The Bloomberg administration is attempting to push through three major projects that would permanently seize more than 50 acres of public parkland for commercial projects that will also have enormous additional impacts on the surrounding communities.
We now live in era where not only are our public parklands readily available for commercial development but it is activity being encouraged under this administration.
Parks by law are supposed to be protected from non-park purposes — laws our elected officials have taken an oath to uphold.
Some elected officials seem to be confused about where exactly these projects are located. They have repeatedly touted the supposed great “economic benefits” to the area.
However, the “area” they keep referring to is a 1,255-acre, heavily used public park, and not a street or a commercial area.
A number of high-profile companies are vying for the land grab.
Bloomberg-preferred developer the Related Companies in partnership with Sterling Equities, the real estate firm controlled by the owner of the Mets, have plans to build a 1.4 million-square-foot mall and parking garage. The majority of the land for the $3 billion Willets Point project would be taken from parkland adjacent to Citi Field currently used for parking. The administration is attempting to get away with not alienating the land as is required under state law in order to use parkland for non-park purposes.
The city is desperately trying to rely on a 1961 bill that never replaced parkland used for Shea Stadium.
If the 40-plus acres being proposed for mall use are no longer needed for parking then it should revert back to its original recreational use. Our elected officials should be pushing for that instead of giving away our public spaces to the highest bidder.
Major League Soccer is pushing to build a 35,000-seat professional soccer stadium on up to 13 acres. The $300 million plan calls for filling in the former Pool of Industry from the 1964 World’s Fair which the City has allowed to deteriorate like much of the rest of the World's Fair relics.
Proponents of the project have sought to characterize the site as decrepit and “under-utilized.” One of the more absurd MLS claims is that "it’s a water body and that only 1 acre of grass would be used."
According to that philosophy, our water features, which make up fully one-third of all city parkland, are okay to develop. Besides providing pleasant views, the fountain area is used for jogging, as well as for wildlife.
Unlike the Willets Point deal, the city is requiring MLS to replace park land. But these replacement park facilities would not provide the same usefulness, location or value.
As part of a $500 million expansion, the U.S. Tennis Association plans to build a 15,000-seat stadium and an 8,000-seat stadium, as well as two parking garages totaling 692 spaces, and remove 422 trees.
Adding insult to injury unlike the proposed parkland seizure being proposed by MLS the Bloomberg administration is NOT requiring the USTA to replace the nearly one acre they are being allowed to take.
The USTA has been allowed to double its park land holdings since 1993 when they were permitted to expand from 21 acres to 42.
The city Economic Development Corp. is also irresponsibly attempting to push this massive project through without conducting a full environmental review of all three projects, needed to assess the cumulative impact.
If our officials are truly interested in creating jobs, they should start by taking care of the park. For decades, people have fought for the City to care for this vital resource.
Elected officials should be supporting the hiring of desperately needed permanent workers to maintain, program and secure the park. They have continuously allocated a fraction of the park funds needed and instead have been increasingly making deals that commercially exploit them.
The park’s deplorable condition speaks volumes about the city’s commitment to those who use it — mostly immigrants and people of color. The proposed projects have drawn fervent opposition from residents, hundreds of whom have come out to various public meetings.
The public must have a say in important land-use issues. It is well known this administration routinely ignores community-based planning and consultation.
Not surprisingly, none of these projects are being proposed in Central Park. The mayor lives across the street from it, as does Related Companies founder Steven Ross and his heir-apparent, Queens native Jeff Blau.
Central Park is protected.
The mall that does exist in Central Park is a grand promenade flanked with American elms and designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, and not thankfully by Bloomberg and his development partners.
Parkland belongs to the people. Unfortunately, it’s the people who have to live with the actions of our elected officials long after they are gone.