October 10, 2013

Willets Point to be Cleaned Up

Earlier this year I ran the Spartan Race at Citi Field. This involved running in and out and around Citi Field doing all sorts of things I was not physically equipped to do. One thing the race gave me the opportunity to do was to stop occasionally and get a view of the areas surrounding Citi from the stadium's highest points. Anyone who has spent any significant time at Citi or Shea has seen, and likely sighed, at the horrible chop-shops...I mean auto-body repair chops...across the street from Citi Field. They are truly a blight on the area. It's unfortunate that such a beautiful ballpark has such horrible surroundings.

Well, the city, and specifically Mayor Bloomberg, is trying to help out. On Wednesday the New York City Council voted to approve the Willets Point Redevelopment project. The plan calls for a complete overhaul of the areas surrounding Citi Field, including the stadium's parking lot. Specifically, the chop-shops will be replaced by retail space and restaurants, as well as hotels.  Additionally, the Citi Field parking lot will be mostly replaced by what is essentially a shopping mall.  Over time the plan calls for the construction of residential housing units as well, which will likely consist of high-rise towers. The plan is estimated to cost about $3 billion and the Mets, through Sterling Equities, will presumably have a piece of the deal.

I am usually weary of any project where any city is going to drop money in the laps of sports franchises in any way (just google Cincinatti Benglas, stadium, and public finance to see why), and the city has earmarked approximately $400 million for the project already. However, I like this deal for several reasons. First, while Sterling Equities is involved and they are the real estate wing of the New York Mets owner's business empire, it is not directly the Mets. If Sterling wasn't involved, somebody else would be. Second, look at the picture at the top of this post. It's awful. It's truly a waste of land and space to have acre upon acre of disgusting, and potentially criminal, shops. While beautifying the area will certainly help the Mets, it will also help the city and my home borough of Queens. If looked at from above, that area can be a wonderful spot for these things. You have space, easy transport to and from, water and a baseball park. Why this has taken this long is beyond me.

That's not to say it is happening any time soon as it is. They have to cleanup the entire area, both environmentally and aesthetically, which currently has a target completion date of 2015. The retail space and hotel which is meant to replace the garages has a target completion date of 2016 and the mall has a target completion date of 2018. The residential spaces are well in the future and have a target date of 2024, but with dates that far in the future you cannot predict anything, let alone a completion date. The plan still has to go through environmental impact reports. The city has to accommodate the business owners that are currently in these areas, 95% of which are on board with the plan, but as with any plan, there are holdouts. Also...there will be lawsuits...lots and lots of lawsuits.

This doesn't even take into account the usual delays and over budget expenses that arise whenever New York City has such an ambitious plan. The World Trade Center plans have gone years and years beyond their projected calendar and the budget was swallowed up years ago.

In the end I think this is a good deal for the City, the Borough and, perhaps most importantly to you, the Mets. It will beautify the area, give Citi Field the surrounding it deserves, bring people to the Ballpark and perhaps help out the Mets budget. You can tell Mayor Bloomberg I am on board.

You can follow me on twitter at @joshuetree

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