Queens coalition wants park rezoned for casino

In hopes that New York Mets owner Steve Cohen will build a casino in Queens and bring a ton of economic development along with it, a coalition of community groups in Jackson Heights is pushing Albany lawmakers to redesignate the area around Citi Field in Flushing from what is technically parkland in order to allow for development.

The Coalition for Queens Advancement is pressuring state Sen. Jessica Ramos – who represents western Queens – to propose parkland alienation legislation that would allow Cohen to develop $8 billion worth of entertainment venues, hotels, restaurants and gaming. The groups say the project, dubbed Metropolitan Park, will bring $1 billion in jobs, economic development and infrastructure improvements in Queens.

“For 85 years, the area around Citi Field has been a complete parking lot. It’s just asphalt. We want this to change,” said Olga Reyes, who organized the rally. “Why can’t our children have a place to go and have a green space? Why can’t we take them to a concert without traveling an hour and a half in traffic?”

Ramos has characterized supporters as paid canvassers and said most people in Queens don’t want a casino.

“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 an emailed statement in response to the rally.

The decision to build a casino at Citi Field follows a separate track than the legislation to allow development around Citi Field. Cohen has said that both are needed for the casino.

Cohen is one of five gaming companies competing to open Las Vegas-style casinos in and around New York City. The state’s gaming commission is only granting three licenses downstate — and two are likely going to the local “racinos” in Yonkers and Ozone Park. Town halls around the city have been weighing in, with some calling the benefits of casinos “blood money.”

A six-member Community Advisory Committees appointed by the mayor, governor and local elected officials will select one – or none – of the proposals. The application then goes before the Gaming Facility Location Board, which will make a recommendation to the state Gaming Commission, which will make the final licensing decision.

The community groups said they were not Cohen-funded. Karl Rickett, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Park project, said the coalition organized Monday’s rally.

“We need to expand the permitted use of the park to allow us to go forward with the project,” he said.

At the rally, supporters displayed signs advocating the development opportunities of the project. Under the Metropolitan Park logo, one sign listed $320 million for a public park, $480 for subway station improvements, $150 million for a food hall, $25 million in “neighborhood projects” and $164 million for a so-called community impact fund.

“We deserve to have this project, we deserve 24,000 union jobs,” said Aaliyah Scott, a student who spoke at the rally. “Jessica [Ramos], we are calling out to you. We love you, but we need your help and without you this cannot go through.”

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