Raze The Old And Raise The New
The best-laid plans of mice, men and borough presidents sometimes go astray. Borough President Claire Shulman's proposal to expand the Queens Museum of Art into space currently occupied by the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Ice skating rink and move the rink to Cunningham Park is one such plan which seems to have been derailed.
From the moment the proposal was announced, civic groups including the West Cunningham Park Civic Association and the Friends of Cunningham Park expressed vociferous opposition. Most of the anti-rink feeling arises from the fact that Cunningham Park, heavily wooded over most of its 350 acres, has no similar facilities and the parking lot chosen as the site of the new rink, while unused most of the time, is pressed into service whenever such events as the Big Apple Circus or concerts take place in the park.
If Cunningham Park is largely bucolic with few structures in it for organized activities such as museums or recreational facilities, there is nothing to be gained by attempting to change its basic proclivity. The parks in Queens are open to everyone, but it is up to individuals to choose the facility which best suits their particular purpose. To play tennis, visit the Queens Museum, the zoo or go ice skating, visit Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Forest Park holds a golf course, a bandshell and noted bridle paths for the borough's equestrians. Astoria Park, besides spectacular river views, has an Olympic size swimming pool. And Cunningham Park's leafy trails are a hiker's paradise. All of these are available through the swipe of a MetroCard.
As to the second issue, while concerts and circuses are not everyday occurrences, they happen sufficiently frequently to make the ready availability of parking facilities a necessity. If the parking lot is taken over by a skating rink, another lot must be opened, further encroaching on the woodlands that make Cunningham Park ecologically and aesthetically valuable in itself.
The supposition has also been expressed that siting the ice rink in Cunningham Park would make it convenient for hockey leagues in Nassau County to use. Shulman has many times stated strong opposition to sports teams from communities in the borough's neighbor to the east using recreational facilities in Queens to the exclusion of groups of local residents. We find ourselves in agreement with this argument also.
A request for proposal for a new rink issued by the city Parks Department calls for interested parties to provide the funds for construction and operation of a one-story, 110,000-square-foot facility with two rinks. Such a building, according to the present operator of the Flushing Meadows facility, would cost between $7 million and $8 million to build and the city would take back the facility after 20 years. The only way to make money would be to charge more to the individuals and groups using the rink for ice time. This to us is yet another argument for keeping the facility in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The facility will be paid for by the taxpayers and should be affordable as well as accessible.
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, at more than1,255 acres in size, is nearly four times as large as Cunningham Park. It has demonstrated its ability to accept large sports facilities such as the United States Tennis Association Tennis Stadium with relatively little deleterious effect on its ecology. It comfortably handles hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It is obviously the ideal site for a new ice skating rink.
A local legislator has questioned the need for an ice rink at all, saying he has heard no demand for such a facility. This is an argument that strikes us as fallacious. While an ice rink in Queens may not necessarily produce a Wayne Gretzky or a Peggy Fleming, the youngsters of the borough deserve a place to learn what abilities and talents they possess on ice as well as in any other sports venue or classroom. Those of their elders who know how to skate or want to learn also are entitled to have such facilities available to them. Besides, ice skating can be fun.
Flushing Meadow-Corona Park boasts a stadium that for one month out of every year is the capital of the tennis world. While a new ice skating rink need not be on quite so grandiose a scale, the principle behind it—a facility that attains international significance for one month out of the year and is available to the borough and the city for the rest of the time—is surely deserving of consideration. Queens is known as the county with the most diverse population in the country. That population should have a variety of recreational activities available, including a world class ice rink. And as with other sports facilities in the borough, those of us who live in Queens, pay taxes and contribute to the local economy should be able to decide its location and have first crack at its use.