FLUSHING MEADOWS, Queens (PIX11) — Almost two months to the day that a proposal for a casino hotel next to Citi Field got a big boost in the New York State legislature, it received a significant setback from the state senator who represents the community in which the ballpark is located. 

State Sen. Jessica Ramos said that she won’t introduce legislation that would allow the 50-acre parking lot next to the Mets’ home stadium to be considered for the casino development requested by Mets owner, Steve Cohen. 

“I understand that he very much would like for me to do this as soon as possible,” Ramos, a Democrat who represents Jackson Heights, Corona, and Flushing Meadows, said in an interview. “Unfortunately, we have not had robust, serious conversations with the community about all of our options,” she said.  

The 50 acres adjacent to Citi Field’s west, or third baseline, side are a parking lot. However, it’s officially considered parkland by the state, and the state legislature controls how it’s used. To convert the space from parkland to something else would require an action called “parkland alienation.”  

In mid-March, the member of the lower house of the legislature, Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubrey, introduced a bill that would have allowed parkland alienation, and opened the possibility of a casino and greenway parkland. 

For it to proceed, a similar measure needed to be put forward in the upper house of the legislature — the state senate. Ramos would have been the member of the senate to make it happen, but she was clear on Monday that it was going nowhere for now, after she’d held a town hall meeting with some of her constituents on Friday. 

“We’ve calculated that about 65% of my neighbors who spoke up at the town hall spoke out against a casino specifically,” Sen. Ramos said, “and that’s because, you know, casinos are known to extract wealth from communities.”

“I would not want to live in a world,” she continued, “where we need to have a casino in order to win all of the basic things that every single New Yorker should be afforded without without discrimination.”

However, a spokesperson for Cohen and his casino development project, called New Green Willets, told PIX11 News that they’ve done thousands of door-to-door interviews in the community, and that most of the people with whom they’d spoken had views similar to those of Alvin Alal.

“It’s gonna be great,” the Queens resident said on his way to his job preparing land east of the ballpark for construction of a new Major League Soccer stadium. “We’ve got [the] U.S. Open, Mets, soccer, and a casino,” he said, listing the current and proposed future attractions in the Flushing Meadows area. 

The casino aspect of that development may be on hold for now, but New Green Willets said that it anticipates further planning of the casino, as well as some 20 acres of adjoining green space.
Cohen’s organization said, through a spokesperson: 

“We have been working closely with Senator Ramos from the beginning and her input has been an important part of our approach. We will continue to partner with her and our neighbors in Queens as we incorporate their feedback and have an open dialogue with the community and a transparent process on how best to reimagine the 50 acres of asphalt around Citi Field.”

“Based on the input we have received across 15 listening sessions, hundreds of meetings and over 20,000 door-to-door conversations, we believe that both Mets fans and the surrounding community will like what they see when we unveil  a vision anchored in new public green space, thousands of new and permanent jobs and entertainment that brings people to the area every single day of the year.”

A coalition of community groups in the area, called Flushing for Equitable Development and Planning, or FEDUP, said that rather than have parkland alienation for a casino and a park, the state should instead carry out the measure in order to create actual parkland. 

“These other things are possible,” said Rebecca Pryor, the founder of Guardians of Flushing Bay, a community organization that’s part of the FEDUP coalition.  

“We can find the funding to pay for the park that these communities deserve,” she said, “but it doesn’t have to come on the back of a casino.”

Sen. Ramos said that in her conversations with the New York State Gaming Commission, it was indicated to her that licenses for casino operations in Downstate New York, where the New York City metro area is located, are at least 18 months away from being granted. She said that she wanted to use that time to engage further with the community on the casino issue.