Dozens of children in soccer uniforms scampered across the turf in the Saturday sun. Their coaches and parents gathered on the sidelines, barking out instructions and chatting during breaks in play.
“She has soccer in her veins,” Estela Rinc—n said in Spanish, referring to her 10-year-old daughter, Daniela.
Rinc—n, 54, brings Daniela to Flushing Meadows Park several times a week to play soccer on fields a stone’s throw away from the site of a proposed Major League Soccer stadium. The fields are heavily used by thousands of players in adult and youth leagues, including Metrokids, Daniela’s league.
The proposed stadium is causing controversy in the community, with many expressing concern that the project will harm the surrounding parkland, including the existing soccer fields. Major League Soccer has promised to replace and upgrade the fields, several of which are dilapidated. But the city Department of Parks and Recreation has already begun renovating four of the fields, according to a Parks spokesperson. Work is being done to one field at a time in order to minimize impact. The renovations, which are budgeted at $2.8 million, are expected to be completed by next June.
“The fields need to be repaired or they will be unsafe,” Risa Heller, the MLS’s spokeswoman for the project, said via email. “We are committed to repair them. They will be out of commission ... no longer than they would be if the City were to themselves conduct the repair. In sum, the fields will not be out of commission for any period of time due to [MLS].”
State Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D- Jackson Heights), who strongly supports the proposal, stressed MLS’s promise to upgrade the fields. But he also acknowledged that they would probably be closed during the stadium’s construction, which he said is estimated to last about 13 months.
That has caused concern among the park’s soccer players. Many people who played there as kids went on to receive soccer scholarships, said Romario Medinas, who runs a youth soccer clinic and coaches for Metrokids.
“This issue of the stadium will affect where these kids end up,” Medinas, 46, said in Spanish. “This is their second home. Where will they play?”
Donovan Finn, a professor of city planning at SUNY Stony Brook and a member of Community Board 3, said the promises of renovations don’t matter.
“[MLS] has offered to relocate and renovate these fields but by the time the stadium is under construction that will be a hollow promise, as many of them will have been substantially renovated,” he said via email.
More than 1,400 children play in Metrokids, which practices and plays only in Flushing Meadows Park, according to Felipe Russi, the league’s general manager. That is in addition to dozens of teams in adult leagues.
“There are a lot of teams,” Eduardo Flores, who plays in an adult league, said in Spanish. “Where are they going to move them?”
Many coaches, parents and players like the idea of a stadium, but only if it doesn’t harm the fields. Flores, 28, is less ambivalent.
“We are athletes,” he said when asked if he would go to games in a new stadium. “We don’t come here to watch.”
The stadium would occupy “no more than 13 acres” of land within the park, according to an MLS spokesperson. The arena, which would come with a new team, still needs approval from the city and state, so a start date for construction has yet to be determined.
The proposed site for the stadium is Industry Pond, a pool of water that used to house the Fountain of the Planets. The pool is slightly less than 9 acres large and is tightly encircled by four of the park’s soccer fields, which would fall partly within the footprint of a 13-acre stadium.
And stronger opposition is burgeoning in the community. An audience of area residents booed loudly when the stadium was brought up for discussion during a public meeting held in Corona in early September to discuss the future of Flushing Meadows Park, and a coalition of groups aligned against the plan has been holding a series of meetings to rally opposition in nearby neighborhoods.
“But the important thing here to remember is not just how much land [Major League Soccer] wants, but how much land they will impact,” Finn said. “They will need to build roads to access the stadium, they will need dropoff areas for delivery trucks, service vehicles and chartered buses.”