Mets owner Steve Cohen on Tuesday released more details about his plan to build a casino on the city-owned parking lot surrounding Citi Field, although he still needs the state legislature to approve so-called park land alienation to start any construction.
New Green Willets LLC, Cohen’s lobbying firm, has officially unveiled “Metropolitan Park,” an $8 billion vision for the 50 acres of parking lots surrounding Citi Field. The designs were influenced by months of community meetings, the group wrote in the release. They are partnering with Hard Rock International, owner of restaurants and casinos around the world, as well as the SHoP Architects and Field Operations for landscape design.
The developers want to build a hotel with restaurants and bars, add a live music venue, and also note they plan to build a casino – “subject to Gaming Commission license.”
The site will also still include 20 acres of public park land.
Cohen is set to submit a formal public notice for a scoping hearing, reviewing environmental and economic impact, for the casino plans on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the team owner confirmed to THE CITY.
The blueprint comes after months of public “visioning sessions” and the statement from Cohen and crew included support from community leaders, who touted economic opportunities.
“We have the opportunity to turn the 50 acres of asphalt around Citi Field, right across the creek from downtown Flushing, into things we need,” Peter Tu, a senior advisor to the Flushing Chinese Business Association, said in the release.
State officials could dole out up to three new licenses for casinos in the southern parts of New York, which includes New York City, Long Island and Westchester County.
Other organizations and companies vying for the license include Genting Group’s Resorts World in Ozone Park, Queens, and a proposal from SL Green Realty Corp. to build a casino in Times Square — backed hip-hop luminaries like Jay-Z and Fat Joe. Vornado recently backed out of its plans to build a casino near Penn Station.
Getting Ahead of Himself?
Cohen’s casino dreams in Flushing still need state authorization to hand over the land since it’s technically a park. Assemblymember Jeff Aubry (D-Queens) has introduced a related bill, specifically naming Cohen’s New Green Willets lobbying group.
But that bill requires matching legislation from the area’s representative in the State Senate, Democrat Jessica Ramos — who has said she needs to hear more from the community before introducing anything.
The stall in Albany hasn’t stopped the Mets from moving forward with development plans.
A spokesperson for City Hall said late Monday that city zoning changes and state parkland alienation are independent approvals and “there is no legal connection between the timelines for one and another.”
Cohen was the top donor to Mayor Eric Adams during his 2021 mayoral campaign, doling out $1.5 million to the Strong Leadership political action committee that supported him.
Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue told THE CITY last week that she was unaware of any parking lot plans at Citi Field: “I don’t know about Steve Cohen and his dealings,” she said.
The Mets have a 80-year lease agreement with the Parks Department for Citi Field. Cohen also recently refinanced his 40-year and 37-year bonds with the city to save his team money.
The press release announcing the parking-lot plans Tuesday morning included statements of support from multiple officials from nearby East Elmhurst and Flushing. But there is also plenty of community opposition to his plan, with many residents speaking out at a town hall sponsored by Ramos last May in Corona.
Those who spoke in support touted the economic boost and jobs a casino could bring, but a lot of the supporters holding signs in the crowd — which were paid for by Cohen’s lobbying firm — couldn’t fully explain why they were there.
But others said they were opposed to further privatization of public land, or that the choice between asphalt and jobs was a “false dichotomy,” Sarah Ahn, of the Flushing Workers Center, said at the meeting, according to the Queens Chronicle.
“The vast majority of us share the same goals — we all want jobs, we all want development,” she said.
The parking lot is directly across the street from Willets Point, where one of the largest income-restricted housing projects in decades for the city is being developed, with 2,500 planned units.
The site also includes a soccer stadium for the New York City Football Club — but Cohen has not yet agreed to let that team use the Mets’ parking lots to park when they play, instead trying to leverage the land for his casino bid, THE CITY reported earlier this year.
Cohen told City Hall and Economic Development Corporation officials earlier this year that he wouldn’t agree to any parking deal unless the City Council voted favorably for a “home rule” to support his casino plans.
Local Councilmember Francisco Moya, a Democrat and soccer devotee who has pushed for the NYCFC stadium, still has not come out in favor of Cohen’s casino project. He did not return a call for comment on Tuesday.
Jeff Holmes, a spokesperson for the EDC, told THE CITY last week that plans were still being negotiated.
“EDC remains in close contact with the Mets and NYCFC as they come to an agreement on the parking plan,” he said in a statement. “We are coordinating with the parties to ensure an outcome that makes good planning sense and look forward to updating the community when finalized.”