Vallone: Use Citi Field For MLS
By MEGAN MONTALVO
As Major League Soccer continues to move forward with their proposal to build a 25,000-seat stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, one public official is calling for an alternative option.
On Jan. 3, Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) announced his refusal to support an independent stadium in the park, saying there is no need to confiscate the Borough’s parkland when a perfectly suitable alternative – CitiField – lies less than two miles away.
“While I’m sure the MLS would prefer its own stadium, what’s most important is what works best for the people of Queens,” said Vallone, who is also a candidate for Queens borough president. “This is a great way to have the best of both worlds in the world’s borough.”
Though Danielle Sessa Parillo, a spokeswoman for the Mets, has confirmed “The Mets would be open to discussing the use of Citi Field for a potential MLS team,” MLS officials have said the idea of putting an MLS team at Citifield is a “nonstarter.”
“A soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a win for soccer fans, a win for the Queens community and a win for economic development,” MLS Spokeswoman Risa Heller said, in an email.
According to Heller and MLS President Don Garber, constructing a new stadium from the ground up will bring more than 2,100 constructed-related jobs to the area, millions of dollars of park improvements, upgraded community soccer fields and up to 13 acres of replacement parkland that will be accessible to the public.
At an MLS town hall held at Queens Theater in the Park last month, an overwhelming number of stadium supporters vouched for a need to improve the parkland surrounding the Fountain of Planets, which is the site where the stadium will be built.
“So many of the kids we work with are able to earn soccer scholarships for college because of the soccer fields that are in the park,” said Luis Montoya, president of the Big Apple Youth Soccer League. “If MLS were to come to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, they have promised to improve all of the existing fields. Everyone knows that they need help. As they are now, some of the fields are unplayable.”
In addition to having backing from local soccer leagues, a handful of local officials have also thrown their support behind MLS’ proposal, including Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) and State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who is also running for borough president.
“The soccer stadium proposal has broad support, including mine, with the condition that suitable replacement parkland has to be identified and secured,” Peralta said. “If that concern is addressed - and community input needs to be part of the process - then there is a great deal to like about the plan, including the privately-funded upgrades to the park and its playing fields and the jobs the project would create.”
Despite garnering support from local leagues and several politicians, the Fairness Coalition of Queens – a group of residents vehemently opposed to the proposal – has expressed concerns over the loss of public parkland, environmental impact and the perpetuation of low-wage paying jobs once the stadium opens.
In an attempt to stop the development, the group organized a rally at City Hall last month, where they delivered petitions containing thousands of signatures urging the Mayor to make sure that any proposed redesign be handled in “a fair and responsible manner to include a process for local resident and community stakeholder input.”
“When I was collecting signatures, people were deeply concerned about the impact these developments would have on the park, especially for families and young children,” said Coalition Member Dinick Martinez. “People kept asking me ‘Can we save the park? Is it too late?’ Many in our community fear that these decisions were already made without talking to the people. We need to make clear to people that this is just the beginning and we can make a difference.”
Though the MLS proposal has yet to face an official vote from the City Council, Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, has said that CitiField should be ruled out as an option for MLS altogether.
“Citi Field is an outstanding Major League Baseball stadium, but it is not a Major League Soccer stadium and it is not a suitable facility to serve as home to a professional soccer franchise in New York City. Anyone familiar with the stadiums of other successful MLS teams knows this,” LaBarbera said. “The uninformed opinion of one councilman is, fortunately, far outweighed by the support of many other public officials and responsible voices on economic development who support this project based on the facts.”
Reach Reporter Megan Montalvo at (718) 357-7400 Ext. 128 or email@example.com.