CITI FIELD, Queens — Right now, it’s one of the city’s largest parking lots but it was supposed to be developed into a gleaming new mall and entertainment venue next to Citi Field. That plan now has been shot down by a panel of state court judges, and the reason came as a surprise even to many nearby residents.
For the better part of a decade, the city has had in place a plan to develop the Citi Field southwest parking lot, where Shea Stadium used to sit, into the Willets West mall and entertainment center.
Instead, though, on that site currently is a 30-acre parking lot. As of Thursday evening, it appears that it will remain that way, as the biggest advocate against mall development on the site points out.
“That parking lot is actually park land,” said State Senator Tony Avella, D-Queens, who helped to file the lawsuit against the city and who attended both state court hearings on the issue of developing the lot. “By law, you should not be able to give away park land without approval from the state legislature and without replacing park land.”
To be precise, the parking lot is zoned as part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, but most local residents told PIX11 News they dispute that designation.
“I don’t think that’s park land,” said Rojé Gibson, who was cycling past the parking lot Friday afternoon.
“I guess you redefine parking lot as park land?” said his cycling partner, Douglas Orellana.
But the state senator said that good judgement prevailed.
“There are a number of yearly events that go on in that parking lot, that the community has access to,” Avella said, “but if you take that away and build a big megamall, you’ve lost those 30 to 40 acres forever.”
Cirque du Soleil set up in the lot for a weeks-long run in 2013, and other large scale activities, like community festivals, have been there as well. That doesn’t mean, however, that some local residents wouldn’t rather have a mall.
“Kids like to go to the mall and buy stuff for themselves,” said Andrea Flores, a preteen who was walking past the lot on a family outing. “It’s nice because it’s next to Citi Field.”
Other local residents pointed out that there are already malls within minutes of the Citi Field location. They said that they didn’t necessarily think of the parking lot as park land, but they do feel that it could be used in a better way than as a shopping mall.
“They should use that just for the people who come for themselves and the game,” said Zulmarie Velez as she prepared to board the 7 train at Willets Point Station.
And Douglas Orellana, one of the cyclists, said that he had a simple suggestion for the future use of the lot. “I’d rather see actual park land,” he told PIX11 News, “not a parking lot, not retail space, but real park land. Something more like this,” he said, as he pointed to a landscaped, half-acre triangle at the entrance to Citi Field. “This is park land.”
Because city offices are closed for the holiday, PIX11 wasn’t able to get a comment from the attorneys who argued for the development, but if they want to appeal the state court decision, they will first have to get approval from the same panel of three state judges who ruled against them, unanimously.
Meanwhile, development is still slated to go ahead on the northeast side of Citi Field, where the so-called Iron Triangle of auto repair shops, garages and dead end streets with no drainage or sewer system currently exists. Some of the business owners in that district also have lawsuits pending against the city, which has prepared destinations for the businesses to relocate in the Bronx, and which has also offered to pay the businesses’ relocation costs.