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Ice rink would have been perfect for Pavilion: Activist

The New York State Pavilion, with its massive Tent of Tomorrow and two space-age towers, sits vacant in its post at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, serving no purpose other than reminding visitors of the 1964 World’s Fair.

The Tent was deemed structurally deficient in a study commissioned by the city Parks Department, which needs funding for similar studies on the towers, but the process to find a new purpose for the structures began last month with a community brainstorming session.

“Parks will be internally reviewing the study, working with local elected officials and community members to determine the next steps and look into funding sources,” the agency said, referring to the completed Tent study.

The Parks Department estimated it would cost $21.3 million to $27.8 million to restore just the Tent of Tomorrow.

This would have all been unnecessary, said Marcia Lynn, a former city Department of Environmental Protection employee, if city leaders had carried out her plan, introduced to officials in 2002, to make use of the Tent and towers while providing Queens residents with useful services.

At the time, she said, she had three experts who determined the entire Pavilion was structurally sound and had lined up a group with $20 million to $30 million in funding to restore it.

Max Gordon, an architect who was one of the three experts, said the ruling by the Parks Department’s firm that the Tent is structurally suspect is incorrect.

“It’s not true at all,” he said. “That’s totally false.”

He said the firm probably overlooked cement pilings that were built to support the structure but not included in the original plans.

Lynn’s proposal would have saved the structures by turning the Tent into a multi-floored ice skating facility, public school and New York sports museum and transforming the tops of the towers into a sports bar and restaurant. Lynn’s daughter, now 21, was an avid hockey player and figure skater during her school years and Queens offered no place for her to play the sports she loved.

That is where Lynn’s plan would come in. The Tent would have offered ice sports and a full academic day at an off-site charter public school, she said. The structure would have retained its character but been rebuilt with a glass skin, four to five floors, two or three rinks, the museum, a skate school, shops and more. The plans would have recalled the years when the Tent was operated as a roller rink.

In about 2000, Lynn organized a coalition of experts, including the pavilion’s original structural engineer, Vincent DeSimone; the original architect, the late Phillip Johnston; and Gordon. The three performed an analysis of the towers and Tent and determined they were structurally sound.

Lynn even brought in a coach from Florida to run the hockey program and all the skating and hockey equipment was set to be donated by manufacturers, she said.

“We had a big consortium, we had about $20 [million] to $30 million to fund it. At the time the economy was good, we weren’t at war, so we thought it would be a great program,” she said.

Lynn became ill shortly thereafter and the project was put on hold until 2002, when she said the consortium took the plans to the Parks Department.

At the time, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff was hoping to secure the 2012 Olympic Games for New York City, so he was pressing for a new skating rink with an Olympic-sized pool, plans which eventually manifested themselves as the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Pool and Rink.

The consortium’s plans were ignored and the city is worse off, Lynn said, as only a two-rink facility can host tourism-boosting hockey tournaments.

Still, Lynn and Gordon would like to see the project move forward.

“It would have been an excellent plan. The whole area is becoming basically a sports area. You have the National Tennis Center, you have Citi Field and countless fields for kids to play sports in the area, so it was a natural, but it ran into some problems,” Gordon said. “Marcia got sick, and it got put on the back burner. It’s still a great idea.”

Borough President Helen Marshall’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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