of people want a stadium to enjoy soccer."