Editorial: Soccer stadium in Queens could work, but advance carefully
Major League Soccer wants to build a 25,000-seat stadium at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. It's a compelling idea. Once home to world's fairs in 1939 and 1964, the park has plainly seen better days. Lawns are fraying, athletic equipment is rusting. And it's hard to imagine a more soccer-friendly venue anywhere in the country than next to the packed immigrant neighborhoods of northern Queens.
Done right, a new stadium and team could be a tremendous plus for local soccer fans and those throughout the region.
Major League Soccer envisions a facility that would occupy 10 to 13 acres of the 1,255-acre park, New York City's second largest. Flushing Meadows-Corona is already home to Citi Field, where the New York Mets play, and the U.S. Tennis Association's Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open is played.
The soccer league hopes to attract 18,000 to 20,000 people per game. Supporters say the stadium could create 3,000 permanent or temporary jobs. In addition to 25 soccer games a season, backers hope the stadium would be used for 15 other events each year.
But would this project be done right?
It's too early to say for sure. The league and The New York City Economic Development Corp. are working on a plan that will lay out all the specifics, and that proposal will be subjected to the city's land-use review process. In the meantime, a few questions:
Will City Hall demand up front some of the public works that the league is promising? Construction of the stadium would mean razing some public soccer fields. The city needs to insist that the public fields are replaced first, and in a satisfactory way, before stadium construction proceeds.
What about traffic and parking? Can soccer games be coordinated with events at Citi Field and the tennis center to make sure the park -- and all of northern Queens -- isn't overwhelmed by traffic?
And what about other development near the park -- for example, plans for a shopping mall built in conjunction with a revitalized Willets Point, or plans for new parking lots at the tennis center. What's the timeline for those projects and what's the expected impact?
Finally, what kind of public support does the stadium have? The league cites polls showing strong support by Queens residents who want to see new jobs and economic activity. But many elected officials and civic leaders are hanging back, waiting to hear more specifics.
It's still early in the process. Once the league and the city's Economic Development Corp. hammer out a plan, we'll know more. And when that plan is subjected to the full scrutiny of a land-use review -- which should include hearings -- we will have some solid answers.
As good as the stadium plan sounds, it needs an especially thorough vetting. Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is the public's property -- the iconic great lawn of Queens -- and the public needs assurances it will benefit in a major way from a Major League Soccer stadium. Perhaps a flourishing new soccer team could invigorate Queens the way the Nets have energized Brooklyn. But first we need to see the fine print.