Steve Cohen is determined to turn a seemingly destitute, asphalt wasteland around Citi Field into an expansive array of gaming, entertainment, hospitality and eats. And, finally, the New York Mets owner let the public in on a more-detailed look of that world.
The billionaire owner shared his vision of what he’s calling “Metropolitan Park” – a 50-acre, $8 billion hub that would feature a New York casino operated by Hard Rock International that sits adjacent to the Mets’ home field, the two buildings separated by 20 acres of public park space.
“It’s time,” Cohen said in a statement, “the world’s greatest city got the sports and entertainment park it deserves.”
What all is included in Cohen’s downstate NY casino plan
If nothing else, Metropolitan Park certainly is ambitious.
The project calls for an investment of over $8 billion that could generate $130 billion in economic impact over the next 30 years while also creating over 10,000 jobs.
After strolling through the 20 acres of public park space toward the Hard Rock casino, you will find bars and restaurants inside the facility as well as a retail sportsbook. And what Hard Rock property would go without a live music venue?
“Hard Rock at Metropolitan Park will be rooted in the spirit of music,” Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, said in a statement, “while embracing the unique culture and character of Queens.”
Hotel towers surround the gaming facility. And to the north, what will be called a “tailgate park” with more ample greenspace.
Just behind the rails: five acres of community athletic fields, bike paths and playgrounds near a renovated and accessible train station. Finally, the plan calls for new pathways to the Flushing Bay waterfront and Flushing-Corona Park, all designed by landscape architect Field Operations.
“When I bought this team, fans and the community kept saying we needed to do better,” Cohen said.
“Metropolitan Park delivers on the promise of a shared space that people will not only want to come to and enjoy but can be truly proud of.”
Metropolitan Park faces an uphill battle
While certainly aspirational to redevelop a plat of land that is essentially just a giant asphalt desert surrounding Citi Field, Cohen faces various hurdles for his vision to come to life.
The land he targets, for example, must be designated as parkland by the state. A bill in the state Assembly emerged in May to help do just that. The proposal carved out “at least” 20 acres of open space as parkland and authorized the city of Queens to enter into an agreement with Cohen’s New Green Willets, LLC.
That bill, however, does not have much support – especially locally, a key element in the state awarding downstate licenses that could open the door to NY online casino licensing should the state legalize the industry. While Cohen has held 16 “community workshops” and met with “thousands of local residents,” according to the Metropolitan Park website, Sen. Jessica Ramos, whose district includes Willets Point and the surrounding neighborhoods, doesn’t exactly support the legislation.
As Ramos said in May: “My neighbors and I are not currently in a place where it would be appropriate to introduce parkland alienation legislation.”
Among other obstacles in Cohen’s way is the state’s requirement of a background disclosure form. With it, applicants show their “integrity, honesty, good character and reputation.”
As detailed by the New York Post, Cohen’s hedge fund SAC Capital had to pay a $1.8 billion penalty to the federal government after pleading guilty to wire fraud and securities fraud. While never charged criminally, Cohen was accused of failing to prevent insider trading at the company.
But that didn’t stop him from purchasing the Mets in 2020. And it certainly hasn’t slowed him down from potentially turning a parking lot into an elaborate park and gaming facility, especially with he and his firms spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and campaign donations to help further his aspirations.