Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in her State of the Borough address Friday proposed the placement of a soccer and hockey arena at Willets Point, as well as a school, economic recreation center and a parking facility at the 62-acre site.
“New York City’s land is not limitless, and with the projected growth in our borough, this highly coveted area of Willets Point needs to be remediated and prepped for a cleaner future,” Katz said at her address at York College. “…We should be unafraid to think bigger … bolder … and more comprehensively.”
Her idea, of which there were very few details, could face significant pushback.
Right now, the nearby parking lot for Citi Field, which is technically parkland, is being eyed for a 1.4 million-square foot mega mall. Preservationists, who say any such development would require approval from the Legislature due to the land's status, have sued to block the project, called Willets West.
Those opponents of the plan, led by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), scored a major victory in 2015 when the state Appellate Division ruled the project illegal but the developers, Queens Development Group, successfully petitioned the Court of Appeals to hear their argument. The case remains there.
The developers say the Willets West project is financially necessary in order to move ahead with development at Willets Point itself.
Katz, in her address, said, “… as we await the outcome of the lawsuit, let’s ponder additional options.”
“We should be unafraid we should think bigger, bolder and more comprehensively,” she later said. “We need to review positioning ourselves for success by thinking creatively about further options that address our changing borough’s needs — a new school, an eco-recreation center, more parking to accommodate simultaneous big events that we have there now, because all those big events that we have now are wreaking havoc on the soccer fields and grass in Flushing Meadows for parking.
“And to help pay for it, let's consider a soccer stadium, let's consider a hockey stadium” she said. “Just imagine if we, the World’s Borough, hosted the World Cup or the Stanley Cup.”
A soccer stadium was previously proposed at nearby Flushing Meadows Corona Park, but that plan fizzled out following massive community opposition.
At the bare minimum, Katz said of Willets Point, the old Iron Triangle, "Let's clean it up."
One opponent of the mall project quickly criticized the borough president’s proposal.
"Borough President Katz's push for yet another stadium in Willets Point on property that was essentially stolen from small businesses for the supposed use of creating a new affordable residential community — a plan that she herself negotiated in 2008 as the Land Use Chair on the City Council! — would be almost comical if it weren't so disturbing,” said Paul Graziano, an urban planning consultant, plaintiff in the lawsuit and City Council hopeful.
“Law enforcement officials should look very carefully at possible collusion between the Borough President's office and the developers in question, as this seems to be yet another attempt at grabbing our city's public property in order to further enrich a few very already wealthy individuals at our expense," Graziano, who is running as a primary opponent against Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) in September, continued.
Avella called it a "non-starter," citing the opposition to the failed Flushing Meadows Corona Park stadium.
"I don't think that will fly with the community," he said. "I'm sort of surprised the borough president would suggest a stadium."