Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

Major League Soccer presented plans for a stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park Monday night to the borough president and civic leaders from around the borough, who expressed concern about the impact to existing traffic problems and several crucial aspects of the project that are still vague.

Mark Abbott, president of the league, stood in front of Borough President Helen Marshall and the heads of community boards from across Queens, explaining how the league plans to proceed with building a 25,000-person capacity stadium — that in the future will be expanded to hold 35,000 people — on about 10 to 13 acres of parkland currently occupied by a fountain left over from the 1964 World’s Fair.

“We’re here to be a partner with the park,” said Abbott.

The league hopes to have the stadium operating in time for the 2016 season, but the plan still has several pieces missing.

For example, the league has yet to announce an owner to finance and build the $300 million to $400 million stadium. MLS would also be required to replace the parkland that would be taken up by the stadium. The league has toured several sites and is seeking community input into where the new parkland should be located, though few specifics have emerged aside from a possible location along the Flushing River on city-owned property in Willets Point.

“I’m not optimistic they will find suitable replacement land,” City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said after the meeting.

MLS still has to reach an agreement with the New York Mets to share the parking lot at Citi Field, according to Abbott, and a traffic study is still being conducted, although the league estimates about 4,000 car trips for each game, a number which would be able to fit into existing parking structures at Citi Field should an agreement be hammered out.

The league is also still in negotiations with the city as to any tax breaks or revenue sharing regarding the operation and construction of the stadium, though Abbott said that talks have focused on MLS not paying for the parkland but rather investing $10 million into the park.

Part of that money would go toward building new soccer fields around the stadium, but unlike the tennis courts at the Billie Jean National Tennis Center, once the soccer fields are built, they will be the responsibility of the city Parks Department to maintain.

CB 2 Chairman Joe Conley was not happy with the project and called the deal a “land grab.”

“I’d much rather people say ‘not for sale,’” he said. “One of the things we don’t have enough of is open space in Queens.”

But Abbott also touted the economic benefits of having a stadium there and said hundreds of businesses were in support.

“Fans who patronize the games will also patronize their businesses,” he said.

But Queens business leaders have said in the past that the neighborhoods on either side of the park, Corona and Flushing, do not see a significant boost from other sporting events.

Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corp., commented during this year’s US Open in August that he would like to see more people patronizing businesses in the borough, though many hotels in the area were booked solid.

Jerry Iannece, chairman of CB 11, commented that the economic benefits promised by the Mets during the construction of Citi Field never materialized.

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

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