Mar. 6, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed
About 50 to 60 community members rallied outside on the steps of Flushing Public Library on Friday, March 3, voicing their opposition to Mets owner Steve Cohen’s plans to build a potential casino near Citi Field.
Members of Flushing for Equitable Development and Urban Planning (FED UP) Coalition members, Guardians of Flushing Bay, Flushing Workers Center and Flushing Anti-Displacement Alliance protested outside of the library, located at 41-17 Main St. The community leaders are calling on elected officials to oppose the casino project to protect 50 acres of public parkland and to promote development that will benefit the community, as residents are struggling with rent and the soaring cost of living.
Julia Gu, a retired home attendant, said the rents and real estate tax in Flushing have been very high.
“Whether we live, work or do small business here, it has become more and more unaffordable for us. To make matters worse, Cohen wants to use the casino to take away more of our blood and sweat money, making it more difficult for us to pay rent, making us broke, destroying our family and forcing us to leave our community,” Gu said.
In December, Cohen announced plans to redevelop the public parkland located to the west of Citi Field. He is seeking one of three downstate casino licenses to build a casino on the public parkland that has been used as a parking lot since the 1939 World’s Fair. The area has been used for events such as carnivals, para-athletic sports matches and a variety of other public uses.
Since his announcement, Cohen’s team has hosted a series of “community visioning sessions” at the Piazza 31 Club at Citi Field to receive input from Queens residents regarding future developments at the site.
Recently, Cohen released the findings from the series of listening sessions to highlight the thousands of points and feedback his team received from the public. Cohen’s report determined that 98% of the participants want “to build something great” while only 2% chose to “keep the 50 acres of asphalt.” Suggestions included public green space, thousands of well-paying jobs, a Queens food hall featuring local restaurants and vendors, improved public transit and parking infrastructure, space for community groups and local artists, community athletic fields and more.
For Cohen, turning the area into an entertainment destination with live music, restaurants, bars and a casino would create thousands of good-paying jobs throughout the construction process and for years into the future.
Meanwhile, several Queens civic associations have rejected his proposal voicing concerns about quality-of-life issues and other disruptions a casino will bring to the surrounding communities.
Protestors at the Flushing rally echoed those sentiments saying the proposed casino project publicly targets Flushing’s Chinese community and threatens the livelihoods of all Queens communities.
“This is not about whether or not we like to gamble, it is about whether or not we sit silent and let someone come in and get more people hooked to gambling, destroy families, and bring only more problems to Flushing,” said Sarah Ahn, of Flushing Workers Center. “We urge everyone to join us in not only rejecting the racist casino plans, but in protecting our community — our residents, small businesses and jobs — and demanding development that helps Flushing thrive.”
Joseph Jung, a member of the Flushing Anti-Displacement Alliance, blasted Cohen, including “luxury developers, corrupt politicians and nonprofit bosses looking for handouts from a billionaire.”
John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, called out Governor Hochul and supporters targeting and stereotyping Asian residents as a demographic that enjoys gambling.
“Governor Hochul is pushing to end the sale of menthol cigarettes because Big Tobacco is targeting African Americans and Latinos. Yet, when another predatory industry wants to target our community here in Flushing no one raises an eyebrow,” Choe said. “Governor Hochul and the owner of the Mets will argue that casinos and stadiums promote economic development and will be ‘good for us.’ We say bullsh*t. We are sick and tired of the lies and empty promises. We want real economic development. We don’t want to end up like Atlantic City, a cesspool of crime and violence where small businesses are displaced and residents end up in dead-end jobs.”
Rebecca Pryor, executive director of the Guardians of Flushing Bay, said using 50 acres of city-owned parkland in the middle of low- and middle-income communities of color is environmental injustice.
“This is not the time to sit back and enable a 50-acre, public park land grab. Our neighbors have been flooded in their homes, our waterways are soaked in sewage and our local park is one of the most prone to flooding in NYC,” Pryor said. “The project sits in the middle of the historic Flushing Bay wetland. It is in the Flushing Bay watershed and is in a flood plain.”
Maggie Flanagan, a board member of the Guardians of Flushing Bay, said community parks need more green infrastructure, such as bioswales and permeable pavement, and “not the kind of green built on losing hard-earned dollars to casino profits.”
Jean Silva, president of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy, urged community members to stay united in the fight against the casino proposal.
“The latest person who is trying to take over and make another dollar out of our pockets is Steve Cohen. I like the gentleman — I met him and he’s very nice and I love the Mets, but what he’s doing to Flushing Meadows Corona Park is totally outrageous,” Silva said. “In 20 years, I’ve been involved with somebody trying to take over the park and make a dollar, and not even a penny comes into the park. It doesn’t even go into the city of New York. Most of the funds go everywhere else, except here in Queens where we need it.”
Paul Graziano, a member of the Save Flushing Meadows Corona Park Coalition, said “Queens must not lose 50 acres of its flagship park — a park built for an enjoyed by the residents of Queens — for the sole purpose of further increasing a billionaire’s personal profit margin at the expense and misery of the surrounding communities.”
John Park, a member of Community Board 7 who has attended one of the community visioning sessions, told QNS that he supports developing the site. According to Park, he is not specifically pushing for a casino, but he is also not opposed to it if Cohen is granted a gaming license.
“Sometimes when I’m on the subway or driving I see the concrete parking lot and it’s dark there. Why not do something with it?” Park said. “If people like gambling, they drive three to four hours to Atlantic City, so why not just have a casino here at Citi Field? It’s people’s choice whether they want to gamble or not,” Park said.
Kaily Cheng, who is also a member of Community Board 7 and has lived in Flushing for 37 years, said most people in the community are in support of the project.
“In my opinion, if people like it, they can go. If people don’t like it, then don’t go. There are so many people from our city who go to other cities to gamble. How about those people come to our city to gamble — that will generate more revenue and jobs. I think it’s not a bad idea,” Cheng said.
For more than 80 years, the land around Citi Field has been nothing but parking lots and wasted opportunity, according to Cohen’s team. The area was officially mapped as “parkland” when it served as parking lots for the 1939 World’s Fair, held in what is now Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Despite this designation, the area has only been a motor vehicle parking lot. In 1961, the state Legislature authorized the development of the area for Shea Stadium and its parking lots.
As they’re focused on listening to the community and understanding their priorities and concerns as they put together a planned vision for the area, Cohen’s team is planning to host more community workshops in the future.
In a statement to QNS, Cohen’s spokesperson said that the community is their “first and most important partner,” as they seek to redevelop the parking lot.
“Over the past six months, we’ve been listening to the community and they’ve made it very clear that they want more from the 50 acres of asphalt around Citi Field,” Cohen’s spokesperson said. “We’re encouraged by what we have been hearing and will continue to host community workshops over the coming weeks to further inform our ultimate vision for the area.”