Dozens gather at Jackson Heights rally calling on Ramos to support Metropolitan Park

Bishop Mitchell Taylor addresses the rally at Diversity Plaza on Monday afternoon.
Photo by Queens Post

Dozens of local residents, community leaders and small business owners gathered at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights Monday afternoon for a rally calling on State Sen. Jessica Ramos to endorse the $8 billion Metropolitan Park proposal.

The proposal would transform 50 acres of parking lot adjacent to Citi Field into a year-round entertainment complex featuring significant public amenities. 

Advocates such as Bishop Mitchell Taylor, CEO of local non-profit Urban Upbound, and Leyla Bermudez. Vice President of Youth Services at Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities, gathered outside Ramos’s Jackson Heights office to urge the State Senator to throw her support behind the project.

The project, which is contingent on the group receiving one of three downstate gaming licenses from New York State within the next year, relies on the support of a New York State Senator. As the parking lot is technically part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a Senator is required to introduce parkland alienation legislation in the state Senate.

Organized by the Coalition for Queens Advancement, Monday’s rally heard chants of “we want jobs” and “we deserve nice things,” while speakers described the proposed development as a “once-in-a-lifetime development” for the borough.

Mets owner Steve Cohen and Hard Rock International’s proposal calls for the construction of a hotel, casino and entertainment complex and sets aside $1 billion for investment in community projects on the site. 

Proposals for the site include 25 acres of new public park space, a Taste of Queens Food Hall, a concert venue and the modernization of the Mets-Willets Point 7 Subway station and is expected to create 23,000 union jobs. 

Bishop Taylor said the rally was an attempt to speak in a “unified voice” and propel the Metropolitan Park project into a community review process. 

“This review process is an opportunity to amplify community voices through an open and transparent dialogue about Metropolitan Park,” Taylor said at Monday’s rally. 

Taylor added that he is excited about several components of the Metropolitan Park development and that it provides “pathways to the middle class” for residents in lower-income neighborhoods. 

He urged Ramos and other elected officials to hear the “cries and the voices that are echoing from our community” and called on Queens residents to support the project. 

“If one person speaks, it can easily be ignored. But if a thousand people speak, it cannot be ignored. We’re asking our legislators not to ignore us. Please, adhere to the cries of this community that’s calling for this economic change,” Taylor said.

Bermudez said the project will provide athletic fields, playgrounds and gardens for the local community, while it will also include a sensory playground for autistic children. 

Bermudez, whose son is on the autism spectrum, said the sensory playground will play a vital role in the lives of autistic children while also providing an “organic” support network for families with autistic children. 

“It is incredibly important. A sensory playground will provide our youth on the spectrum with activities that they need to thrive,” Bermudez said. “This space is necessary for our community and especially important as we strive for more inclusive and accessible spaces for youth on the spectrum.” 

Transit Advocate Jim Burke speaks in support of the Metropolitan Park proposal. Photo by Queens Post

Transit advocate Jim Burke said the proposed development would help to revitalize the Mets-Willets Point Subway Station, which he described as a “public embarrassment.” 

“This project will bring amazing infrastructure projects to the area. You’re going to have a subway station that’s going to look world-class. You’re going to have lighting and a two-way bike lane along Roosevelt Avenue,” Burke said. 

“These are infrastructure projects that we’ve been begging our elected officials for for many, many years.” 

Ramos has previously expressed doubts about plans to build a casino on the site adjacent to Citi Field and has held several town halls to explore alternative proposals for the site. 

Speaking at a town hall last November, Ramos expressed concern that a casino “could become obsolete” as gambling continues to move towards online betting.

Last month, a coalition of around 50 local small business owners from Corona, Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst signed a letter asking Ramos to support the Metropolitan Park proposal. 

Local resident Aaliyah Rose Scott speaks at Monday’s rally. Photo by Queens Post

Ramos has hosted three town halls to garner feedback from her constituents on the proposals, and QNS reported last month that she expected to make her decision by mid-May. 

In a statement issued ahead of Monday’s rally, Ramos said she would continue to work on behalf of her constituents. 

“Steve Cohen is doing his job trying to win support for his casino bid, and I’m doing mine in Albany representing my constituents,” Ramos said in a statement. 

Queens Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Thomas Grech, who has been vocal in his support for the project, said Monday that he believes Ramos will “eventually come around” and support the development. 

“She’s been weighing lots of different options and has a lot of people in her ear,” Grech said. “It’s going to be really, really tough for any sitting elected official, especially a senator in that district, to turn down this opportunity with all those jobs. 

“The clock is ticking; the ball is in her court. We have embraced her. We support what she’s trying to do with the different town halls that she’s held, but the time is now.” 

Pressed on the risk of pursuing a project that could be thwarted by the New York State Gaming Commission choosing alternative sites for the three downstate casinos, Grech said it was a risk worth taking and an opportunity that could not be missed. 

“To coin a phrase, you gotta be in it to win it,” Grech said. “We’ve got to get over this hurdle and alienate that parkland.” 

Burke echoed Grech, stating that the development should be given a fighting chance to succeed against other proposed casinos in New York. 

“I really think they should be given an even chance to at least compete with the other proposed casinos. Then you could really compare apples to apples and say, ‘What really is the best thing for Queens’.”