EXCLUSIVE: Mets owner Steve Cohen launches ‘visioning sessions’ on future developments around Citi Field

Mets owner Steve Cohen will hold public visionary sessions regarding future development around Citi Field. (File photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

While the New York Mets introduce new pitcher Kodai Senga to the media at Citi Field Monday, Dec. 19, owner Steve Cohen will also be announcing the launch of a new public outreach initiative that could have a greater impact on the area surrounding the ballpark.

When Cohen purchased the New York Mets for $2.4 billion in 2020, he made it clear that he viewed owning the team as a civic responsibility that extends beyond the walls of Citi Field. So, in addition to introducing his free agent signing from Japan, Cohen announced the first of a series of public “visioning sessions” will be held at Citi Field on Saturday, Jan. 7, to get community feedback on how to re-imagine the 50 acres of parking around the stadium as an entertainment complex that could potentially house a casino.

The visioning sessions follow months of discussions between Cohen team officials and community groups and leaders over the wasted opportunity the parking lots to the west of the ballpark aren’t serving the public to their full potential and instead serve as a barrier that divides neighborhoods from each other and nearby communities from the waterfront along Flushing Bay.

“For months, we have been listening to the local community who keeps telling us there is more they want from the area,” Cohen said. “Everyone agrees that the status quo is unacceptable.”

In addition to connecting the surrounding neighborhoods by creating easy and safe waterfront access, increasing walkability and cycling access, and improving transportation access, Cohen believes that entertainment is the economic engine that could make the 50-acre area a destination every day of the year, regardless of the weather or if it’s baseball season. Turning the area into an entertainment destination with live music, restaurants, bars and a casino would create thousands of good-paying jobs throughout the construction process and for years into the future.

Cohen is also committed to hiring locally, supporting minority and women-owned businesses, and providing workforce training programs.

“We are committed to forward a vision for the area that will create a shared space that people not only want to come to and enjoy but can be proud of,” Cohen said.

The city’s plan to build 2,500 affordable homes and a 25,000-seat soccer stadium is a separate development to the east of Citi Field. The visionary sessions are not related to the city’s plan.

The visioning sessions announcement comes after Cohen, the richest owner in Major League Baseball, went on an unprecedented free-agent shopping spree earlier this month, which saw him dole out $360 million in contracts to Justin Verlander, Senga, Jose Quintana, David Robertson and bringing back center fielder and homegrown star Brandon Nimmo. The free agent signing bonanza cushioned the blow of losing two-time Cy Young Award-winning ace Jason DeGrom who walked away from Citi Field to sign with the Texas Rangers.

(Courtesy of Queens Future)
(Courtesy of S9 Architecture)

If Cohen wants to build a casino as part of his new entertainment venue, he will need all of his business acumens to gain the support of a number of civic associations in northern Queens, who expressed their opposition to Citi Field as a potential casino site last December. The visioning sessions will provide a seat at the table for the community in the process that a number of civic groups say have been ignored by the NYS Gaming Commission after they responded to a Request for Information issued by the commission for a report that was supposed to be released on June 10.

The civic groups discovered that the Gaming Commission never prepared the report when a FOIL request submitted by Whitestone resident Robert LoScalzo to the legislature turned up “no records” on it. In their responses to the Commission RFI, the civic leaders maintained that the area to the west of Citi Field is public parkland within Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and cannot be built upon for commercial purposes. Other concerns they included were traffic volume and quality-of-life issues that a casino would bring to the area.

“The commission probably expected to get an outpouring of support for their ‘grand economic engine,’ but we sent them serious pushback from communities who will be potentially harmed by casino licensing,” Northwest Bayside Civic Association President Jena Lanzetta said. “Instead of being transparent and sharing our reactions in a report, the commission is obligated to produce, they decided not to do the report.”

The civic leaders and the Queens Civic Congress which represents the interests of more than 60 civic associations across the borough sent a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul in October urging her to intervene with the Gaming Commission so that there would be confidence in the upcoming casino licensing process. The state is expected to award three full casino licenses in New York City in 2023.

While Resorts World New York City in South Ozone Park is considered to have an inside track on one of the three downstate full casino licenses, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards had an interesting take in a recent Max Politics podcast.

“Resorts World has been a good neighbor. I mean, they’ve contributed a lot to education, billions of dollars. They’ve been a good neighbor in southern Queens for sure,” Richards said. “Steve Cohen has also been a good neighbor … at the height of [the] pandemic, [he] contributed $18 million in grants to help small businesses. One of the things we’ve been clear about is right across the train tracks is neighborhoods like Corona, which have been hit hard during [the] pandemic. And we want to make sure that even as Willets is developed, even with the possibility of a casino, that we’re also focusing on a lot of the community benefits that need to also be a part of this plan.”

Capacity at the first Citi Field visioning session starting at 2 p.m. on Jan. 7 will be limited. For community members looking to RSVP, more information can be found at queensfuture.com.