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Parkland should remain haven for people, not business

TimesLedger Newspapers

In describing Flushing Meadows Corona Park as not being a “traditional park,” TimesLedger Newspapers is off the mark in its March 1-7 editorial “Show Us the Money.”

Flushing Meadows is a member of the city municipal park system. There is nothing in the City Charter that designates the park as being different. This nonsense came about years ago when then-Borough President Donald Manes wanted to have constructed in the park a grand prix racetrack around Meadow Lake.

What Manes really wanted was to turn FMCP into another Meadowlands, a sports complex to be named after himself and park users be damned. There was an uproar from most of the media and the people and the track never got built. In trying to sell his snake oil, Manes fabricated the claim that because the area had hosted a World’s Fair, that made it different from other parks.

Nonsense. Central Park was initially a slum. That historical fact would not serve to permit stadiums, race tracks and shopping malls to be constructed, nor does FMCP’s history justify it as the dumping ground for commercial enterprises. Too many myopic politicians eager to satisfy big business still flout Manes’ nonsense. Just like him, when they do, they are unworthy of holding public office.

The United States Tennis Association’s current application is not a request for 0.68 acres of parkland on top of the 42 acres it already has. We are talking about a new stadium to replace the grand stand and to rebuild the Louis Armstrong stadium. We are talking about a 423-space, two-level garage and a 270-space, three-level garage. We are talking about removing many trees, a major vehicular increase in the area and increasing the size of major visible structures that do not belong in an urban park to begin with.

When the USTA left Forest Hills, it did so to make more money. It saw an opportunity to do so without having to purchase property on the open market when it got parkland for free. The USTA promised at the time that it would not ask for more parkland, a promise that turned out to be as worthless.

The time has come to say no to the constant trampling upon the integrity of this park. We should not be swayed by the city Parks Department. Its treatment of the park is unprofessional. We should not be influenced by unfounded claims of an economic windfall.

We should not be concerned that if the application is rejected the USTA will leave. We should not buy its claim that its facilities are out of date after 25 years and that it cannot compete. Last year, the USTA made $275 million and paid the city for our parkland $2.5 million.

As far as the USTA is concerned, the issue is money, the bulk of which will go into the pockets of professional players and USTA executives. I am not against a private company making money, but not on the backs of a peoples’ park.

People who say they enjoy USTA facilities in the park need have no concern because the issue is not ejection from the park. If the city does not believe this park is the lifeblood of an urban society, it should de-list it and turn it over to its real estate department. I do not approve of such a drastic move, but it may not be any worse than the gradual destruction of the park.

In the depths of the Great Depression, the city did not sell, barter or alienate parkland for so-called economic reasons, and there is no reason to do so at this time. Suddenly, with its back to the wall, the USTA may come up with something for the park. A civilized society does not equate parkland, a non-renewable resource, with economics.

It is the obligation of city officials to protect parkland for current residents and generations as yet unborn. The application should be rejected.

Benjamin Haber

Flushing

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