By State Senator Jose Peralta
It’s not surprising to hear heated debate about soccer in Queens. After all, the international pastime is as much at home in the country’s most diverse county, and as much a part of people’s lives, as it is just about anyplace else in the world.
The most heated debate of all, however, isn’t whether Messi is better than Ronaldo, but whether to build a soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
In the Corona and Jackson Heights communities that I represent, children, youth, 20-somethings and old-timers flock to the park by the tens of thousands to play and watch soccer. Unfortunately, many of the fields there are in disrepair to the point of being a danger to the players using them. And the nearest big league soccer franchise calls New Jersey home.
The good news for soccer fans and weekend warriors is that Major League Soccer (MLS) proposes building a 25,000-seat stadium in the park that would be home to a new franchise. If MLS gets to build the stadium, it has committed to renovating the park’s athletic fields.
Renovations would be staggered in a way to ensure that playing fields are always available to local youth and adult leagues and other users.
The upgrades would be completed before construction of the stadium even starts.
Both the renovation of park playing fields and construction of the stadium would be entirely privately financed. The construction would provide a boost to the local economy at a time we desperately need it. The parkland taken up by the new stadium would be replaced by MLS acre-for-acre.
The stadium would be built at the site of what is known as the Fountain of Industry, which hasn’t been a fountain in decades and has no recreational use. The stadium’s projected 11-acre footprint would encompass the 6.5 acres now taken up by the long-dormant fountain, the 2.5-acre traffic circle surrounding it, and 2 acres of adjancent grass.
MLS would replace all 11 acres with an equal amount of space usable for recreation and accessible to current users of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The league also has committed to spending millions of additional dollars renovating and improving other areas of Flushing Meadows and other local parks and playgrounds.
I understand the concern and trepidation that any encroachment on beloved park space creates. Indeed, my ultimate support for this project is contingent on the quality and accessibility of the replacement parkland MLS secures.
But if MLS makes good on the terms of its proposal, we will end up with more and better recreation and green space with the stadium than without it.
We must be vigilant and diligent, however, to ensure that MLS honors its commitments, including the pledge to invest in new fields and other park improvements. But in holding MLS’s feet to the fire, let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot.
Let’s recognize a good deal for what it is. And bringing a big-league soccer franchise to Queens and rejuvenating Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is certainly a good deal.
It’s an even better deal when you factor in the economic impact, in the form of desperately needed jobs, including 2,000 union construction positions. If you happen to subscribe to the idea that many of the permanent and game-day jobs this project would generate are not worthy of anyone’s time or effort, there is no shortage of people out of work, or whose unemployment benefits have run out, who will tell you otherwise.
In addition, some 700 local, mostly small businesses, support the soccer stadium proposal because they think it will improve their bottom line.
MLS is seeking community input on the location of the replacement parkland and other local parks in need of improvement. By working together to make sure MLS addresses our needs and concerns, fans, park-goers and our economy will all reap the benefits of this project.
State Senator Jose Peralta represents the 13th District, which includes Corona and Jackson Heights.