Sen. Jessica Ramos isn’t quite sold on a downstate New York casino in Queens just yet. By the same token, she isn’t opposed either.
The senator who represents the area spoke during a second town hall meeting this week with a proposed casino from New York Mets owner and billionaire Steve Cohen as the focus.
Ramos – who holds incredible power over the project’s future, or lack thereof – made it clear that she has not made a decision on whether to support the proposal known as Metropolitan Park. Rather, she is “continuing to take feedback from my neighbors.” She added: “I want them to tell me what it is that they think.”
What she heard was a mixed review.
Months after heavy opposition, town hall features plenty of support
Ramos held a similar town hall meeting earlier this year, during which time a casino adjacent to Citi Field existed only in theory. Few details, if any, had been released at the time, when two-thirds of attendees opposed the project.
Now, though, a clearer vision of a Hard Rock casino resort – which could open the door to join the NY online casino market once legalized – is on the table, with Cohen’s group releasing details of the project earlier this month. As a result, Ramos said, she wanted residents to chime in to ensure Queens and surrounding regions received the most benefit as possible – or come up with another solution.
This latest town hall featured two-thirds of about 200 attendees in support of the casino plan. That included a boost from a several labor unions who emphasized that union labor could build the complex.
“We’re not the ugly stepchild in Queens, we’re the disavowed stepchild that’s not acknowledged – so, let’s take it from that point,” said Michael Devalera, a member of Queens Community Board 3.
“But then when we’re presented with an opportunity to create jobs, and to have a serious proposal where someone of means decides that he wants to actually get an opinion, have input [from the community] – when has that ever happened? And amongst people of color? That never happens.”
Opponents of NY casino not giving up yet
As for the other side, opponents associated with local environmental, anti-displacement and community groups voiced concerns that the town hall itself put them at a disadvantage.
“It just feels like a very uphill battle, having [Ramos] already framed it as, ‘Hey, all of you on the other side here, what can you do with the billions that we’ll get from this?’ And then looking at us saying, ‘Hey, what can you propose to us as an alternative to this billionaire’s plan?'” said Tenzing Parama, as reported by the Queens Daily Eagle. “It’s a bit disheartening.”
Added Joseph Jung, with the Flushing Anti-Displacement Alliance:
“We are calling on Senator Ramos to flatly oppose a casino being brought to our community.”
That said, an alternative plan was proposed. The FED UP Coalition, which formed four years ago in opposition to rezoning Flushing’s waterfront, came up with “Phoenix Meadows,” which calls for the parking lots around Citi Field to be turned into parkland.
The group reportedly released the plan earlier this month, but Ramos has yet to review it.
Sen. Ramos ‘in no rush’ to come to decision
Earlier this year, Cohen and his group began receiving feedback from community members through “vision sessions.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Metropolitan Park recognized Ramos’ emphasis on community first, with which the group agrees. It’s also why “we have held more than a dozen community workshops and hundreds of conversations with local leaders and neighbors.”
“We believe Metropolitan Park is exactly the kind of revolutionary proposal that Senator Ramos and other community leaders can support.”
As indicated, Ramos holds plenty of power over the projects. Cohen wants to develop an area that is designated as parkland. In order for a casino to get the go-ahead, Ramos would need to introduced a bill that specifically allows for the plans to move forward as planned. One such bill emerged earlier this year. Ramos, however, said she would not introduced legislation to ease land-use restrictions.
She was not as firm against the proposal at the town hall. (She plans on holding another in the new year.) Rather, Ramos said: “I want to hear from my community about what they want, not what the developer thinks they want.”
“I have not made a decision yet. There’s going to be another town hall, so the discussion will continue. I am in no rush.”