Monday, September 17, 2012

Crain's Kick in the Teeth

In this week's addition of Crain's the magazine reports enthusiastically on the possibility of a major league soccer stadium at Flushing meadows-a report that relies heavily on the supposed positive business impact but seriously underplays the loss of parkland. Another major flaw? The absence of any discussion of the environmental impacts:

"In the nearly four decades that Alicia Uzcha has parked her Ecuadoran-food cart in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, next to a onetime ornamental pond and near several soccer fields, little has changed. Told recently, however, about tentative plans to build a 20,000-seat professional soccer stadium on the site of the pond, Ms. Uzcha immediately perked up.

"It would be good for everyone," she said. "The water smells bad, and [the stadium] would be good for business." The prospect of a big new soccer venue coming to Queens' largest park—the site of two World's Fairs—is winning the thumbs-up from everyone from soccer fans and local business owners to community and elected officials

Park advocates are waiving the yellow caution flag: ""They need to find a home for the stadium that does not displace valuable parkland," said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. "We have seen many acres of park taken away for commercial purposes."

Gee, is that the best Crain's can do? One line that's immediately rebutted by a supporter: "I believe Major League Soccer intends to do the right thing when it comes to parkland," said Mr. Moya. "I am optimistic."

That gets us to those devilish infrastructure details. For instance, here's how they plan to handle parking: "Furthermore, sources said, the league is working out an arrangement with the New York Mets to share its parking facility so it would not have to build its own. Therefore, soccer and baseball games would not overlap. But scoring the necessary city and state approvals will still take a lot of fancy footwork."

Hold on. Share parking with the Mets? But the Mets are using their current parking lot for a million square foot mall-and shifting the cars all the way over to 126th Street-a long trek from the proposed stadium. What this proposal highlights, however, is how the soccer idea and the Mets mall are intertwined-and why it is imperative to evaluate the cumulative impact of both together and not separately.

This need is underscored by another observation: "Others say a stadium could actually lure more people to Flushing Meadows. "Anything that increases foot traffic in the park is a positive," said Ray Cullom, executive director of the Queens Theatre, which is housed in part of what was once the 1964 fair's New York State Pavilion. "The park is an undiscovered jewel that only people in Queens know."

It's understandable that some local businesses are enthused by the prospect of a greater influx of people: "Others note that the stadium will boost business at establishments near the park. On days the Mets play at Citi Field, on the far side of Roosevelt Avenue and the 7-line tracks, business typically soars 30%, according to Salomon Ramos, the manager of Tortilleria Nixtamal, a Mexican restaurant in Corona."

But the Mets are just a pimple on the behind of this infrastructure problem-and the 7 Line is at capacity without adding soccer and the customer traffic generated by the largest proposed mall in NYC (not counting the additional 60 acres that the city says it will eventually add to the east of 126th Street.

Right now the city is basing its development dreams on the "Build it and they will come" theory. That might be the case, but the missing link still remains. If they come how will they get there and back?