Queens Civic Groups Oppose Citi Fields Casino

Civic organizations in Queens have expressed opposition to a new gaming venue near the Willets Point area close to the Citi Field parking. Queens Civic Congress, a major group, was also among the pushback for the casino building and noted that the potential site is parkland.

The groups made their stance known on Thursday, just days after the New York Gaming Commission pushed the request for application (RFA) process for three downstate casino permits. The commission reached the decision to issue the request on Tuesday after a vote.

The coalition is known as Save Flushing Meadows Corona Park and consists of over 60 members of the Queens Civic Congress. These include the Bellerose Commonwealth Civic Association, the Juniper Park Civic Association, a Better College Point Civic Association, the Douglaston Civic Association, the Kissena Corridor Park Civic, the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, the Auburndale Improvement Association, the We Love Whitestone Civic Association, the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, the Bayside Hills Civic Association, the Holly Civic Association, and several others.

In a statement, the president of Queens Civic Congress, Warren Schreiber, stated that the parkland was not for sale and should not be considered as developable property.

“Our message to state legislators is: Our parkland is irreplaceable. It is not for sale. Contrary to what would-be casino owners may say, public parkland is not ‘developable property,’ and it must never be viewed as such,” Schreiber said.

The Queens’ casino opposition was made known four days before Mets owner Steve Cohen is set to host his “visioning session.” The event will be held at the Citi Field by Cohen-owned New Green Willets LLC. Here, the public will be allowed to have a say in what becomes of the 50 acres located on the west of the stadium.

The parkland has been leased as a stadium and parking to the Mets since 1961. Per a Cohen representative, it has been in use for parking as far back as 1939-1940 during the World’s Fair.

Prior to the casino proposal, an offer to build a shopping mall was presented in 2017. The state Court of Appeal rejected the proposal, and it was decided that development would cease on the site due to its identity as parkland. The case, which had a number of coalition members as plaintiffs, also concluded with the ruling that the New York legislature could alienate the property as it saw fit.

Paul Graziano, Flushing land use expert, was one of the plaintiffs and recently revealed that in old cases where parkland was alienated, a new green nearby space was usually used in place. He stated that, in this case, a similar move could be considered an option.

Other reasons the coalition cited to support its opposition include traffic concerns as well as the social ills that are usually associated with gambling venues. This includes addictions to gambling and illegal substances.

While the potential wealth the casinos would bring to the area was mentioned, Juniper Park Civic Association’s president, Tony Nunziato, stated that the venues would merely take money from the communities and destroy businesses around them.

“Touting the economic benefit of a casino is like putting the proverbial ‘lipstick on a pig,’” Nunziato said.

“In fact, casinos extract wealth from communities and typically weaken nearby businesses. Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base, and living close to a casino increases the chances of becoming a problem gambler.”

According to Cohen, the plans for the Citi Field property will include more than a gaming venue and will serve to provide an “entertainment destination.”

The plan to build up the casino is no secret and is reportedly backed up by a number of lobbyists. Cohen had also previously spoken to Mayor Eric Adams and gaming operators like Las Vegas Sands and Hard Rock International. The latter will likely be Cohen’s preferred partner.

Bayside community activist Jena Lanzetta said, “We believe that Steve Cohen is trying to create a perception of public support for a vague concept of an ‘entertainment venue’ – but that he may later misrepresent that as support for a casino to be built on the parkland.”

In response to considerable criticism, Cohen’s spokesperson said the Mets owner was “committed to creating a space that people can come to every day of the year to hang out by the waterfront, enjoy green space, listen to live music and have plenty of options to eat and drink.”

New York is set to issue permits to three downstate casinos; however, two of these will reportedly go to Resorts World New York City (RWNY) and MGM Resorts’ Empire City. Several other gaming operators, including Las Vegas Sands, are vying for the last gaming license.

Besides Queens, several other potential casino neighborhoods have stridently opposed having the gaming venues constructed. SL Green and Caesars Entertainment are notably facing difficulty in their Times Square bid due to the ire of several local businesses and theater groups.

The groups stated that introducing a gambling venue would only serve to keep tourists inside the casinos, placing wagers instead of in restaurants and watching shows. The opposition in Queens also expressed similar fears if the Citi Field casino were to be built.

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