But instead of being applauded for
what Shulman saw as a "win-win" situation, she soon found herself defending the
merits of the new ice rink to local civic groups, who saw it as little more than a penalty
box being imposed upon the natural landscape of the park.
Parking was the number one concern of neighbors, said Bob Harris,
president of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association. "All of our members are
against it," he said.
But despite the stiff community opposition, Shulman is now intimating
that she may skirt the skating question by allowing the museum to go ahead with the
expansion before the city settles on the site of a new rink.
"That is a possibility," said Shulman spokesman Dan Andrews,
adding that nothing would be done until after next month, the deadline for proposed
designs for the new rink.
No Skating In My
Shulman recently held a meeting with local civic groups and elected
officials. "At first, she didnt understand how anyone could be against an ice
skating rink for kids," said one civic leader on hand. "But we were not against
ice skating per se, we were against putting a building in the park."
Neighboring residents said they were baffled at the chosen site,
because unlike Flushing Meadows, which is home to Shea Stadium, the United States Tennis
Center, the Hall of Science, and the Wildlife Center, there are no such facilities in
"Cunningham is more of a natural, wooded park," said Marc
Haken, president of the Friends of Cunningham Park. "This ice rink would provide
little benefit to the park, not dollar wise, not otherwise. So why put it here?"
One reason, say some of the parks neighbors, is that the parking
lot slated to become an ice rink is well-known as an after hours meeting place for gay
In fact, the parking lot is listed on the Internet at
www.cruisingforsex.com, as one of the best places in Queens for late night homosexual
encounters. "Look for cars for cruising," the site reads, "and lots of
trails to wander into."
A spokesman for the 107 Precinct confirmed that the lot is regularly policed after hours.
"I think that [the citys] thought was, lets take care
of this once and for all," said Martin Olesh, a member of the West Cunningham Park
Borough President Shulman would not comment on the matter.
Saying No To Nassau
Many of the civics involved felt that the Cunningham Park site was
chosen to attract Hockey Leagues across the border in Nassau county, where they are more
"We are not allowed to use their parks," said Haken. "So
why should we let them use ours?"
Haken also was concerned that while the parking lot is largely unused,
during events such as concerts in the park or the Big Apple Circus, the lot becomes
"I would not sign off on this project unless ample parking is
provided," said State Senator Dan Hevesi. "The lot is currently a dump. But
while something should be done to improve the area, we have to decide if that something
should include development. On the other side, this is a chance to get a great facility
for kids, at no cost to the taxpayers."
Assemblyman Mark Weprin, who has suggested putting the rink in an
industrial area, said that he questioned the demand for the rink. "No one has come up
to me and said, I skate and I am excited about this," he said.
In their meeting with Shulman, the civic leaders suggested alternative
sites in Flushing Meadows. Shulman said she is looking further into "other
Art or Ice
The Parks Department published a Request For Proposals (RFP), inviting
interested parties with the means to fund the construction and the operation of a rink to
submit their designs. The RFP calls for a one-story, 110,000 square foot facility with two
"Youd have to be crazy to want to take this on," said
Dennis Quirk, who operates the Worlds Fair rink. "It would cost $7 to $8
million to build, and you would have to give up the building to the city after 20 years. I
dont see how anyone can make money on this unless they jack up the price of time on
Quirk, who said a large part of his current business is schools and
hockey leagues, believes that these groups would not be able to afford the new rates.
"[Shulman] does not care about ice skating," he said. "She just wants to
expand the museum. What will end up happening is there will be a bigger museum and no
While admitting the need for additional space, the Queens Museum of Art
has tried its best to steer clear of the controversy.
"We have outgrown our present space, and would like to in addition
to more gallery space have room for workshops and a small café," said Robert
Mahoney, the museums spokesman. "But right now, we are waiting on Borough
According to Mahoney, the museum currently attracts 55,000 visitors a
year, a third of which are school children.
"Counting spectators, at the hockey rink we get over 200,000
people a year," said Quirk, adding that the rink is only open for part of the year.
The museum, which has just appointed Laurene Buckley as its new director, would not
comment further. Buckley was formerly the director of the New Britain Museum of American
Art in Connecticut.