Feb. 21, 2023 By Bill Parry
More than a thousand Queens residents attended two visioning series at Citi Field last month, and several smaller neighborhood-focused discussions in their communities, to get their thoughts on re-imagining the 50 acres of the parking lot to the west of the stadium.
Mets owner Steve Cohen released the findings from the series of listening sessions on Tuesday 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.”
Across the first six sessions, participants often used words such as “empty,” “gloomy,” “underutilized” and “desolate” when describing how they feel about the empty parking lot during the off-season. When prompted to express what they want to see in the future, there was a desire for an improved area that would feel “vibrant,” “welcoming,” “green,” and more like a “destination.”
The community visioning session gave residents an opportunity to share their thoughts through a series of interactive stations focused on the history of the space, improving the Citi Field area, year-round entertainment options, transportation, and job creation. At the end of each interactive session, guests gathered in small-group discussions regarding the project.
Participants brought up ideas for public green space, a Queens Food Hall featuring local restaurants and vendors, new connections to the World’s Fair Marina on Flushing Bay, and a hotel with a live music venue, casino gaming and conference space.
“Having spent hours with the community at these sessions, one thing is abundantly clear: everyone believes we can do better than 50 acres of parking lots,” Cohen said. “We’re encouraged by what we have been hearing and will continue to host these sessions over the coming weeks to further inform our ultimate vision for the area.”
Participants spoke of their hopes for future development at the site, including support of year-round entertainment and specific events like the Flushing Meadows Soap Box Derby and the Louis Armstrong Jazz Festival. A core community interest included the creation of good-paying local jobs. A living wage and local hiring were nearly tied as the top two priorities closely followed by supporting locally owned businesses, with a specific emphasis on hiring minorities and women.
“The redevelopment of the area around Citi Field has the potential to be a game changer for the borough and the region, and catalyze economic activity that supports local small businesses,” said Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech. “Chamber members appreciate the ‘bottom-up’ approach that Steve Cohen and his team have taken to this process. He has been genuinely interested in gathering ideas and feedback from the community, particularly small business owners.”
Cohen’s team also released a video Tuesday that features former City Councilman Costa Constantinides saying, “I would definitely support a project that helped the economic development of the community.”
In addition to the two Citi Field visioning sessions, Constantinides told QNS that he also attended smaller neighborhood discussions at First Baptist Church in East Elmhurst and a more recent discussion at Queens Theatre last week.
“I think they’ve demonstrated that they’re listening. We saw poster boards filled up with ideas and taking real feedback and having real discussions about the future,” Constantinides said. “They’re really looking to the community for guidance and real ideas like what does the community want? What do you think we need? What would make this a really exciting space for the community long term? They’re asking all the right questions in that respect.”
Prior to the Citi Field sessions last month, Cohen’s plans received pushback from the northeast and central Queens civic leaders who said he made no mention of a casino and instead referred to an “entertainment” venue on “50 acres of vacant asphalt.” The civics also noted that a casino will create quality-of-life issues, traffic congestion, and an increase in problem gambling.
When asked about the civics willing to take legal action against his plans to develop the parkland, Cohen said his team is listening to residents and that a casino is definitely an option.
“We don’t expect everyone to support our ideas, and that’s what the discussion is about,” Cohen said. “We’re going to follow the rules and regulations of the processes of the city and state, and if there are issues along the way, we are going to try and figure out how to solve them.”
Constantinides will attend future sessions regarding the future development of the site.
“We have the chance to re-imagine a part of the community that for so long has been empty, you go to a game and you come back,” he said.
“This can be a paradigm shift. A chance to look into the future of Queens that could include entertainment, gaming, restaurants, open space, art space, community space, and connection to the waterfront. A casino may be part of a larger plan that really accomplishes all this, that’s something this borough needs and deserves.”
The full report can be found here.