The Black Institute called on New York City officials May 19 to launch an investigation into whether the Mets were compliant with their economic development goals when constructing Citi Field under a Bloomberg-era contract.
Additionally, the Institute called upon Mayor Eric Adams and his administration to renegotiate contracts with the Mets and Yankees to ensure they’re meeting their economic development goals, including contracting with minority and women-owned business enterprises.
The demands come on the heels of “Foul Ball,” a report detailing accountability issues that plagued the construction of Citi Field and called into question whether the construction project met its economic development goals, based on a lack of monthly workforce utilization reports and unwillingness from elected officials to meet regarding the issue.
The organization’s initial commitments from Citi Field’s construction included an agreement to set aside 25% of its annual charitable contributions for Queens-based groups and the requirement to have contractors promote 25% of its jobs for Queens residents and businesses, as well as another 25% to minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) citywide and other promises.
“From minority and women-owned businesses being pushed out of Willets Point, to the total lack of transparency from the Mets, our report underscores the failure of the Mets to make true on their promises to communities in Queens,” Black Institute President Bertha Lewis said. “It’s past time for city officials to fully investigate the Mets’ compliance with their MWBE commitments, especially as New York state continues to engage in deals with sports teams with little accountability or oversight. It’s a shame that city officials didn’t do any reports looking into the Mets’ commitments, and it’s critical that this type of reporting is prioritized going forward.”
This report comes just as New York state has approved the allocation of $600 million for the construction of a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills NFL team. The allocation was approved in hopes it would help spur economic development.
City redevelopment plans have led to the closure of several small businesses in Willets Point around Citi Field. The recent revelation and the fact that these plans haven’t yet come to fruition has left much of the area demolished.
The Black Institute performed research to analyze the efficacy of commitments made by the Mets since constructing Citi Field and the economic impact it has had on the local community. The Institute concluded that there was not sufficient evidence indicating the Mets upheld their commitments to the city and the Queens community based on documents obtained from Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the Mets David Cohen.
The Institute states that the report found the Mets were able to evade accountability for neglecting their promises to the community due to a lack of involvement and oversight from city officials and members of the advisory committee. The Institute has argued that moving forward these projects must require MWBE participation, have increased supervision from the city and include accountability for participation goals.
In light of the report, the Institute created a list of demands for the city moving forward:
New York City Mayor Eric Adams to publicly announce and support renegotiations of contracts with the Mets and the Yankees, effective immediately.
New York City Comptroller Brad Lander to formally launch investigations into whether the Mets were compliant with their MWBE promises with the city, effective immediately.
The City Council to support and legislate in favor of audits and investigations into the city’s dealings with athletic franchises.
The City Council to support and legislate in favor of increased MWBE participation requirements and increased levels of scrutiny to ensure these requirements are met.
All individuals, organizations and applicable successors mentioned as members of the advisory committee and the city administration to formally apologize for their lack of enforcement and oversight regarding MWBE utilization in the construction of Citi Field, including former NYC Mayors Bill de Blasio and Michael Bloomberg, former NYC Comptrollers Scott Stringer, John Liu and Bill Thompson, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Queens County District Attorney Melinda Katz, former Queens Borough President Sharon Lee, former NYC Council members Hiram Monserrate, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Daneek Miller, NYC Council member Francisco Moya and NYS Senator Leroy Comrie.
This wouldn’t mark the first or last time that the Wilpons have angered business owners in the community.
Shortly after Citi Field’s completion, the Wilpons wanted to use an empty plot of land estimated to be around 1.4 million square feet to construct a shopping mall. However, many of the local businesses in the area objected to this and challenged the decision in court, with the New York State Court of Appeals ruling in 2017 that the construction of commercial property there was illegal due to the fact it was located on parkland.
Most of the businesses near the stadium have long-held gripes with the city’s leadership as well. This is due in large part to the fact that the city attempted to gain control over private property in Willets Point via an eminent domain suit. However, after gaining control over enough properties in the area, they dropped the suit. Many of these businesses became tenants of the city, which planned to move their operations to the Bronx. The 45 businesses that planned to relocate didn’t receive sufficient funds and were unable to complete the renovations or move in at the time.
According to John Fodera Jr., owner and operator of Fodera Foods on 129-02 Northern Blvd., some businesses have struggled or even gone out of business because the city wasn’t willing to offer them a fair price for the property.
“We just wanted a fair market value for our properties from the city before leaving Willets Point,” Fodera said. “We just wanted to get paid and move on, but the city just wanted to eminent domain us.”
Fodera and other business owners in the area have also spent a long time attempting to get numerous city officials, from senators to previous Queens borough presidents, among others, to address the conditions in the area. However, he’s become jaded over the possibility that something would get done, as there’s been very little action taken.
“There are potholes all over the place and there’s not an efficient sewer system around here,” Fodera said. “We’ve spent years trying to get Willets Point repaved. The fact we don’t have an effective sewer system has led to pipes frequently bursting.”
Citi Field opened in 2009, with Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz serving as the owners of the team at the time until Steve Cohen purchased the team and became majority owner in 2020.