Community Opposed to Sale of Parkland to Saudi Sheik

Private money for new soccer stadium a positive for others


NEW YORK—Flushing Meadows Corona Park is currently home to three contentious construction proposals involving a mall, a soccer stadium, and a parking garage.

Unidentified sources have told the New York Times that the Bloomberg administration is planning to give 13 acres of parkland to Saudi sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who would fund the construction of a soccer stadium in the park.

Some community groups are not thrilled. To many, Flushing Meadows Corona Park is the Central Park of Queens, and the losses the park would incur are sizable: 42 acres of parkland for a shopping mall, 13 acres for the soccer stadium, and another acre and 422 trees for two parking garages to be used by the United States Tennis Association. 

The fact that a billionaire sheik would be the owner of the stadium is irking some even more.

“Public land is for the people and should remain with the people. This is an outrageous billionaires’ club that has come into our city. He can buy the 13 acres with a dollar. Isn’t that a great deal?” said Edwin Westley, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group.

“This fellow could well afford buying private land to put up this soccer stadium,” Westley continued.

Westley joined representatives from Make the Road New York, the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, Queens Community House, and other community organizations in front of the Saudi embassy on May 10 to protest the plans.

Forbes reported in 2009 that bin Zayed al-Nahyan has a personal fortune of $4.9 billion. 

The proposed stadium would hold 25,000 seats, expandable to 35,000, according to Major League Soccer (MLS). 

MLS chose Flushing Meadows Corona Park because it is close to transit and roadways. The association intends to replace any parkland lost in the construction of the stadium, according to Let’s Bring Pro Soccer to Queens, an MLS website.

The Bloomberg administration would give away the land to bin Zayed al-Nahyan at no cost because the sheik is willing and able to finance the cost of building the stadium. MLS has stated that the stadium will be paid for entirely with private funds, and that it would not seek any public funds for construction, which is a first in New York City history.

Both the MLS and Mayor Michael Bloomberg contend that the park is deteriorating due to a lack of upkeep. MLS also stated that the majority of the proposed land consists of a large-scale fountain and that only two acres of grassland would be lost.

Some public officials have been in favor of the project, some opposed, and some have not yet taken a stance.

If a stadium is to be constructed in the park, the proposal would have to go through New York City’s formal public review process which takes a minimum of six months. 

The proposal for the shopping mall in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is already going through the public review process. The plan was rejected by Community Board 7′s Land Use Committee. A vote by the full board was scheduled for May 13.




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