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Stadium project produces St. John’s parking crunch

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Student Vincent Guadagno said he circles the parking lots at St. John’s University for an hour on many mornings, hoping for an open space. His friend and fellow student, Patrick Devlin, doesn’t bother searching for scarce openings: he parks off-campus instead.

The St. John’s sophomores are not alone. Construction of a new soccer stadium in the school’s main parking lot has many students grumbling that already insufficient spaces have lessened, making parking nearly impossible.

“The parking before was terrible, and it just got worse,” Devlin said.

Ground was broken Feb. 7 for the 3,000-seat stadium, which will be constructed over a portion of the Alumni parking lot’s 400 parking spaces. Planned for completion by fall 2002, the stadium will sit atop an elevated platform with parking underneath, according to St. John’s spokesman Jody Fisher.

Fisher said parking capacity under the finished stadium should equal or surpass that of the former asphalt area. He added that the current loss of 400 spaces is only temporary and is partially offset by the addition last summer of 250 spaces in place of a law school lawn.

“Basically we’re down 150 spots for the duration of the project,” Fisher said.

In the meantime, however, the school’s many commuter students are complaining of the daily crunch.

“It takes me forever,” said junior Chris Paravalos. “I have to wait for someone to leave or park off campus.”

Fisher said the vast majority of the roughly 10,000 Queens campus students are commuters, while only about 1,900 students live in the resident halls. Although some take public transportation, Fisher said most prefer to drive, which means they must compete for only 3,800 spaces on campus.

And while students’ differing schedules create a “revolving door” cycle of traffic, ensuring that not everyone converges on the campus at once, Fisher admitted the school has faced a constant challenge of providing adequate parking.

The school constructed a three-story, 674-space parking garage in 1999 to alleviate crowded lots. Last summer it converted a grass lawn in front of the law school into an additional 250-space lot. But apparently new facilities have not kept up with demand.

“People have been complaining about the parking here for years,” said Scott Salvato, a campus minister. “So the more they remove to build new buildings, etc., the more people are going to complain.”

Fisher suggested that students switch to public transportation while construction is under way. The school is accessible by the E and F subway lines and sits along three bus routes, he said.

But some students complain that public transportation is either inconvenient or expensive. Paravolos, who juggles work and school, said public transportation can’t meet the tight time demands of his schedules. Guadagno, who lives in Massapequa, L.I., said it costs less to drive than to take the Long Island Rail Road.

Some students also complain that the costs of building a new stadium outweigh the benefits, citing their daily parking woes and low student body turnout for matches.

“They could do so much more with St. John’s money,” said Desiree Bucci, a senior. Gesturing toward the baseball stadium and the bulldozers tearing up the asphalt nearby for the soccer complex, she added, “No one is going to go to the games. Just like this other stadium over here — no one goes.”

Funding for the soccer stadium, however, comes primarily from a $6 million gift from Jerome and Maxine Belson for that specific purpose. And assistant soccer coach Marc Reeves hopes the stadium’s construction will draw students’ attention and support to the award-winning soccer program.

“I know parking is a real issue,” Reeves said. “But maybe because of the interruption, people will become more aware of our program.”

Head Coach Dave Masur said men’s games usually draw between 500 and 1,500 students but said he hopes the more comfortable, fan-friendly setting of the stadium will encourage sell-out crowds of 2,300 plus.

The St. John’s Red Storm soccer team placed fourth in the nation in Men’s Division 1 last season, won the national NCAA championships in 1996 and has placed in the top ten nearly every year for a decade, according to Masur. Reeves is confident the Red Storm will be able to fill the new stadium, noting that the team drew a crowd of 2,000 to an NCAA tournament game it played at Adelphi University last year.

““There was a real excitement and a real buzz, and we want to recreate that on our campus,” Reeves said. “We apologize for the construction and the temporary inconvenience, but we’re hoping in the long term to better the stadium and better the school.”

Reach reporter Patricia Demchak by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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