Residents pack town hall hosted by Sen. Ramos to debate proposed casino development and alternative plan

town hall
Photo by Athena Dawson

Hundreds of people gathered at the New York Hall of Science for a town hall hosted by state Sen. Jessica Ramos Wednesday evening to provide encouragement—or disapproval—of the proposed casino plan by Citi Field or the alternative Phoenix Meadows proposal.

Panelists for Metropolitan Park (left) and the Phoenix Meadows plan (right). Photo by Athena Dawson

A huge line wrapped around the building as residents waited in anticipation to get inside. Part of the massive crowd were required to go into a standby auditorium to watch a live stream of the town hall via Facebook.

Audience members watch the live stream of the town hall. Photo by Athena Dawson

The meeting, the third to be held by Ramos, was significant, since she said she would make a decision whether or not to support the development of the site by the end of the legislative session in June. Given the site is public parkland, it needs Albany to pass legislation in order for private development to proceed via a parkland alienation measure.

Photo by Athena Dawson
Photo by Athena Dawson

The meeting got off to a rocky start due to technical difficulties with the live stream in the secondary auditorium. Disgruntled residents in that room vocalized their complaints about audio problems. Ramos came in to placate the crowd and offered headsets to those who needed them. Around 7:30 p.m., the issues were fixed, and onlookers were able to watch the livestream going on in the main auditorium.

The panelists at the meeting included representatives of Metropolitan Park, which is billionaire Mets owner Steve Cohen’s proposal, and Phoenix Meadows, consisting of a plan put forward by a neighborhood group.

The representatives of Metropolitan Park presented their $8 billion proposal that would boast 20 acres of new park space in conjunction with the development of a casino, hotel and entertainment complex. They said the plan, which is also dependent on a casino license, would bring 15,000 construction and permanent jobs and has the backing of several unions. They also touted a $1 billion community benefits package, which includes an athletic field and MTA station upgrades.

Meanwhile, the advocates for the Phoenix Meadows proposal, designed by advocates as a part of Flushing for Equitable Development and Urban Planning (FED-UP), argued that their plan would be more attractive for neighboring residents and would have the environment in mind. Their proposal calls for 65 acres of parkland and would maintain the parking structure that is utilized by fans that travel to the stadium.

“[We should] keep parkland in the hands of the public and bring a park that everyone can enjoy. The park itself can become a site for something new and exciting for new small businesses and job opportunities,” said one of the representatives for the Phoenix Meadows proposal.

Both proposals were met with cheers- and boos- from an audience peppered with construction union workers, activists, casino protestors and local residents.

After the presentation of each proposal, Ramos opened the floor to allow the audience to ask questions of the panelists. One question dealt with the development timeline of both plans.

Residents line up to speak to the panelists. Photo by Athena Dawson

“How long should we wait for your plan to come to fruition?” Shanelle Thomas Henry, of East Elmhurst, asked representatives of both groups.

“Once we get all the permits, the day we find out if we get the gaming license, we will be ready to go put shovels in the ground, and it will take three and a half years to build and it’s going to create a lot of jobs,” responded Michael Sullivan, chief of staff to Cohen.

The Phoenix Meadows panelists said the timeline would be shorter. “A year of design engagement, six months of permitting and two years of building,” a representative of the group said.

Both responses were met with applause from audience members before the crowd died down to hear other questions.

Some residents didn’t ask questions but rather gave their opinion of the projects.

A long-time Jackson Heights resident and business owner told the crowd that the Metropolitan Park project would bring jobs to Queens. “I feel that the project Metropolitan is selling is going to bring the jobs that we need back to Queens, back to the community,” he said.

Toward the end of the town hall, a Phoenix Meadows panelist reiterated the group’s “alternative vision” for the space.

“We came here as we said in the beginning with an alternative vision,” a Phoenix Meadows panelist said. “We really invite everybody in this room to come together with us…to really come up with a vision of something that can benefit everybody here.”