Bronx activists warn Queens to be wary of soccer stadium deal

Proposed Major League Soccer venue reminiscent of Yankee Stadium park land deal that ‘shortchanged’ locals, critics say; but MLS vows to replace ‘every inch of park land’

Bronx community activist Mary Blassingame, seen here at Heritage Field, opposed the new Yankee Stadium park land swap. She is warning Queens residents to be wary of Major League Soccer’s proposed stadium deal in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

This cautionary Bronx tale is one to avoid repeating. Bronx activists had some advice on Tuesday for Queens: Keep your precious park land and ignore the stadium sweet talk. Major League Soccer said it’s close to hammering out a deal with the city to build a $300 million stadium on up to 13 acres in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. But the plan is reminiscent of a Yankee Stadium land deal that “shortchanged” the Bronx, local activist Mary Blassingame said.

Major League Soccer’s proposed stadium plan in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park would use up to 13 acres, and renovate nearby soccer fields.

“This is Yankee Stadium all over again,” she said. “They need to fight against it. Parks are for the people … not for business.” City officials begged to differ. “As anyone who’s been to Heritage Field across from Yankee Stadium would say, it’s a stunning example of public space that has been widely celebrated by local residents and parks advocates alike,” said Mayor’s Office spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua.

Blassingame, a former Bronx Community Board 4 member, was a vocal opponent of the 2005 deal that allowed the Yankees to build a new stadium on 22 acres in Mullaly Park.

The Bronx Bombers promised the new venue would create local jobs and business and the city vowed to replace the green space with new parks elsewhere.

But the area near the stadium is still struggling and it took the city six years to complete the new parks, which are top-of-the-line but scattered, Blassingame said. “We got shortchanged all the way and now it’s going to happen again,” Blassingame predicted.

City and MLS officials vowed that Queens won’t get jipped.

“Should a deal be reached, we look forward to engaging community groups and other stakeholders as it goes through the public approvals process,” Passalacqua said.

MLS would be required to replace any park land used in Flushing Meadows. It would also be required to make certain improvements, such as upgrading existing soccer fields, before the stadium can open, a city official said.

But Queens activists fear this could result in small chunks of scattered green space.

“Ten pocket parks an acre each don’t equal 10 acres together,” said Will Sweeney of the Fairness Coalition of Queens, which is concerned about the collective impact of an MLS stadium, a U.S. Tennis Association expansion and a mall plan near Citi Field.

“They’ll promise you the moon when they ask for approval,” Sweeney said. “But the reality … is much different.”

MLS officials confirmed Tuesday that the league is eyeing a site at Flushing River and an abandoned rail line in Rego Park, among other sites, for replacement park space.

“We are committed to replacing every inch of park land, acre for acre in a timely manner,” MLS spokeswoman Risa Heller said. “The end result may be a combination of large, contiguous parcels and smaller parcels embedded in the community.”

Heller stressed that the league plans to involve the community in the planning process.

But at least one of the potential sites raised eyebrows.

“The land they’re currently talking about on Flushing River is toxic,” said an elected official who asked not to be named. “So how would that be cleaned up?”

MLS officials said the Queens stadium will be privately financed, unlike Yankee Stadium, which received hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies.

The Bronx Bombers made similar claims during early negotiations, said Neil DeMause, co-author of “Field of Schemes,” a book on modern stadium deals.

“History makes it reasonable for New Yorkers to look at this proposal with skepticism,” he said.

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