Feb. 8, 2024 By Iryna Shkurhan
In opposition to billionaire Steven Cohen’s plan to develop a casino next to Citi Field, community organizers rallied this past weekend in favor of their own proposal to convert the public land into an amenity-rich park with environmental considerations.
Dozens of members of the Flushing Anti Displacement Alliance (FADA) marched from Flushing’s Lippman Plaza to Citi Field on Saturday, Feb. 3 to publicly condemn the casino proposal that they say would have devastating consequences to the community. They say that Cohen’s $8 billion “Metropolitan Park” proposal would hurt working class residents, arguing that it would lead to residential and commercial rent hikes, while exacerbating gambling addictions among Asian Americans.
“Cohen can’t fool us with promises of ‘jobs’ and ‘economic opportunity when there is documented evidence of casinos contributing to the gentrification and displacement of our residents, workers, and small businesses,’” said Ashley Du, an organizer with FADA.
Cohen’s proposed development not only calls for a casino but also a hotel, 20 acres of public park space that would include bike paths and community athletic fields, as well as bars and restaurants. His team said they anticipate the plan to create around 10,000 construction and permanent jobs across the site.
At the rally, the organizers shared their own plan, called Phoenix Meadows, which calls for maximizing green space with expansive views of Flushing Bay, creating a recreational space for residents to enjoy and providing space for street vendors to sell. Their plan also promises to maintain parking with a 2-3 story garage that would sit beneath the park.
The 65 acres of public land in Willets Point is referred to as the ‘Valley of Ashes,’ a term that emerged from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The community-oriented organizers say the Phoenix Meadows plan is a way for long neglected land to “rise from the ashes” and remain in the hands of the public.
Considering the ecology of the land, which sits on a floodplain, the plan addresses the environmental needs of the area in the wake of climate change that is expected to bring rising sea levels and coastal flooding. The proposed vast green space will absorb 100% of rainwater and incorporate 3,000 trees among various sports fields.
The organizers also called on local officials, including State Sen. Jessica Ramos who represents the area, to take into account their opposition to the casino. Ramos has held town halls to hear the community’s thoughts on a casino coming to their backyard, but she has not publicly supported either plan yet.
“Senator Ramos must not help bring a casino to our community and instead work with us to protect our jobs, homes, health and environment and to fight for investment to improve it,” said Sarah Ahn, Director of Flushing Workers Center. “Today we launched the Phoenix Meadows plan, a community vision that is a step in this direction. We call on Senator Ramos and all our Flushing elected officials to stand with the people.”
While the land is currently public, parkland alienation legislation could be introduced in the state legislature to facilitate the hand over to private developers such as Cohen. On a city level, zoning changes could also pave the way for the conversion.
“For decades Flushing and Willets Point have been a place where speculative real estate and politically connected developers are welcomed and run wild,” said Cody Ann Herrmann, a Flushing-based urban ecologist. “We must recognize the casino proposal at the Citi Field parking lots as part of a larger plan for luxury development. We say, no more! Long-term and low-income residents deserve a secure place to live, without the threat of being priced out by new developments and displaced by gentrification.”