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Community weighs Flushing Meadows’ future

Pratt student Joseph Lagrand (l.-r.) discusses plans for Flushing Meadows Corona Park with Jackson Heights resident Ralph Feliciello and Auburndale resident Seung Hwan. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

Residents flocked to Flushing Meadows Corona Park Monday night to attend a community planning session for the greenspace and listen to a lawmaker’s vision of how it should be taken care of in the future.

More than 70 people attended a workshop hosted by the Fairness Coalition at the Queens Museum of Art to offer input into the park’s future.

“We really feel this is the moment for this park,” said Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the museum.

The participants were broken down into several groups who sat at tables and discussed what they would like to see at the park.

It was part of the plan to be proactive, according to Douglas Le, of the coalition, since several development proposals, including the expansion of an existing tennis facility, a 13-acre soccer stadium and a mall are currently in the works. The coalition wanted to do more than just react to the plans.

Jeff Keiter, a landscape architect from Jackson Heights, said he would like to see some of the natural wetlands at the park restored with money from institutions that use the park, like the New York Mets.

“To me, I think that they should have to provide quantifiable and physical environmental benefits,” he said.

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) also discussed a plan to form a community alliance to raise money and facilitate upkeep at the ailing park, though her vision did not sit well with other advocacy groups.

Ferreras worked with the nonprofit group New Yorkers for Parks to come up with a framework for the alliance, which would feature a board of directors and an administrator that would serve as a connection between the organization and the city Parks Department.

She hopes to raise money from the surrounding community and to ask several large corporations that currently have a presence in the park — the Mets or the United States Tennis Association, for example — to chip in cash as well. The councilwoman has not yet voiced a clear opinion on the development projects in the offing, but she suggested if the proposal to expand the USTA’s facilities provides enough community benefits, she will sign off on it.

“I think independent of the proposals, the institutions in this park should give,” she said.

But critics of the councilwoman’s proposal said the model is designed to allow the development projects to proceed as long as the companies behind them contribute to park upkeep.

“The elected official’s job is to protect parkland and not give it away to corporations in exchange for payment,” said Geoffrey Croft, who is aligned with Save Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a group opposed to giving or selling green space. “It’s black and white.”

New Yorkers for Parks, which helped draft the framework, based the plan on other private entities that funnel millions into Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

Flushing Meadows already has two such entities — the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy and Unisphere Inc. — although many have questioned their efficacy.

The onetime head of Unisphere and late Parks commissioner, Estelle Cooper, was charged with siphoning more than $100,000 away from the nonprofit.

Jean Silva is the president of the current conservancy, and said she attended the meeting uninvited to make sure that all stakeholders were properly represented in planning for the park’s future.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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