Back in 2009, the $3 billion Willets Point Development Plan started to come into focus. The plan, which would include construction where chop shops now reside across the street from Citi Field (as well as the construction of a mall on the site where fans currently park during Mets games) is reaching a critical point.
Jul 16, 2013; Flushing, NY, USA; General view of the flyover during the National Anthem before the 2013 All Star Game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
With the support of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, developers are ready to proceed, most city agencies are ready to proceed, and Sterling Equities (Fred Wilpon’s firm) is ready to proceed. According to the Willets Point Development website, the plan will make the following paragraph come true:
"Willets Point will become New York’s next great neighborhood, with retail and entertainment amenities, a hotel and convention center, mixed-income housing, public open space, and community uses."
The majority of residents and city agencies are in favor of proceeding with the plan. Dissenters understandably include the people who own and operate businesses in the iron triangle, and a swath of local residents.
On August 21st, the plan passed one of its final hurdles, when the city Planning Commission voted to approve the project. One wrinkle that was added to the original initial plan, as is noted above, is the construction of a mall.
The last hurdle will be a City Council vote that’s scheduled to take place tomorrow. If the vote passes, it will pave the way for the construction of the mall and a new parking garage on the site of the Citi Field parking lot that currently sits adjacent to Citi Field. In addition, it will allow developers to begin constructing a hotel, restaurants, bars, shops, and parking where the chop shops/iron triangle currently are on 126th street.
Last week, the Queens Chronicle published a story detailing a last ditch effort by some local residents who want the plan squashed. Hundreds of residents, led by Monsignor Thomas Healy of Our Lady of Sorrows church, marched to Citi Field to protest the plan. One of their main gripes, was that the community was in need of affordable housing before anything else. The Willets Point Development plan does include the construction of affordable housing, but it’s not entirely clear when that phase of the development would begin.
Another issue that could put a crimp in the plan, is the recent demand by local officials for the City to pledge to spend $70 million on ramps that would link the Van Wyck Expressway and Willets Point. Here’s an excerpt from an article that appeared yesterday in Crain’s New York:
"Two days before the New York City Council is set to issue a preliminary but critical verdict on a $3 billion plan to build a huge retail complex at Willets Point, Queens, local officials have raised the ante. They have asked for the city to guarantee it will pay $70 million for traffic ramps leading into the development, which will ultimately include hotel and residential space, from the Van Wyck Expressway. On Wednesday, two City Council subcommittees are set to vote on the plan, one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s biggest economic development projects…the city has previously pledged to pay for the ramps, but the funds have not yet been allocated to the project in the city’s capital budget. The Council, including Councilwoman Julissa Ferraras, whose district encompasses Willets Point and who is negotiating with the city, is asking that the ramps be woven into a deal the city arranged last year with the massive project’s developers, The Related Cos. and Sterling Equities."
If the city agrees to pay for the ramps, it’s highly likely that the plan will clear its final hurdle tomorrow.
The main interest in this space, is just how much money Sterling Equities will be contributing to the project. Some Mets fans are worried that the Willets Point Development plan will drain Fred Wilpon (who runs Sterling Equities) of funds that are necessary to run the ball club. However, there’s no indication that the $70 million dollars that would be spent on the ramps would be coming from a privately held firm such as Sterling Equities. Rather, it will be coming from the city.
I’m guessing the majority of Mets fans would be in favor of the Willets Point Development plan as long as they were confident it wouldn’t interfere with money that should be allocated to the day to day operations of the Mets.
It would be painful if the eventual development of a mall ended up covering the plaques that currently mark where the bases and pitcher’s rubber used to be at Shea Stadium. However, I think most fans would trade that piece of nostalgia in order for an eyesore to be transformed into a vibrant neighborhood right next to where the Mets play.