Southeast Queens elected officials and the developer of a controversial Springfield Gardens air cargo center are close to concluding negotiations that could yield $250,000 for community-oriented projects.
Civic leaders and an aide to Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) confirmed this week that talks with Chicago-based International Airport Centers had produced commitments for the money, which could be used to repair local ballfields and help start an environmental education center.
While some details are still to be worked out—including the specific list of projects and who will oversee the funds—the donation could help ease concerns about the sprawling air cargo complex, located on the north side of Rockaway Boulevard between 227th and 232nd Streets.
“We have a potential agreement,” said Marty McLaughlin, a Manhattan lobbyist representing IAC. “We are working out a memo on it.”
Nearly two years ago, the City Council approved the sale of 24.5 acres of Idlewild Park to IAC for $4.5 million. The plans called for four separate buildings where freight shipping companies would handle shipments directed to and from Kennedy Airport. Occupying a total of 527,000 square feet, the center is to include more than 800 parking spaces. One major tenant has already moved in.
In what some officials described as a “trade-off” for the sale, the City Council agreed in 2001 to redesignate 100 acres of nearby wetlands as parkland, thus giving it an extra level of protection.
But local civic leaders and conservationists deemed that a hollow victory, because the redesignated land is a marsh and cannot be developed under state law. The residents pressed local politicians to form a task force on the air cargo facility to find ways to mitigate the loss of parkland.
Several local groups, including the Rosedale Sports Association, the Wayanda and Rosedale Civic Associations, the Springfield-Rosedale Community Action Association and the Federated Blocks of Laurelton, weighed in on the issue and encouraged Sanders to fund the community projects. State Senator Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) has also been involved in the discussions.
Fred Kress, president of the Rosedale Civic Association, acknowledged that the $250,000 is well above the $50,000 that IAC initially proposed, but he is hoping for additional funds to start a nature center at Idlewild Park. “The money is a good start, but this whole thing started because of Idlewild and the land that we lost,” he said.
McLaughlin was “shocked” that some residents believe the $250,000 isn’t enough. “We are not required to make any contribution, and we never were. IAC didn’t even exist when the parkland swap was done. All we did was respond to an RFP (request for proposals) four years ago that the city already made,” he said.
Mik Moore, an aide to Sanders, said that the councilman will continue discussions with IAC after the initial agreement is signed. “One of the things he is pushing for is a commitment that this is not the last community funding.”
McLaughlin added that IAC “agreed that it would do more, maybe.”