By MICHAEL GARETH JOHNSON
The year 2019 will mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of Citi Field, home of the Mets. In that 10-year span, the sprawling 61-acre plot of land across the street has been an eyesore for the hundreds of thousands of fans who have made the trip to see Queens’ home baseball team.
At a Community Board 7 meeting on Sept. 26, the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC) presented an update on the redevelopment of the project. The takeaway from most members of the community board was that the project is at best moving along at a snail’s pace, while some Willets Point landowners spoke of their frustration with the project and their distrust of the city.
The NYCEDC reported back from its taskforce discussions over the summer that the most likely use for the area is a mixed-use development that would feature affordable housing and senior housing, as well as an ample amount of retail space to capitalize on the proximity to the stadium and to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The idea of a soccer stadium at the site is also being considered. NYCEDC is now working with the taskforce to finalize recommendations and set forth a more concrete plan of action.
One step to which the NYCEDC and QDG are immediately committed is to secure a 23-acre plot of land that the city now completely owns, demolish remaining structures on the site and then build fencing to prevent people from entering it. After that, the plan is to start environmental-impact studies to learn the scope of the cleanup project ahead of them — which likely would take years.
At the meeting, residents and community board members pressed the NYCEDC and city representatives on when work would begin on new ramps from the nearby highways that would be necessary for any development at the location. The plan is to use a six-acre parcel of the land to build these ramps, but the project cannot start until after environmental studies are completed and the land is cleaned up.
The top concern expressed by Community Board 7 members was a specific two-acre plot of land that is currently owned by QDG, but the city has the option to call back that land as long as it does so before the development moves forward. At the meeting, city officials said it was their intention to call back the land, but community board members were insistent that it be done. The members have since drafted a letter to the NYCEDC and the city requesting that they take this action.
With development of Willets Point still at least several years away, landowners at the site are calling for the city Department of Transportation (DOT) to do some basic work fixing the existing roads: The roads are littered with potholes, and in places there are completely destroyed sections of pavement that more closely resemble an abandoned parking lot than a functioning road. Landowners at the meeting also specifically expressed concern that the poor state of the infrastructure has become a flooding risk, with freestanding water taking days or weeks to drain after storms.
At the meeting, NYCEDC and city officials pledged to work with the DOT to address the concerns.