On Wednesday, March 22, Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens) officially submitted legislation that would permit New York city to construct on the parking lot at Citi Field, which would further aid Mets owner Steve Cohen’s redevelopment plans that involves constructing a new casino.
However, a previous attempt to renovate the parking lot by a Queens Development Group, which included former Mets owners, the Wilpons, Saul Katz, and the Related Group, was struck down by a state appeals court in 2017. The team aimed to construct a shopping center in the parking lot and renovate parts of the Willets Point.
This new bill requires a parking lot to be “developed for a gaming facility and, in conjunction with such facility, commercial, retail, entertainment, recreational, hotel, convention, and or community facility uses,” according to the legislation’s text.
Because the Citi Field lot is considered parkland, created in 1939 as part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it needs “state intervention to alienate it to facilitate construction.”
The legislation emphasizes that the parkland legacy will be terminated “through the entering of leases or other agreements with New Green Willets, LLC, its affiliates, or any other entity or entities,” citing a lobbying firm owned by Cohen.
“As part of what’s known as park alienation, the city would have to find at least 20 acres of replacement parkland or significantly improve other existing greenspace — paid for by the private developer,” the bill states.
Commenting on the bill, state Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Democrat who also represents the neighborhood, said: “I was blindsided by the legislation — the version I was planning to introduce.
“I was taken aback this morning, it was quite a surprise to see legislation submitted. However, any park alienation would require my sign-on in a jointly-introduced bill.
She added: “I haven’t had a chance to read Aubry’s legislation yet.
“Not only do I have some reading to do but I also have some conversations to be had.”
A tough fight:
Mets owner Cohen has fought to renovate the Citi Field parking lot, which is officially owned by the city and leased to the Mets, not long after purchasing the team for $2.4 billion in November 2020.
He went so far as to set up visitation periods with local residents and their leaders to learn their desires about what Queens residents and Mets fans across the city would want to see in the region.
In this regard, the aforementioned Aubry said: “I’ve spoken many times with Cohen’s lobbying firm, New Green Willets, about their ideas for the parking lot.
“I was mostly involved with creating jobs and recreational activities for his district, which includes Corona and East Elmhurst. They have talked to me about it a number of times. The casino in my mind is important to them — not so important to me.”
What’s more, Aubry, Ramos and Area City Councilman Francisco Moya were appointed to place one member each on a six-person advisory board, together with Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, the mayor and the governor to further validate any casino construction.
On that note, commenting on the bill, President Donovan Richards said: “I was encouraged to see this legislative process beginning … but the most critical facet of this and any proposal for wide-scale development in Queens will continue to be community engagement, community feedback and community benefits.”
Moreover, Cohen and his team spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get local politicians on their side for the development plan. He, his family and their associates also spent big money on the election campaigns of few crucial elected officials.
For example, Cohen’s wife alone spent $117,300 on the state Democratic Committee last year, and New Green Willets’ in-house lobbyist and top aide, Michael Sullivan, gave almost $35,000 to local elected officials. That involves $9,400 to Aubry and $5,000 to Ramos and State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria).
Just the beginning:
This is now just the beginning of the road for legislation. The next steps are to secure state Senate co-sponship and then city-level land use decisions.
On that note, Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said: “I was aware of the Mets’ hopes for development but I’m not aware of this legislation.”
Citi Field operates under a lease contract with the Parks Department, which owns and manages Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
In that regard, Cohen spokeswoman Maria Comella said: “The local community and Mets fans have told us emphatically that they want more from the 50 acres of asphalt around Citi Field.
“Steve Cohen and his team are committed to delivering a vision with dedicated green space, year-round entertainment and good-paying local jobs.
“We are supportive of efforts to create a process that does this the right way and makes it possible to expand use of the area beyond just parking lots.”