In an effort to involve the community in planning the future of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the Fairness Coalition, a grass- roots organization formed last summer and dedicated to matters of the park, along with the Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning, held a standing-room-only community visioning workshop on Monday night at the Queens Museum.
With more than 100 individuals in attendance representing the 19 community organizations and civic groups that comprise the Coalition, along with interested borough residents and others with concerns for the park’s future, the gathering was a clear indication that proposals for further depleting the park of open space do not sit well with many.
One step that has begun to have legs is being spearheaded by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who spoke of a park alliance she hopes will not only incorporate community input but also attract new revenue streams.
The alliance was seen as a vital step in preventing large portions of the park from being taken away from the public and used for private enterprise.
The owners of the Mets have proposed using dozens of acres of parkland to build a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping mall on what is currently the Citi Field parking lot. Other proposals include an expansion of the United States Tennis Association’s National Tennis Center including new parking garages and parking spaces in the parkand, as well as a Major League Soccer stadium.
Ferreras — who has not yet taken a public stand on any of the plans — indicated that the park is in need of more staff, a larger maintenance budget, coordinated decision-making, capital improvements and more community input.
“The alliance would be an amazing opportunity,” she said. “Everyone knows how busy our park is. There is no entity that could tell you what is happening in the park.
“We have an amazing airport. Wouldn’t it be great if JetBlue and Delta gave something back? I cannot ask them to contribute to our community if we don’t have an entity like this.”
According to plans, the alliance would include: a community operations council, composed of residents who would meet monthly to advise the alliance on day-to-day needs in the park; a board of directors, consisting of “a healthy mix of Queens civic leaders and representatives from the corporations inhabiting the park,” which would be responsible for fundraising and financial oversight; and a park administrator and alliance director, who would report to both the Parks Department and the alliance board of directors.
The proposal for the alliance indicates that “the Parks Department would retain final authority over capital projects, programs, events and budgets.”
Ferreras made it clear that “this is a long fight, something that will go beyond my generation.” The Council member, who is expecting a baby, said, “There is nothing like the feeling that I want this park to be the best park for my son.”
Jean Silva, president of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy, was on hand “to hear what the people have to say about the park, what they feel is important.” Indicating that the conservancy “is not here to take sides,” she said, “We just want you to come out and voice your opinion. Be realistic about what can and cannot be done to get the park up and running the way it should be.”
Silva, who acknowledges that Flushing Meadows is “terribly understaffed, and needs a lot of resources and people to fight for the park,” added, “We have to do this all together. It’s a community thing.”
Indicating that “there’s really no one big problem or solution,” Silva chalked up the park’s current state to “years of neglect all around. We’re all at fault. We let it go. You have to nurture it and keep supporting it.”
Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum, located in what had been the New York City Building during the two World’s Fairs held in the park, said, “This is the moment for this park. It could be a much better park, the flagship of Queens.”
Douglas Le of Asian Americans for Equality, a member of the Coalition, officiated at the meeting and suggested that it is important for the community to be pro-active instead of defensive. A slide presentation called for the protection and enhancement of park space, greater accessibility for local residents, fair share and balanced use of the land, increased support of local workers and more community input.
According to the presentation, the park, which covers 980 acres, has only 258 acres of public green space remaining. The largest of the city’s three prime park areas, the others being Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Flushing Meadows does not get an equitable amount of resources, supporters indicated.
“Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a park. It is not a development site,” slides proclaimed.