Thursday, February 7, 2013

Unions throw weight behind Queens stadium

Groups representing 200,000 workers kick the plan to build a Major League Soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, one step closer to the goal line.

BY ANNIE KARNI

Plans for a Major League Soccer stadium in Queens were kicked one step closer to the goal line Thursday morning, with three major unions announcing their support for the proposal.

The Hotel Trades Council, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and 32BJ SEIU—which together count more than 200,000 workers as members—said Thursday they are backing plans to build a soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park that would house a new team. The stadium has become a priority project for the Bloomberg administration. It is offering Major League Soccer a 35-year, $1-a-year lease, with no sales taxes on construction materials, no property taxes and no revenue sharing with the city.

But the privately-financed $300-million stadium has also become a hot button issue among community groups worried they will lose a portion of the only large park in the neighborhood.

On Thursday, the union leaders said they were throwing their political weight behind the large project because it would create about 2,100 construction-related jobs, 160 full-time jobs and 750 part-time jobs.

The union endorsements were hardly a shock. Major League Soccer has indicated it would use union labor to build the 25,000-seat venue. The soccer league has also struck an agreement with Local 100 to make it easier for stadium food service workers to organize, sources said.

But some community leaders remain opposed to the project. "We represent thousands of families in the community who depend on the park and are concerned about the proposals to replace it," said Joseph McKellar, leader of the Fairness Coalition of Queens, which includes half a dozen community groups opposed to the stadium plan. "We support big construction jobs but the question is long term jobs, and how will it affect small businesses in Corona East."

Defenders of the project claim the stadium will also enhance a park many claim is run down and not well-maintained. Major League Soccer would also be required to replace any official park land where it builds.

The soccer league hailed the union endorsement as another step ahead.

"We are thrilled to have the support of the unions who represent hundreds of thousands of working men and women," a Major League Soccer spokeswoman said. "They understand, as we do, what an important economic engine this stadium will be." And the Bloomberg Administration agrees. "This major private investment in Queens would create thousands of quality jobs in an area of the city where economic activity is badly needed," said a City Hall spokesman.

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