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Billionaire Mets Owner: Give Me Your Gambling Addicts and I’ll Give You Bike Lanes and Public Space

It turns out Steve Cohen's big off-season priority wasn't Shohei Ohtani, but replacing the parking lot outside Citi Field with a casino and some bike lanes.

File photo: Dave Colon|

Good luck crossing the Grand Central Parkway on bike or foot. Mets owner Steve Cohen can help (if we give him a casino).

Fresh off of hiring a new president of baseball operations and a new field manager, the Mets and Steve Cohen have revealed their next big off-season priority: Shohei Ohtani replacing the parking lot outside Citi Field with a Hard Rock casino, some green space and some bike lanes.

Cohen unveiled his vision for the parking lot on Tuesday, solidifying a plan he's talked up since he bought the Mets in 2020. The proposal to remake the parking lot, which he hopes will be known as Metropolitan Park, proposes a public park roughly 20 football fields in size, a public plaza, bike paths, a tailgating area and, lest we forget, a casino.

The various pieces that are being proposed to replace the Citi Field parking lot, including bike lanes and a park. Oh, and a casino.

Judging by the rendering Cohen released, the bike lanes in the project would go on Roosevelt Avenue and Boat Basin Place, which runs between the Citi Field parking lot and Flushing Bay. But the bike lane proposal also doesn't fix the trickiest piece of bike and pedestrian connections to Citi Field, which is finding a safe way for people coming to the ballpark from 34th Avenue to cross the Grand Central Parkway twice.

Cohen is also pitching a "renovated, accessible train station" as part of the package. It's unclear what guarantees that protected bike lanes would go in under the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue, or whether Cohen or the MTA would pay for the accessibility upgrades and renovations and the Mets-Willets Point 7 and Long Island Railroad stops.

The rendering is also missing Citi Bike docks, which may finally make it to Citi Field by Opening Day 2024.

Cohen's pitch comes after public visioning sessions (where people demanded better bike and transit connections to the stadium), behind-the-scenes lobbying and political hardball to get his way on the right to remake the parking lot. A report from Cohen's team after the visioning sessions found that participants consistently ranked "gaming" as a low priority for the area, but the project is clearly contingent on Hard Rock getting to set up its slot machines and poker tables outside the future home of Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

The survey results showing a casino is only more of a draw than a hotel, shopping or a convention center.

Visioning session attendees even ranked "bring back the Jets," who have wandered in the football wilderness for over 50 years, as a more popular idea than a casino.

The report showing "bring back the Jets" as a popular suggestion.

Crucially, the entire enterprise, casino or no, is dependent on state legislators allowing New York City to remove the parking lot from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Citi Field, and its parking lot, are technically part of the park, which means any attempt to build on the parking lot requires (ironically) the state to pass legislation to "alienate" the parkland — meaning the parking lot, that is part of the park, but is anything but parkland, would have to be decamped as parkland so that it could be transformed from a parking lot into ... parkland and other structures.

Cohen of course is not the only person trying to get one of three casino licenses up for grabs in downstate region — and two existing "racinos" are seen as front runners for licenses that would allow them to become full-blown gambling Meccas. That leaves multiple robber barons fighting over the one remaining license for a gaming parlor in a different location, such as Times Square, near the United Nations, in Coney Island, even near the Nassau Coliseum.

The would-be casino operators also hold the future of the MTA in their hands, since half the tax revenue from city casinos and 40 percent of the tax revenue from casinos in the surrounding areas downstate will go towards the transit agency's operating budget.

Earlier this year, Assembly Member Jeffrey Aubrion introduced legislation that would clear the way for construction on the parking lot. But that bill needs a companion piece from State Sen. Jessica Ramos, as traditionally an area's local state representative is allowed to make the decision to alienate a piece of parkland.

Ramos previously told Streetsblog that she didn't think a casino is necessary to redevelop the parking lot or create a safer pathway from 34th Street to the baseball stadium, and said that she's not jumping to immediately approve anything just because there's a new rendering.

"I will have another town hall at the end of the month," said Ramos. "It's important that my neighbors look carefully at the proposal and we'll continue together with our process."

Cohen's parking lot redevelopment isn't the only local megaproject that's being pitched for the area around Citi Field. Across the street from the baseball stadium, the Economic Development Corporation is in the midst of its own plan to replace the auto body shops in Willets Point with 2,500 affordable apartments, a school and a soccer stadium.

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