Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Casino Sought For Flushing Meadows Park - Willet's Point Documents Reveal

Gambling on Park Land.  Related Companies, Sterling Equities and Triple M Development's Willets Point original proposal included building a massive 3.2 million sq. ft casino and entertainment complex adjacent to Citi-Field in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  (Click on images to enlarge) Photos By Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates

The mayor's office and EDC refused to return a request for comment on whether or not they would be interested in the casino plan if the state approved gambling in the area. 


By Geoffrey Croft

When Sheldon Silver recently mentioned the possibility of a casino in Willets Point, he wasn't engaging in idle speculation: It turns out the winning bidders on the city's redevelopment plan had actually proposed to build a Las Vegas-style casino in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, according to documents obtained by Willets Point United and NYC Park Advocates. 

The victors were the Bloomberg administration’s preferred developer, the Related Companies, and Sterling Equities, the owner of the New York Mets. Their proposal included not just a  900,000-square-foot casino but a shopping mall and “premium” hotel tower, all part of a massive 3.2 million-square-foot  “sports and entertainment” complex on parkland west of CitiField's parking lot.

Parking Lot Gamble.   The developers offered to pay $100 million to acquire the property, including the parkland.

Their plan included a "world-class" casino which would introduce a portfolio of "Class III  casino games to New York City" including slot machines and table games, live concerts, theatre and sporting events; a 1.8 million-square-foot shopping mall with department stores, restaurants and cafes, movie theaters, and bowling alleys; a 31-story, 500-room hotel, with restaurants, bars, a ballroom and a rooftop “pool club,” and parking for 13, 500 people including valet and VIP access areas. 

"Views from the tower back to the New York Skyline and out over the Citi Field would be among the most unique and unforgettable in the City," the proposal gushed. 

The plan also included building a pedestrian bridge to help deliver gamblers from Flushing to the sprawling complex. 

The project will attract "millions of visitors each year from the New York area and around the world," according to the September 9, 2011 proposal submitted to the City's Economic Development Corporation (EDC). 

“We stand ready to commit significant time and resources, and to work with EDC, the Bloomberg Administration, and the appropriate City, State, and federal agencies and officials to realize this vision and make the Willets Point area the premier sports and entertainment destination in America,” said an introductory letter signed by Related’s Jeff Blau and Sterling’s Jeff Wilpon.

The developers offered to pay $100 million to acquire all 61.4 acres of Willets Point.  The developers claimed the project would bring “in excess of $429,000,000” in public revenues annually as well as bring in “over $300,000,000 in direct and indirect tax revenue over the course of the union-construction period.”

"We certainly acknowledge that our development concept departs from the programming components of the City's master plan. However the benefits are compelling." 

The plan allows the city to "meaningfully participate in the revenue anticipated to be created by gaming opportunities in New York State.” 

The plan also included building a pedestrian bridge to help deliver gamblers from downtown Flushing to the sprawling complex. 

“I mentioned Willets Point because it’s basically a bunch of junkyards right now, and there’s some talk of revitalizing it,” Sheldon Silver said.

While the casino industry is eager to enter New York City,  due to its large population, concentrated wealth and large tourist industry Sheldon Silver has repeatedly said the casinos should not be located in densely populated areas. Asked if people couldn’t just as easily take mass transit to his permitted areas, Silver said, 'Yes, but my concern is that somebody doesn’t go out on their lunch hour. You have to take a half-hour trip or hour trip to get there.'" 

“I don’t believe densely populated areas of the state should have a casino,” Mr. Silver said.

“I don’t believe that people should be able to go on their lunch hour and have the ability to lose a week or a month’s pay on their lunch hour, so we should look at destinations that are not in densely populated areas.”

Evidently Silver is confused about where Willets Point is located. The Queens neighborhoods of Corona and Flushing are a few minutes walking distance from where the massive casino envisioned by the developers would be sited.

Legislation is required because of New York State's prohibition against gambling.  Governer Coumo is currenlty seeking the second passage of a resolution to amend the State Constitution permitting up to seven new full-scale casinos in the state. 

In an apparent attempt to get around the politics of Albany - as well as prohibitions against organized gambling by the owners of sports teams – Sterling’s Fred Wilpon and Related’s Stephen Ross (owner of the Miami Dolphins) proposal included a deal that brought in the Hampton’s Shinnecock Indian tribe. 

"The Shinnecock Indian Nation has committed to the project, " the document states.  

"We fully and enthusiastically support this concept and look forward to working with New York City to make it a reality,"  the Indian tribe wrote.

The mayor's office and EDC refused to return a request for comment on whether or not they would be interested in the casino plan if the state approved gambling in the area.

EDC has also refused to provide the proposal that won the Willets Point project, which would put an "entertainment and retail center” on the spot where the casino was proposed.  Mayor Bloomberg is also trying to avoid putting any of these development projects through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

"The casino proposal of Sterling/Related makes an absolute mockery of the entire public review process for the proposed Willets Point development and proves where these developers' real priorities are,” said a statement from Willets Point United, a group of property owners in the path of the city’s plans who oppose the development. 

“The Willets Point development was never envisioned or presented to decision-makers as a casino-centric project. That the Sterling/Related joint venture proposed to convert it into one, and to expand the project's boundaries to encompass nearly all the property surrounding CitiField, underscores that the Willets Point development is merely a pretext for the owners of the Mets to consolidate all the property around their stadium and exploit it for their maximum profit.”

Two other proposals  - including new stadiums for Major League Soccer and the U.S. Tennis Association are also attempting to claim nearby public lands in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  

Front Page - New York Post

 Joe Petruccio/ESPN  

Read More:

New York Post - February 5, 2013 - By Rich Calder

City Limits - February 5, 2013 - By Patrick Arden  

gothamist - February 5, 2013 -  By Jen Chung 

ESPN - By Adam Rubin 

New York Times -  February 5, 2013 - By Charles V. Bagli


  1. They should be ashamed of themselves!

  2. It's an embarrassment.

  3. What an abomination. This is the logical endpoint of the concessionization of parkland -- the eclipse of parkland in a sea of massive commercialization. It is, simply, theft of public land with it being delivered into the hands of private interests.