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Kicking and Screaming: Football Club Moving Across the Street From Mets

The Willets Point area that will be developed, as seen from Citi Field on Aug. 25, 2022.Katie Honan/THE CITY

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This article was originally published by The CITY on Nov. 15

City officials will announce a new soccer stadium — paired with affordable housing — in Queens on Wednesday, multiple people familiar with the matter told THE CITY.

The Willets Point stadium will be home to New York City Football Club, the Major League Soccer team that since 2015 has hosted home games in The Bronx at Yankee Stadium.

Local electeds and developers are also expected to announce the creation of 2,500 “affordable” apartments for the area — 1,400 more than in the original deal announced back in 2013 — along with a 250-room hotel and a retail hub, according to the sources familiar with the plan.

Queens Development Group — a joint venture between Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ Related Companies and Sterling Equities, the real estate company owned by former Mets owners the Wilpon Family and Saul Katz — is developing on the 23 city-owned acres of 61-acre Willets Point. The rest of the area is privately owned.

The neighborhood across from Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, has for decades been home to a plethora of auto body shops and junkyards.

In 2013, the city, led by the Economic Development Corporation, first brokered a deal to develop the area and promised to revitalize it with more housing, in addition to adding a much-needed public school to that part of Queens. That had followed years of City Hall efforts at community engagement that kicked off in 2008.

Brooke Wieczorek, the vice president of land use at the EDC, told THE CITY in September that the affordable apartments built at Willets Point would be in a range of 30% to 130% of the area median income.

In May 2021, the Queens borough board, a division of the borough president’s office, also approved the development plan under the condition that 50 percent of the new affordable housing units be allocated to residents of local Community Board 7.

But in a community board meeting this September, Department of Housing Preservation and Development Director of Queens and Staten Island Planning Kevin Parris said the ability to follow through on that commitment would depend on the outcome of ongoing federal civil rights litigation that challenges the legality of such a preference.

Residents of the area also raised concerns then about noise and light pollution spilling over into the new apartments from the nearby LaGuardia Airport, Citi Field, and 7 train tracks.

But John Clifford, founder and principal of S9 Architecture, the design firm behind the development, said that those concerns will be mitigated by insulated windows and additional recommendations from mechanical and environmental engineers.

A representative from the EDC said at September’s community board meeting that the developers anticipate breaking ground on phase one of the development — which includes the first 1,110 of the total 2,500 affordable housing units — in 2024.

One community board member at the same meeting was shocked at how long the project has been in the works.

“I can’t believe it’s been 16 years in the making,” said CB7’s Phil Konigsberg, a board member who lives in Bay Terrace.

Willets Point is full of mechanics and junkyards while the Mets play nearby. April 14, 2022.Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment. Representatives for Queens Development Group also did not respond to a call and text message seeking comment.

An email to a media representative for NYCFC was also not returned.

Bronx Cheer

The Queens announcement would appear to end the game of speculation about a potential soccer stadium in The Bronx, after Yankees’ president Randy Levine told Forbes SportsMoney in June 2021 that his franchise and New York City were set to reach their own soccer stadium deal within two months.

The stadium deal was tied up with a 99-year lease between the city’s Economic Development Corporation and multiple parking garages around Yankee Stadium — and the company that owns them defaulting on payments to bondholders after fewer cars used the expensive spots than projected.

Those parking woes caused interference with the plan for a soccer stadium.

Willets Point has long been subjected to various development plans and ideas – from parking for the 1964-1965 World’s fair to a domed football stadium for the New York Jets, the latter an idea floated by former President Donald Trump.

Earlier this year, Mets owner Steve Cohen began meeting with city officials about his ideas for the 61-acre stretch of land across from his stadium — including a casino, as the state mulls expanding gaming licenses.

Cohen has met with Mayor Eric Adams, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, and multiple state legislators and City Council members, according to city and state lobbying records.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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