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Mets Owner Playing Hardball With Parking Lots for Future Soccer Stadium

Steve Cohen has not agreed to a deal that would allow fans at NYCFC games park on Citi Field’s lots, hoping to leverage the land in favor of his casino bid.

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Construction workers set the foundation for a soccer stadium next to Citi Field, May 17, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Mets owner Steve Cohen is stalling on a pending deal that would allow soccer fans attending games at a future Willets Point stadium to park in Citi Field’s lot — holding out in hopes of getting city clearance to build a casino, according to multiple people familiar with the negotiations. 

The billionaire hedge fund manager has in recent weeks upped the ante in his fight over the future arena for the New York City Football Club (NYCFC), which is part of a massive development plan from a consortium called Queens Development Group. The plan also includes 2,500 units of affordable housing across the street from the Mets’ stadium.

Groundbreaking on the first phase, which includes 1,100 income-restricted apartments and a 650-seat school, is scheduled for the fall, according to the Department of City Planning and the Economic Development Corporation. The apartments should be ready for occupants by 2026 and 2027, according to Charles Lutvak, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams. 

The second phase of the project is slated to include the 25,000-seat soccer stadium, along with a 350-room hotel and the additional 1,400 affordable apartments, and could begin by the end of 2024. The stadium is scheduled to be completed in time for the World Cup in 2026, and in time for the 2027 Major League Soccer season.

All housing in the project is expected to be completed by 2030, Lutvak said.

Although years away, the project still requires coordination between the Mets and NYCFC — whose seasons overlap — for parking. A deal between Cohen and NYCFC would have to be signed as soon as possible in order for the soccer stadium project to continue with the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and environmental impact study (EIS),  both of which began this year and run on a clear-cut timeline.

A rendering shows the anticipated NYCFC soccer stadium next to Citi Field.

Related Companies/NYCFC

“The planned land use review timeline has not changed, and Mayor Adams fully intends to deliver 2,500 new affordable homes, a privately financed soccer stadium, and 16,000 jobs to Willets Point on time,” Lutvak said in a statement.

Planning documents filed by Queens Development Group and the soccer team in March state that “parking for attendees of events at the soccer-specific stadium would be … at spaces surrounding Citi Field, via an agreement with” the Mets. 

Cohen, who leases Citi Field’s property from the city, has not signed on to that plan, people familiar with the negotiations told THE CITY.

Two people familiar with the soccer project said they could always move forward without providing additional parking, as there is no parking minimum required for this project. 

Home Rule Run

In order to develop a casino on Citi Field’s 50 acres of parking lot, which is legally parkland, Cohen would need to employ a state-authorized procedure known as park alienation, followed by a so-called home rule vote in the City Council. 

In March, Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens) introduced an alienation bill in order to expedite Cohen’s casino dreams.

But area state Senator Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) has yet to introduce her own version of the bill, which is needed for passage. On Friday, she’s hosting a town hall to get community feedback on the project at P.S. 143 in Corona. 

That hasn’t stopped Cohen’s lobbyists from pushing for support in the Council in recent weeks, as THE CITY previously reported

The Mets owner recently told City Hall and Economic Development Corporation officials that he won’t agree to any parking deal unless the City Council votes favorably on home rule, according to multiple people familiar with those conversations. 

Support for a home-rule vote in the Council is so far scant. Local Councilmember Francisco Moya, a Democrat and soccer devotee who has pushed for the stadium, has not come out in favor of Cohen’s casino push. 

“The 14,000 union jobs, 2,500 affordable units, and a new 650-seat school combined with the staunch support of the Mayor makes this the most exciting project I have seen or been a part of in my neighborhood,” Moya said in a statement. “I know we will deliver for all of the community members that have shown overwhelming support for the Willets Point development.”

Of 14 Council members targeted by Cohen’s lobbying efforts polled by THE CITY last week, none said they fully supported a casino at the ballpark, and none committed to action to help make that happen.

Representatives for the Mets did not reply to multiple calls, emails and text messages seeking comment. 

Kicking and Screaming

Cohen has been opposed to the future soccer stadium since before the plan was even announced late last year — dispatching a staffer to share his feelings at a City Hall meeting last May, sources told THE CITY. 

Among the dozens of people packed into a conference room on May 19, 2022 to talk about the future of Willets Point were NYCFC officials and representatives from Queens Development Group: the 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. 

Visible from the No. 7 train platform next to Citi Field: lots of lots, May 17, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Although Cohen was not in attendance, Michael Sullivan, a top aide and chief of staff to Cohen’s equity management firm, Point72, was clear about his boss’s feelings on the development.

Sullivan told the people in the room that Cohen “does not want a soccer stadium” at Willets Point, according to multiple people who were at the meeting. After heated discussions, a verbal agreement on parking came the next day, those sources said. 

But in recent weeks, Cohen has started playing hardball for use of the lots, sources said. City officials, meanwhile, have been skittish around any discussion of where NYCFC fans could park in the future.

Andrew Kimball, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, told reporters during a walk-through of the Willets Point site last week that “parking becomes a collaboration with the Mets,” according to the Queens Chronicle. 

“So that’ll be just a question of timing and sequencing between the two clubs,” Kimball said. 

An EDC spokesperson did not comment on the record. 

Anthony Hayes, a spokesperson for NYCFC, said the soccer club was “grateful for the overwhelming support” ahead of their new stadium — and that parking talks were still ongoing. 

“Our focus is continuing to advance the EIS and ULURP review process in partnership with local stakeholders, including the Mets, and we are confident that we will finalize a transportation and parking solution that will reflect the community’s needs for this exciting project,” Hayes said in a statement. 

Last week, NYCFC and city officials unveiled stadium renderings at a video-streamed meeting of Queens Community Board 7, which includes Willets Point. 

The area is served by both the No. 7 train and Long Island Rail Road — which recently started offering year-round service to the Mets-Willets Point station. 

The Mets, meanwhile, are in fourth place in the MLB’s National League East after losing to the Tampa Bay Rays at home on Tuesday night. 

NYCFC, who are splitting home games between Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, are in 10th place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference after losing on Saturday to the New York Red Bulls in New Jersey.

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