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Ebbets Field replica could be home to Mets by 2005

Construction of a new $500 million stadium for the New York Mets that would evoke memories of Ebbets Field and cover the parking lot next to Shea Stadium could begin as early as December, the city Parks Department said last week.

Though funding for the project has yet to be finalized, the city began planning last week for an extensive study of parking, traffic and other environmental concerns related to the building of the new stadium and the razing of Shea in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

At two hearings last Thursday, city officials and a project architect described the details of the proposed stadium and asked for the public’s concerns about the potential impact of the project on the communities surrounding Shea.

Jack Gordon, president of Jack Gordon Architects, one of the firms that drew up the stadium plans, told a hearing the structure’s facade was designed to remind fans of the fabled Brooklyn Dodgers’ home, Ebbets Field. Subway riders would be able to get off the No. 7 train at the Willets Point station directly in front of the stadium entrance rather than having to walk the equivalent of several city blocks.

The stadium would have a retractable roof that would avoid rainouts and enable it to be used year round.

“The new stadium will be multi-use throughout the year for baseball and non-baseball events like concerts, professional and college sports, conventions and religious events,” said Collen Alderson, a planner for the Parks Department.

There would be 45,000 seats, 11,000 fewer than Shea’s current capacity, according to documents released by the Parks Department.

The entire project, including the demolition of Shea Stadium, would take 40 months and could be finished by Opening Day 2005, officials said. The Mets would continue to play in their current home until the new stadium is ready.

Shea Stadium opened in 1964 at a cost of $28.5 million. It is the fifth oldest major league ballpark after Fenway Park in Boston, Wrigley Field in Chicago, Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Since plans for the new stadium call for it to be built in the current Shea parking lot, the sparsely attended hearings focused on the impact of the temporary loss of 3,900 parking spaces during construction. Shea has 8,800 parking spots, a number that would remain unchanged once construction is completed.

During the morning meeting, Gary Miller, a member of Community Board 3 in Jackson Heights, said he had concerns about parking and traffic matters, but the project could be “cool.”

In the evening session, Gene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7 in Flushing, said traffic and parking are among “the biggest” issues raised by the proposed project. He called the city’s plans to redistribute the missing parking spots “comical and bizarre,” finding particular fault with its estimate that 300 on-street parking spaces could be found in nearby East Elmhurst and Corona.

Calling the city’s plan “insane,” he said, “all on-street parking is being utilized by the local residents” of the area.

Kelty also criticized the city for failing to involve the public in the planning of the stadium.

“The design has already been established, which direction will be the entrance, where all the vehicles will enter and exit. The community boards were never, never approached prior to this hearing,” he said. “I take exception to this.”

The study, known as an environmental impact statement, is the first of a series of reviews needed before construction of a new stadium can begin. Approval must also be obtained by such agencies as the Federal Aviation Administration, which must authorize the structure’s six-level, 141-foot height due to the proximity to LaGuardia Airport, and the New York City Art Commission, which is in charge of validating the landscaping and stadium design.

But the biggest obstacle to a potential December groundbreaking is the financing of the project’s estimated $500 million pricetag. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Friday the Mets will make a significant contribution toward the stadium, but “the city and state are going to have to put something in.”

Carl Person, a Manhattan businessman and attorney, Monday filed a class action lawsuit in federal court seeking to prohibit the use of taxpayer money in building new stadiums for the Mets and Yankees.

Maura Gallucci, a spokeswoman for Empire State Development, the lead state agency on the Mets stadium issue, said Gov. George Pataki has “been very clear for a number of years on this issue that any appropriate assistance from the state would be directed towards infrastructure upgrades and improvement.”

Commenting on new homes for both the Mets and Yankees, Giuliani said without city and state funding, “we will be talking about these new ballparks for the next 10 or 15 years.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or at (718) 229-0300, ext. 156.

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