Hundreds of community residents and leaders gathered at the Piazza Club inside Citi Field to participate in a visioning session regarding the development of a nearby 50-acre lot. This marked the second visioning session New York Mets owner Steve Cohen has hosted at Citi Field in January as he attempts to collect as much community feedback regarding the development as possible.
Attendees of the visioning session went to a series of interactive stations, sharing what mattered most to them when it came to improving the area around Citi Field, including preferred forms of year-round entertainment, ability to access different forms of transportation and attainable local jobs and training. Information and input was collected from the community in how they would like to see the lot utilized. A common theme among many of those who took part in the visioning session was the desire to see something built there that would bring a lot of economic opportunity to the community and provide year-round entertainment.
This aligns with the five core principles established when the visioning sessions were announced. These principles are putting community first, building dedicated open space for the public, connecting surrounding neighborhoods to the waterfront, bringing year-round entertainment to life and creating good-paying local jobs and economic opportunity for local small businesses.
Cohen had announced the visioning sessions in December after several months of discussions he held with community groups and leaders. This series of sessions has allowed for him to hear directly from people who may know what is best for the community in regards to reimagining the space.
“Since I bought the team, the community and fans have made it clear to me that we can and should do better with the area around the ballpark,” Cohen said. “Across the country, ballparks have been adding meaningful experiences for both fans and the entire community. Queens shouldn’t be an exception.”
While there were many ideas on how to utilize the space, there’s a very good chance that more than one of the more common suggestions ends up getting used, as there will likely be plenty of room to fit them. For example, there could be a green space there for outdoor activities as well as a shopping center or casino that would also contain restaurants.
“Our area’s been a desert for economic development, health and finances,” First Baptist Church East Elmhurst Rev. Patrick Young said. “This is an opportunity to put in fresh wells so we can have fresh water of opportunities. We can drink in opportunities, jobs and living wages. I’d like to see economic opportunity, as far as jobs and whatever comes from that, and entertainment. This would allow small businesses to thrive. Steve Cohen has come in and wrapped his arms around the community and connected with the community.”
Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Grech praised Cohen for the process in which he’s gone about to get input from the community on the lot. He described the approach as “bottom-up,” meaning that the first people Cohen is trying to hear from are members of the community and small business owners before exploring plans with the city and other organizations.
Grech said he would like to see a small convention center built in the area to help drive both local and regional businesses to the area.
“I do think a pedestrian bridge from Downtown Flushing to Willets Point would allow the throngs of people to come down here and enjoy soccer, baseball and whatever else is built, especially this,” Grech said. “We have ideas. We should build upon them. We should be deliberate and we should be community focused.”
Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens CEO Costa Constantinides reiterated the importance of beginning with getting feedback from the community before deciding upon a project. He was inspired to see just how many people were there to provide input on the matter. Constantinides said he’d like to see some green space and connectivity to the water take up at least some of those 50 acres. Additionally, he mentioned restaurants, entertainment, housing and community facilities as things he would like to see there.
“There’s real feedback that’s being supplied here,” Constantinides said. “The vision that will come to fruition will be one that’s community-driven, has the community behind it and the community listening. I look at this and see untapped potential. This is the opportunity of a generation to reinvigorate Willets Point and to integrate it even further into the borough of Queens. Queens deserves the vibrancy that has the potential here.”