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Mayor faces critics of Mets farm team plan

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Scores of determined residents from Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Estates and Hollis turned out for Mayor Rudy Giuliani's town hall meeting last week to convince him not to build a stadium for a Mets minor league baseball team on the St. John's University campus.

The mayor, however, told the nearly 300 people who attended the meeting at the Susan B. Anthony Intermediate School in Hollis that they were wasting their breath - the baseball field was a done deal.

"You're not going to change my mind by yelling at me. In fact, you'll make me more convinced I'm doing the right thing," Giuliani told the stunned audience.

Giuliani brought his commissioners and deputy mayors to his 74th town hall meeting, an exercise where residents usually raise concerns about local crime, potholes, and other municipal issues. But open hostilities developed between the mayor and some members of the audience, who repeatedly booed Giuliani and Borough President Claire Shulman for their support of the St. John's plan.

"What environmental impact study has been done, what notice has been given to the community?" Howard Fried, a Jamaica Estates resident, asked the mayor.

Giuliani said he made a difficult decision because no other site was available and bringing the Mets farm team to New York would be both good for the city and the Mets organization.

"The stadium will not ruin your neighborhood," Giuliani said.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) have pushed for a plan to have the temporary Mets field on the grounds of Creedmoor, but the mayor and a representative from the city's Economic Development Corporation said the Creedmoor site was not a viable option.

Michael Carrey, the first executive vice president for the EDC, said the state would first have to conduct an environmental impact statement on the Creedmoor grounds before St. John's could finalize a tentative agreement to buy the ballfields for $1.1 million.

The St. John's-Creedmoor deal has been put on hold because of the Mets' pursuit of the ballfield on the university's campus.

Carrey said the environmental impact statement would make it impossible for the minor league team to begin playing at Creedmoor in June under its current game schedule.

Giuliani said the St. John's ballfield, which is proposed for construction near Utopia Parkway and Union Turnpike, would essentially be temporary bleachers that would seat 3,500 fans.

He said since the games would take place during the summer months, the actual traffic to and from the university would amount to far fewer than the 15,000 students who attend the university daily during the school year.

He also promised the team would only play for two summers before moving to a permanent stadium at the old Steeple Chase Park in Coney Island.

As part of the agreement, the Mets are making Shea Stadium available for the St. John's baseball team for seven dates during the spring, according to published reports.

The audience was not convinced and kept pressing the issue.

"You can vote for Hillary or you can vote for somebody else, I don't care," Giuliani said, referring to his campaign against First Lady Hillary Clinton for the U.S. Senate.

At this point several dozen audience members began calling for a walkout, and in a few chaotic moments they left the auditorium and joined protesters outside to denounce the stadium.

"This is a chilling re-emergence of the famous Giuliani attitude that says, 'my way or the highway,'" said Jamaica Estates Civic Association Chair Barry Weinberg in a written statement.

Weprin said in an interview the next day that the residents were not out of line to walk out because their sole objective for attending the meeting was to convince the mayor to abort the stadium.

He said he has often admired the mayor for standing up for what he believes is right, but "the problem is he never thinks he's wrong."

Weprin said Giuliani was wrong for dismissing the Creedmoor option because an environmental impact statement would not be needed since a baseball field already exists on the ground and would need to be repaired.

"St. John's could buy the site tomorrow," he said, disputing Giuliani's claim the site was unavailable.

Weprin said he was joining Padavan and several civic associations in filing a lawsuit with the State Supreme Court attempting to block the construction.

He said St. John's is zoned as a residential property and since the Mets team would be a private, commercial operation, the ballfield would violate zoning laws.

"This is not even an issue of not in my backyard," Weprin said. "Just not in that corner of my backyard."

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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