BACKING OF BIZ FOR MLS PLAN
Continuing their push for a soccer stadium at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Major League Soccer (MLS) announced on Friday, Jan. 18 that they have received statements of support from over 1,000 businesses in the borough.
The announcement, made at Sabor Latino New York in Corona, included State Sen. Jose Peralta and Assemblyman Francisco Moya as well as local business leaders, who claimed that bringing a franchise to the borough would spur economic growth.
Brett Lashbrook, the league’s point man on the project, stated that MLS “remains 100 percent committed” to a plan to build a $300 million, fully privately financed stadium at the site of the Fountain of the Planets, that the league claims would bring 2,000 local union construction jobs, 750 part-time jobs and 150 fulltime jobs to the area.
He claimed that the new stadium will bring revenue to the area by integrating itself into the community, pointing specifically to an MLS tradition known as “March to the Match” where supporters of a club will meet at a local bar or restaurant and then travel en masse to their local stadium.
“They really get into the social fabric of the community, more so than in other sports,” he noted. “You see that soccer fans will shop, eat and dine in local nearby establishments, and we take that very, very seriously.”
The plan also calls for the league to refurbish local soccer fields and to replace any parkland that the stadium would use in other locations in the borough. Lashbrook would later tell reporters that, although discussions with city agencies are ongoing, the proposed QueensWay project— which would create a 3.5-mile park along the unused Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road—is one of the sites being discussed.
“You know a good deal when you see one,” said Peralta, who claimed that “bringing a big-league soccer franchise to Queens and rejuvenating Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is certainly a good deal.”
With the jobs that the league claims the stadium would generate, Peralta stated that “the backbone of this community, the small businesses, will also receive improvement in their bottom line.”
However, he promised that he “will hold Major League Soccer’s feet to the fire” to ensure that the league keeps its promises to improve the park and the area.
“As someone who sees the future and the economics of this community, we really need to start building the infrastructure for small businesses to succeed, and one of those ways is through the initiative that we can put together with this stadium,” added Moya. “I welcome those efforts.”
Jack Friedman of the Queens Chamber of Commerce stated that “the franchise itself is a big, big step for Queens.”
“When we look at Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard, it’s been difficult sometimes to bring people from Citi Field and the USTA into the community,” he noted. “Major League Soccer has a plan for doing that.”
Friedman added that the proposed improvements to the park will help a public space that “unfortunately is not treated with the respect it should be by the city of New York.”
John Ferreira, a local businessman and president of the Junction Boulevard Merchants Association, stated that he has seen “a tremendous transformation in the area,” making now “the perfect time to build a soccer stadium here in Queens.”
“This would be a tremendous boost, not only financially to Queens, but to the city as a whole,” he noted.
The proprietors of F. Ottomanelli Burgers & Belgian Fries in Woodside and Sabor Latino also spoke in support of the soccer stadium plan.
Local businesses have been encouraged to put up storefront posters in English or Spanish proclaiming their support for the stadium plan, Lashbrook noted.
He also stated that the proposal to build a stadium near Belmont Park for the New York Cosmos—a proposed team in the North American Soccer League, a Division II organization— would not impact the MLS proposal.
Not everyone’s a fan
Members attending the meeting were greeted outside by several protesters claiming the deal would be a bad one for the community.
Hilary Klein of Make the Road New York—a member of a multiagency group called the Fairness Coalition of Queens—expressed concerns with MLS’ proposal.
She noted that the the plan is “one of three proposals that are all being talked about basically simultaneously, and we think the combination of all three projects is going to have a negative impact on the park and all of the residents who use that park.
In addition to the MLS stadium plan, the U.S. Tennis Association is seeking to expand its facilities and a mall is being proposed in the northeastern end of the park, near Willets Point and adjacent to Citi Field.
“Taking parkland away to build the stadium is not the right solution,” she stated.
Pointing to the focus of the day’s event, she noted that the coalition seeks economic development that has a greater impact on small business, rather than the large financial interests seeking a piece of the park.
“We agree that small businesses are the engines of this neighborhood,” she stated.
One member of the coalition, Maria Alvarez, entered the meeting and pressed Lashbrook on the choice to put the stadium at Flushing Meadows.
“It’s very difficult to find 10 acres in the urban footprint with public transportation with a large parking network,” Lashbrook noted. “We look for community support and community interest in the game, but also just the viability in where the stadium would go.”