There have recently been several articles and letters that raise concerns regarding the condition and restoration of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. I welcome this opportunity to highlight many of the improvements that Parks and Recreation has and will make to the park.
Parks and Recreation and other city agencies and private organizations have worked closely together, investing more than $421.78 million in the past 13 years, to preserve and improve the park, which is one of the city’s premier public spaces.
Many of these improvement projects have been completed or are under way, but Parks is not done yet. We are creating a master plan for the park, conducting studies on how to best restore certain areas, and following through on their findings. We are restoring, maintaining and improving the park, as well as creating new, state of the art facilities.
Twenty studies in as many years have been conducted on the condition of the waterways surrounding the park, including Flushing Bay and Creek, Meadow Lake, and Willow Lake, which have led to solutions for various problems. For example, pollution of the water systems was attributed in part to a combined sewer overflow. In partnership with the Department of Environmental Protection, we are resolving this problem through the construction of retention tanks located beneath soccer fields 8 and 9. As part of DEP’s mitigation for the retention tanks, DEP will reconstruct the Flushing Bay Promenade and construct a state of the art recreation center at Fowler Avenue, two vital projects with a total cost of $250 million.
In addition, the Economic Development Corp., along with Parks’ help, is restoring Pier II in the marina. The Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy, with help from Parks and local youth, is doing shoreline restoration work along Meadow Lake. In the past month, Parks has cleared the path between the two pedestrian bridges in the Willow Lake area. In addition, Parks is currently fixing the wooden access bridge for temporary use until more permanent repairs can be made through capital construction, which has funding available. Moreover, the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy is working with Parks and Recreation to schedule tours of the area.
Since the outdated Ederle Amphitheater was taken down in 1996, Parks is creating a new modern pool and ice rink, which will be the largest recreation facility ever built in a city park. This unique structure, which is currently under construction at a cost of over $60 million, will replace the World’s Fair ice rink and provide a much needed indoor swimming facility. The facility will house an Olympic size pool and NHL standard ice rink that will serve as a year round facility for competitive and recreation use. In place of the Ederle Amphitheater, Parks created a new boardwalk and landscaped picnic area.
In addition to these capital projects, Parks has devoted time and money for restoring the park. In the past six years, we renovated four out of six playgrounds and constructed three new comfort stations. Over the past 10 years we have planted 3,000 new trees. The renovation of the playgrounds alone cost approximately $6 million. In the past five years, we restored five out of the seven soccer fields and added two new ones. This year, we restored a Little League baseball field with funding from the Mets. We also have $1 million allocated to renovate the Unisphere fountain.
The Queens Borough President’s office, along with City Council member James Gennaro, have committed a combined $4.5 million to renovate the 1939 boathouse that sits adjacent to Meadow Lake, and we have received over $625,000 from the local Assembly members to reconstruct the paths around Meadow Lake. With assistance from TASCA, Row New York, and the organizers of the Hong Kong Boat Festival, we continue to raise funds for both projects.
The park is teeming with activity also because of new developments occurring at the numerous private institutions within the park. The Hall of Science has added a new wing, a playground, and is now working on a pre school playground. The Queens Theater in the Park and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are in the process of being renovated while the Queens Museum of Art has just submitted design proposals to renovate.
Allow me to close by focussing on the New York State Pavilion, the source of recent commentary. During this administration, Parks has sought support, as well as new uses for this important icon of Queens. In 2004, Parks issued a Request for Expressions of Interest to solicit new uses for the pavilion. The responses, though well meaning, were unrealistic in terms of funding and would bring dramatic and permanent changes to this site. Parks also sought additional assistance for the pavilion from the University of Pennsylvania. Their efforts resulted in recent funds to further document, stabilize and protect the pavilion floor. This work is expected to result in an exhibition on the pavilion and the Texaco map at the Queens Museum of Art in the fall of 2007, as well as allow us to gain greater attention and support for the pavilion as a whole. Further, Parks will soon be seeking bids to undertake a detailed structural analysis to follow up on structural monitoring undertaken during the recent pile driving for the Queens Theater in the Park addition.
Based on past and recent visual inspections and onsite investigations, Parks engineers do not believe the structures are in immediate danger, but this study will provide both a condition assessment as well as detailed plan for phased stabilization. Parks is also seeking contributions to maintain the overall physical condition of the structure and is eager to discuss viable uses for this important survivor of the 1964 World’s Fair.
Parks and Recreation works hard to overcome the challenges in maintaining and funding a park of this size, with so many important structures and features. This sampling of projects clearly shows Parks and Recreation’s dedication to all 1,255 acres of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
We appreciate and need the input of the community in order to best care for their parks. Community involvement and strong public private partnerships are vital in caring for all parks. We welcome your concerns and invite you to join us by volunteering. Call us at (718) 760 6561 or visit www.nyc.gov/parks.
(Editor’s note: Dorothy Lewandowski is Queens Borough Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation.)