On Saturday, New York Mets owner Steve Cohen sought input from residents of Queens, New York, on how to best develop the area surrounding Citi Field, as he contemplates the possibility of bringing a casino to the property. At the ballpark, the billionaire hedge funder and his team met with over 500 local community members to discuss how they could transform the long-dormant Willets Point area into a year-round entertainment destination.
Cohen said he’s "looking for great ideas" but openly added "a casino is definitely an option," despite the fact that some in attendance expressed staunch opposition to gambling on the site.
"We don’t expect everyone to support all our ideas, but that’s what this discussion is about," added Cohen, who's seriously considering bidding for one of three downstate casino licenses up for grabs, as reported by the New York Post.
During the meeting, Cohen discussed the potential for creating a park and improving access from the proposed site to the World’s Fair Marina and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
Earlier last week, numerous Queens civic organizations, including the Queens Civic Congress, voiced their opposition to building a casino in the Citi Field parking lot, noting that the site in question is parkland.
Warren Schreiber, Queens Civic Congress President, stated: "Our message to state legislators is: Our parkland is irreplaceable. It is not for sale. Contrary to what would-be casino owners may say, public parkland is not 'developable property', and it must never be viewed as such."
That is just one of several reasons for the coalition's opposition. Many raised concerns about traffic and potential social ills that may come with casinos, like substance and gambling addictions. While proponents argue it would benefit the Queens economy, the coalition is skeptical.
Citi Field's parking lot
The site in question is parkland that has been leased to the Mets to use for a stadium and parking since 1961; a spokesperson for Cohen noted that its use for parking dates back to the 1939-40 World's Fair. In response to a shopping mall proposal for the spot, the state Court of Appeals ruled in 2017 that no further development could occur because it is parkland. It did, however, say the state Legislature may alienate parkland as it sees fit. Several coalition members were plaintiffs in that case.
As reported by the above-mentioned media, Cohen and his team believe a $780 million mixed-used development project by city officials — which includes building a 25,000-seat stadium for the New York City Football Club, a hotel, and 2,500 units of affordable housing on other lands next to Citi Field — is a big win for his expected bid.
Through a new entity created in April called "New Green Willets", Cohen has shelled out at least $334,854 on outside lobbyists trying to secure support for a casino and other business from many state and city officials, records show.