BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
Flushing Meadows Corona Park is surrounded by low-income, immigrant communities that look to the park as a safe, serene place to relax and use it as an open-field to play a game of volleyball while barbecuing with family and friends on a warm, weekend afternoon.
The reality of a fun weekend afternoon at FMCP is making best of a down trodden park that faces decades of neglect. Inadequate funding, maintenance, employees and resources have led the Park to become a distant memory of what it once was, Queens’ glory.
The largest park in New York City, Flushing Meadows Corona Park consists of approximately 897 acres, but its lack of resources and repairs causes the park to lag far behind its more famous counterparts.
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) held an oversight hearing on June 7 at City Hall along with Parks and Recreation Chair Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) and other concerned council members to discuss the current conditions of the park, while straying away from talks about the development project.
While most of the hearing was a back and forth discussion with elected officials and Queens Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, along with Janice Melnick, the administrator for FMCP, the latter part of the hearing included testimonies by members of the community.
The general consensus of the testimonies was the significance of the park because it is a regional destination that plays the role of a backyard and saves the surrounding community millions a year in gym memberships, birthday parties and sporting activities.
Even though the hearing was only focused on the needs of the park, most of the testimonies included a recommendation to protect the parkland by voting against further privatization of the park and not seeing the park as a potential development site.
The New York Mets, the U.S. Tennis Association and Terrace on the Park, a catering hall, pay millions per year to lease its land.
The Mets and the USTA bring a total $2.5 million from their leases. However, out of that sum, the Mets pay approximately $155,000 a year to lease Citi Field at FMCP. It is projected to be $400,000 by the next fiscal year.
“That gives you an idea of how outrageous that is,” Mark-Viverito said in comparison to the lease the Mets pays with the other leases.
While Terrace on the Park, the largest park concession, brings $2.5 million from its lease.
The park itself operates on $11.6 million in City funds. A problem facing the park is that most of the revenue goes to the General Fund instead of the Park itself.
Aside from the revenue FMCP receives through its leases, it hosts approximately 22 events a year, sells food on the mobile food stands and charges fees to use the recreational facilities.
The council members expressed great concern surrounding the discrepancies in percentages and how and where the funds are being used.
Studies & Goals
A framework designed in 2008 to set a new direction for the park was established through a grant from the J.M Kaplan Fund, which identified three major park improvement goals. The goals included, reestablishing the World’s Fair core, reconfiguring and restoring the park lakes and reconnecting the park to the neighborhood and the City.
“We don’t have the funds for large projects, but every project is designed with the framework in mind,” said Lewandowski in response to the status of the framework. “For example, in 2011 we completed a restoration portion of the paths near Meadow Lake where two paths became one. Other specific goals include, reduce the pavement in the park, drain the lakes and treat the storm water.”
Aside from discussing the framework, a few studies conducted for the deteriorating parts of the park were also discussed, including the survey of the New York State Pavilion.
“It is a shame to see what has happened to so many parts of the park because it is where I grew up playing,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who spoke vividly of the fun times he had at the NYS Pavilion “What is the status of the Pavilion project? Because it could be restored and turned into a form of revenue.”
A $150,000 study was conducted with the help of Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) to study the Pavilion.
He said the study concluded, “Whatever we decide to do with the Pavilion will cost us a lot of money. We can either try to preserve the site, pay to fix it or knock it down, but it is something we are trying to figure out.”
“Studies have been done that tell us it is a stable site,” said Lewandowski. “But, we have a tough decision to make about the Pavilion.”
The Park also falls short of the City standards with respect to “cleanliness” and “overall condition” according to the reports conducted by the Parks Inspection Program.
According to the PIP summary, from 2009 to 2013, the rate of cleanliness around the park is 86.8 percent, which is lower than the City standard of 90 percent cleanliness. An inspection related to the overall condition of the park is 79 percent, whereas the City’s standard is 85 percent.
Lewandowski’s percentages were higher than the ones presented to her at the hearing.
According to her studies, the park cleanliness in 2013 was 96 percent.
Factors that determine the overall condition of the park include 17 factors, some of which include inspection of benches, fences, sidewalks and the lawns.
“FMCP is inspected every two weeks and it is doing well and strong compared to other parks around the City,” said Lewandowski. “The overall condition has increased this past year.”
“The reality is not always pristine because people would not say the park is 96 percent clean,” said Ferreras in disagreement with the Park’s claim of park cleanliness.
These inspections indicate the park’s inadequate funding, upkeep and maintenance of the park when compared to other parks that are similar in size.
FMCP employs 65 full-time and 35 seasonal Parks Department employees, all of which are dedicated to the overall care and maintenance of FMCP. Out of the full-time employees, only 18 are assigned for maintenance and the daily routine of the Park.
By next year, four park enforcement patrol officers instead of two will patrol park grounds daily because 17 officers will be added to the borough.
“Two to four PEP officers are not enough because four people aren’t even enough to patrol a movie theatre now,” said Ferreras.
“Comparatively, Flushing Meadows Corona Park does fit in-line with other parks in Queens in terms of allocating staff and resources,” said Lewandowski.
Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn are smaller than FMCP in terms of acreage, but Central Park employs 300 workers, while Prospect Park employs 135.
Ferreras said she is in the works with the City to start a public-private alliance for FMCP, like the Central Park Conservancy, in order to boost maintenance and up-keep of the Park.
“We can position ourselves to get more endowments because the person who gave $100 million to Central Park is from Queens, so perhaps he could have give us even 10 percent of that,” said Ferreras in hopes of creating a private fund to help the park become Queens’ glory again.
As of 2012, FMCP received only $5,000 for the entire year in donations.
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) announced on June 7 that he is introducing a bill that will require all park conservancies with more than $5 million to donate 20 percent of their funds to maintain parks that have received an unsatisfactory grade for two consecutive years.
Ferreras then went on to say that the Park needs more ways to “engage the community” and asked the steps it will take to see the Park run at its optimal level.
One of the options discussed to help engage the community is to ask the local organizations surrounding the Park to take “park user surveys.”
“This will lead to real and tangible solutions,” Ferreras said.
Reach Reporter Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.