We’re tired of Flushing Meadows Corona Park being the Rodney Dangerfield of the city’s crown jewel green spaces. Why do we in Queens get no respect?
For weeks we’ve been covering Major League Soccer’s plan to eat up about a dozen acres of the old fairgrounds for a new stadium. Even leaving aside the myriad logistical, environmental and economic problems with the very vague plan, we’ve concluded that simply proposing it is offensive because Flushing Meadows is a public park —one that’s already suffered enough through city neglect.
Note that one selling point for the stadium is that MLS would refurbish the soccer fields in the park if its plan is approved. That should be a city function. But it’s no surprise that the city isn’t doing its municipal duty at FMCP. Though it’s far larger than the city’s true crown jewel, Central Park, the latter gets much more funding and much more staffing.
That discrimination extends to the private sector as well — in fact it’s infinitely worse there. John Paulson, a billionaire hedge fund manager, donated $100 million to Central Park last year, a gift believed to be the biggest ever provided by a private citizen to an American park. Make no mistake, he has every right to do so. But at the same time, Flushing Meadows got $5,000 in donations last year. How sad.
Fred Kress of the FMCP Conservancy is one of our park protectors who wishes things were different. Noting that Paulson lives across from Central Park but grew up in Queens, Kress told The New York Times, “Central Park is doing pretty well. I’m not saying he owes anyone anything, but how about you give Central Park $98 million and Flushing Meadows Corona Park $2 million? That two million would go a lot further in an underappreciated park.”
Underappreciated by the power brokers, the cocktail hour class and even our elected officials, yes. But not by the working-class and poor people, many of them immigrants, who live in the neighborhoods surrounding FMCP. Yes, the fact that they litter and tend to damage trees when they dump hot coals out of their barbecue grills is an affront — but one that better code enforcement could put a damper on. Still, the people who come to the park for a break from the concrete and steel of their neighborhoods love the place. Look at how adamantly many of them oppose the MLS plan —not to mention the much smaller, much more reasonable, much more feasible bid by the United States Tennis Association to take just another two-thirds of an acre.
While Central Park’s amenities are kept pristine, our Queens landmarks in Flushing Meadows, such as the New York State Pavilion, continue to deteriorate as if this was still the crumbling New York City of 1977. Meanwhile, the city plans to spend $4.5 million to turn the old Astoria Pool diving well into an amphitheater, in one of the more overpriced, harebrained schemes we’ve heard of late. How much plain old park maintenance would that money buy at FMCP?
As this page has said before, it’s City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras who holds the key to saving the park from the MLS plan. If she says no, the rest of the Council will fall in line and that will be that. She’s been noncomittal, and never said a word to us about laying the future of the park at her feet. We again urge you to urge Ferreras to reject the soccer stadium. And now we take it a step further: Demand that she and the rest of our City Council delegation start treating our park the way it should be treated. Fix the soccer fields. Restore the historic structures. Maybe even landmark the park, as state Sen. Tony Avella is asking —the first person ever to do so, according to the city (Prospect Park was landmarked in 1973, Central Park in 1974). And above all, pledge that the long period of neglect at FMCP is over.