I moved to Flushing in 1980. It was a village at the end of the 7 line. You could barely see any pedestrians after the sun went down. Now the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street has become the third busiest intersection in New York City. The passenger count for the Main Street subway station in 2019 was 17.5 million, making it the busiest station outside of Manhattan.
As more and more immigrants continue coming to Flushing, we need more green space and playgrounds for families, more spaces for community events, and more opportunities for workers and small business owners.
Now we have the opportunity to turn the 50 acres of asphalt around Citi Field, right across the creek from downtown Flushing, into things we need. However, all of the above won’t happen if we only rely on the government. We need to partner with business and civic leaders who not only have the ability to deliver, but also respect our culture and put the community first.
A new casino may not be the first choice for some people. But it is the best option on the table in order to support other elements the community wants to see. As a member of Community Board 7 and a business leader, I have been briefed on at least four different proposals to redevelop the area since Mayor Bloomberg and all of these ideas ended up going nowhere. I am glad to see Mets owner Steve Cohen has taken financial feasibility into consideration while balancing it with community concerns and needs.
Since last winter, I have met with Steve Cohen and his team several times. I have also attended one of the visioning sessions in Citi Field. They have been listening to my concerns and suggestions very carefully. And they have been keeping the communication open and giving me regular updates. I have never seen this level of community engagement from any proposals before.
Gambling addiction is a serious problem that we all need to address. I have told Cohen and his team that in order to win my support, the casino operator must commit to working with local groups to provide counseling services in different languages to those who are in need. And I have been heartened that they take this responsibility seriously.
Our community also needs significant new job opportunities for local residents, and support for locally owned small businesses. Right now, countless job opportunities and tourism revenue are going to other states when the buses depart from our city to out-of-state casinos. Why not keep those job opportunities and dollars here, while seizing this opportunity for new community benefits like new green space, waterfront access, and improved public transit options?
I appreciate the inclusive approach Cohen and his team have taken. And I invite everyone to keep an open mind and join the conversation during the process to transform the 50 acres of asphalt land around Citi Field.
Peter Tu is a member of Community Board 7 and the senior advisor of the Flushing Chinese Business Association.