There’s been a proper clamor about the inequality among New York City parks, especially in light of splashy donations like John Paulson’s $100 million gift to Central Park last year. Although Flushing Meadows Corona Park is one of the largest and most frequented parks in the city, it has a lot of trouble operating on the meager public funds set aside for Parks Department. In 2010, New York City dedicated only $239 million of the $63.6 billion total budget to parks, or about 0.37%. In contrast, Chicago spent almost $150 million more on their park system, which is some 21,000 acres smaller.
Now, Julissa Ferreras has announced her support for a public-private alliance to help fund the upkeep of Flushing Meadows Corona Park:
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) said such an alliance could solicit donations from Queens residents and businesses for the borough’s 1,255-acre, flagship park.
It could also eventually seek a cut of the rent paid to the city by Citi Field and the U.S. Tennis Association, which are located in the park, she said.
“Flushing Meadows-Corona Park has not received the attention and resources it deserves,” Ferreras told the Daily News on Wednesday. “We get such a small percentage of the dollars that are generated by our park reinvested into our park.”
Holly Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, said she supports the idea of an alliance.
“It is the most heavily used park in Queens,” she said of Flushing Meadows, which is bordered by low-income, immigrant communities. “It really does need that public-private partnership to have that level of care it deserves.”
This comes after months of political back-and-forth between elected officials, the City, developers, and select Parks advocate groups over the three simultaneous proposals for a USTA expansion, a large shopping mall next to Citi Field, and a new MLS stadium.
But despite all the righteous noise, it seems pretty clear that almost everyone quoted in the news stories were seeing eye-to-eye from the beginning. Even those who positioned themselves as protecting public park land agree that Flushing Meadows Corona Park needs help from the private sector. The USTA and MLS must make “concessions,” they say, and do their part to maintain the park they occupy. But no one even raises any other option of helping to fund and maintain the park. The idea that the City itself can provide sufficient financing for its parks system is completely out of the question.
Back in February, Ferreras and fellow elected officials Joseph Crowley and Francisco Moya sent a letter to the USTA urging them to hire union construction workers, contribute to the upkeep of the park, and offer discounts for local residents to the tennis centers’ facilities. They went on to say that these changes would “go a long way in mitigating our concerns.”
Will Sweeney, a member of the Fairness Coalition for Queens, a group that ostensibly formed to protect the park, proclaimed the concessions to be a step in the right direction.
As for the soccer stadium, Ferreras also stated that her approval would be contingent on a commitment from MLS to provide long term funding for the park. Holly Leicht, the director of New York for Parks quoted above (and seemingly everywhere when it comes to parks issues in the City), had been consulting with Ferreras and strongly backed the idea of a conservancy-type arrangement for FMCP.
Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for MLS, answered back: “We look forward to continuing our ongoing conversations with Councilwoman Ferreras to figure out the appropriate way for MLS to contribute to the future of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.”
A spokesman for the Related-Sterling joint venture behind the shopping mall next to Citi Field also weighted in: “The Queens Development Group’s project will benefit the entire neighborhood by cleaning up 23 acres of contaminated land and bringing much-needed jobs and economic development to the area, while at the same time creating new open space without impacting a single inch of existing parkland. As good corporate neighbors, we are committed to working with the Councilmember and local leaders on issues that are important to the community including, of course, the preservation and enhancement of open space.”
So everyone involved conveniently agrees? Elected officials and park advocate groups and developers and sports associations are all on the same page? They did a good job making it seem like a controversial issue at first.
In any case, MLS announced this week that it’s hoping to reveal formal plans for the stadium project in 4 to 6 weeks. “If we get this done, it will be in Flushing Meadows Park,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “There is no Plan B.”