The plan to drop a $300 million MLS stadium on top of more than 12 acres of public parkland in Queens, with the aid of more than $100 million in city tax breaks, picked up another prominent opponent yesterday, as New Yorkers for Parks, which previously hadn’t taken sides on the deal, declared itself in opposition, saying building a soccer stadium in Fushing Meadows-Corona Park would sacrifice “irreplaceable public space” and on game days arriving fans would “overwhelm the park, exacerbating the already significant maintenance challenges this heavily used public space faces.” Wrote NY4P Holly Leicht, the only acceptable solution is to find another location for the project:
To be clear: regardless of the terms of the deal, the design of the stadium, or any offers of replacement parkland, New Yorkers for Parks cannot support a private stadium in the heart of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The location is simply wrong, and no modification or mitigation can make up for the loss of this vital open space.
Now, the opposition of a parks advocacy group, even one with high-powered real estate executives on its board, may not be a death knell when compared with the oodles of lobbying money that MLS is pouring into this project. Still, it’s just the latest in what’s been a pretty bad month for MLS, public-perception-wise: Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Manchester City owner who would reportedly own a Queens MLS expansion franchise, and who was supposed to lend an air of legitimacy to the project, instead was criticized not only for seeking public subsidies when he’s an oil billionaire who could pay for a stadium himself, but for being deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, a nation where homosexuality is punishable by either death or chemical castration.
The real battleground here remains the city council, where the local representative, Julissa Ferreras, has been mostly quiet since expressing mixed hopes and concerns about the project when it was first announced last summer. (Her office hasn’t yet responded to an email I sent yesterday asking about her current position on the MLS stadium.) Mayor Michael Bloomberg fired back that parkland isn’t “irreplaceable,” citing as an example Flushing Airport, a decommissioned airfield about two miles away that Bloomberg, um, tried to use for commercial development several years ago before community opposition stopped him, but anyway, it’s practically a park now, right? In any event, though, Bloomberg will be out of office before the nine-month land use process can be completed, even if it starts now, which it won’t. So Ferreras remains a key player here, along with whichever of these folks ends up somehow becoming mayor.
There could still be an announcement from MLS of Sheik Mansour getting awarded a provisional expansion franchise for New York, possibly at Man City’s friendly against Chelsea on May 25. But while that would no doubt garner headlines, the actual approval process remains a long way from the “finish line” that MLS commisioner Don Garber promised was nigh last November.