Prank Shines New Light On Neglected Park

IMG_5014.JPGIt may have been an April Fool’s joke, but what made the prank work isn’t as funny.

On April 1, the blog ilovefreeconcerts.com, which serves as a calendar for free concerts in New York City, announced that the Walt Disney World Resort purchased the World’s Fair grounds at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park from the New York City Parks Department, with plans of hosting a yearly music and technology festival.

“I can’t believe anybody took that joke seriously,” Kim Ohanian, Community Board 7’s parks committee chairwoman, said.

This story originally appeared in the April 14, 2015 edition of the Queens Tribune. 

But some did. A number of residents contacted Community Board 4’s office to express their approval of the fake deal.

It’s a longstanding problem – Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is to Queens what Central Park and Prospect Park are to Manhattan and Brooklyn, but the city doesn’t treat it that way. The park is understaffed and often filthy. It’s dominated by a decaying New York State Pavilion and fountains that more often than not run dry. The lack of attention paid to the park may have played a role in so many people believing – and supporting – a false report of a corporation investing in the greenspace.

Jean Silva, president of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, said that while the park is maintained by both volunteers and Parks Department employees, there is always a need for more.

“There is not enough,” Silva said. “No matter how many [employees] they have.”

Silva said that while she feels the park is understaffed, she is thrilled to see how hard Borough President Melinda Katz has been working to get funds for the Pavilion.

Designed more than 50-years ago by architect Philip Johnson, the Pavilion was built as symbol of the 1964 World’s Fair, but in recent decades, it has been left abandoned and neglected. Katz has vowed to make restoring the relic a priority. She requested funding for repairing and reopening it in her budget request this year.

Sharon Lee, a Katz spokeswoman, noted people have been squabbling for decades over whether they should keep it or just tear it down.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair, last year, Katz met with Parks Department officials to outline three different proposals for the Pavilion.

According to the Parks Department, the cost to demolish the structure would be approximately $13.2 million; to restore the tower to its former glory – how it looked in 1964 – would cost $52.1 million; and to improve and modernize the pavilion would be approximately $72.6 million.

Restoring the Pavilion has been a priority for Katz, who helped secure $5.8 million of City funds to begin the project. As part of the restoration, the park already performed two test runs of the LED display lights, which briefly illuminated the towers and their observation decks.

“The New York State Pavilion is an architectural marvel that was a major attraction at the 1964-65 World’s Fair, one of the most important events in our borough’s history,” Katz said in a statement. “Today this distinctive structure continues to be an awe-inspiring icon for both Queens residents and our many visitors. Given all that, I say we should do what it takes to make sure the Pavilion remains standing for future preservationists to enjoy.”

Katz hopes that lighting the towers will help generate more interest and investment into the restoration of the Pavilion.

Ohanian said that while the plans to restore the Pavilion have not been formulated, as of press time, it will likely be a very costly project that will need to be carried out in phases.

“These are the kinds of things that are going to take a long time,” she said. “A lot of work has to be done before we can even entertain the idea.”

Unfortunately, she and other hopeful residents will have to keep waiting to see if future investors take an interest in restoring the iconic Pavilion and World’s Fair grounds.

Photo/Daniel Offner

Photo/Daniel Offner

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