Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Sports Arenas, Mall Proposed for Queens

An ambitious plan to remake a corner of Queens with two new professional sports arenas and a giant suburban-style mall, is meeting with unexpected opposition that could stymie the effort. Among Mayor Bloomberg's signature development plans is an 8,000-seat U.S. Tennis Association stadium, a 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium—both in Flushing Meadows Corona Park—and 1-million-square-foot mall on a gritty swath near CitiField, across from the stadium.

Although the projects are separate from each other, they are all in or near Flushing Meadows Corona Park and have roiled groups that accuse the city of eroding green space without considering the impact of an influx of traffic and thousands of new spectators and shoppers.

Importantly, the coalition of about half-dozen groups has the initial support of the local City Council member—who, in the tradition of the council, has almost unilateral power to hold up necessary approvals.

More likely, it could force new concessions from developers as the groups push the City Council to look at the fallout of all three projects combined when voting on approvals for them individually.

A Bloomberg spokesperson said the projects are vital to reviving the area. "In all of our conversations with Queens community groups, we hear the same message consistently: the borough needs more jobs and economic activity. These projects would meet that need in spectacular fashion and provide employment to thousands of Queens residents," said spokesperson Julie Wood.

The developers expressed similar sentiment, saying they would work with the community.

Project proposals to build two professional-league sports arenas and a mall in or near Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, have met with criticism. While new stadiums would undoubtedly create strains, they could also be an opportunity to make needed upgrades, some have said.

The Willets Point development already went through an extensive public review and was approved in 2008. But the plan, now backed by a partnership of Related Cos. and Sterling Equities, was significantly revised and will begin undergoing an additional environmental review later this month. The USTA proposal is expected to face a review this fall. MLS, which has yet to strike a final deal with the city, also would be required to seek City Council support.

Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area, echoed concerns about the temporary loss of community soccer fields during construction, reduced access to the park, increased traffic, pollution, noise, safety, litter and the impact of the mall on mom-and-pops. "I have an obligation to make sure that our community gets a voice in the process…The community needs to decide if these three different proposals are a good use of parkland," Ms. Ferreras said.

[see ElectricWeb | Blogger, June 25, 2012]

To be sure, some developers have already promised benefits to the community. MLS has pledged to refurbish public soccer fields on the site, make additional park improvements and minimize disruption, according to people familiar with the matter, which has helped it win support from a number of politicians and community groups.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park is the borough's largest park, where a mostly Latino and Asian immigrant population plays soccer, bikes and picnics. Nevertheless, the sprawling space has been plagued by funding shortages, inconsistent maintenance, and neglect, park advocates say.