New York City

Jessica Ramos nearing decision on Steve Cohen’s Queens casino

In the next few months, the key state senator blocking the development may give a final thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos moderated a town hall for two competing plans proposed in Queens.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos moderated a town hall for two competing plans proposed in Queens. Ethan Geringer-Sameth

A key state lawmaker may soon decide whether to advance a plan to build a sprawling casino complex in Northeast Queens.

The proposal by billionaire Mets owner Steve Cohen to build a casino, park and entertainment complex on the parking lot adjacent to Citi Field, using one of three available downstate casino licences, has faced uncertainty in the face of competing bids, regulatory obstacles and community opposition. 

At a forum in Corona on Wednesday night, state Sen. Jessica Ramos said she would make a decision about whether to support a parkland alienation measure by the end of the legislative session in June – after considering more feedback from residents – that would remove a critical statutory hurdle.

“This is a really important decision, and I do think that still not enough community members know about either proposal, or that there is this possibility of a casino coming and our community does deserve to know,” Ramos told reporters after the town hall at the New York Hall of Science.

“So I’m going to continue trying to inform and educate the public about land use and I hope to come up with a decision by the end of session,” she added.

In November, Cohen put forward the $8 billion Metropolitan Park plan to build a casino, hotel, concert venue and 20 acres of green space on the redeveloped parcel, in partnership with entertainment giant Hard Rock International. The proposal, which would create 15,000 construction and long-term union jobs, has the support of a number of labor unions, including District Council 9, Laborers’ Local 79, Cement and Concrete Workers District Council, the Transport Workers Union and the Building Trades Employers’ Association.

Since Cohen announced his casino plan, a second proposal called Phoenix Meadows to build a 68 acre public park on the site with subterranean parking space – backed by a dueling coalition of Queens organizations called Flushing for Equitable Development and Urban Planning, also known as FED UP – has emerged as an alternative. Both groups presented their visions at the town hall Wednesday, which was the third organized by Ramos since last spring.

In order to be considered for use as a casino, state lawmakers must first authorize a land-use change for the parking lot, which sits on land currently designated for public parks. Last year, Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, who represents the part of Corona containing Citi Field, introduced legislation to do so. Ramos, his counterpart in the state Senate, did not, citing the need for more community input.

Ahead of the town hall Wednesday, Michael Sullivan, Cohen’s chief of staff, unveiled the outline of a $1 billion community benefits package – part of the total $8 billion Cohen and Hard Rock are offering – that he said the group would commit to in its application to the state Gaming Commission.

“I’m going to include that in our (request for application) so our feet are held to the fire and we can’t open the doors to that building and get the license to operate until we’ve delivered on what we’ve promised,” Sullivan said shortly after at the town hall.

Representatives of FED UP said the Phoenix Meadows concept would do more to benefit local residents and mitigate the impacts of heavy rains in the flood-prone segment of Queens. The park, they said, would also spur economic activity in the surrounding neighborhood, driven by foot traffic. The coalition said the project could be funded using a mix of city, state, federal and private dollars, but the exact funding streams have not been identified.

“This is just a platform. This is not a full design,” said Gita Nandan, an architect with Thread Collective, a landscape design firm, that is working on the proposal. “This is the beginning of a community engagement process where we hope these 65 acres can be given back to the community for your use.”