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Willets Point transformation plan gets plenty of support during public scoping hearing

Apr. 5, 2023 By Bill Parry

The city’s plan to transform Willets Point into an entirely new neighborhood with 2,500 new affordable homes, a privately-funded soccer stadium and a 250-room hotel got overwhelming support from participants during a virtual hearing on April 4.

The Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination hosted the session that brought together residents from the surrounding neighborhoods, civic, business and elected leaders and soccer fans who spoke in favor of the project on 17 acres of underused and contaminated city-owned land across Tom Seaver Way from Citi Field.

“New York City is currently facing a severe housing crisis. The transformation of Willets Point will help us build our way out of this crisis” City Councilman Francisco Moya said. “It’s a model that puts housing first and will yield the city’s largest entirely affordable housing development in the past 40 years — in a corner of my neighborhood that has been underserved and left to languish for too long.”

Moya joined Mayor Eric Adams at the Queens Museum last fall to announce the development that is expected to generate $6.1 billion in economic impact over the next 30 years while creating 1,550 permanent jobs and 14,200 construction jobs.

“The entire project will be built with union labor, bringing good jobs and help alleviate the burden of our neighboring schools which are overcapacity,” Moya said. “The completely privately-financed Major League Soccer stadium, the first of its kind in New York, will serve as the economic engine making this entire vision possible — giving Queens a whole new and dynamic community where our fellow New Yorkers can afford to live and where many others will want to visit. It’s the culmination of 13 years of work that will contribute to a legacy we can all be proud of.”

(Rendering courtesy of S9 Architecture)

The proposal was first presented in 2018 by the Willets Point Task Force, chaired by Moya; a group of Queens stakeholders represented by state and local elected officials; Community Boards 3, 4, and 7; economic development groups; community-based organizations; and local civic associations.

“One of the things that are most welcome about the proposed plan to transform Willets Point is that it grew out of the recommendations from Willets Point Task Force,” East Elmhurst Civic Association President Larinda Hooks said. “This is an important precedent for any large-scale development in honoring community input. That input called for land to be set aside for public facilities, open space, and housing with a range of affordability levels. Our community also knows that affordable homes alone aren’t enough. To thrive, our neighbors need steady jobs, access to reliable transit, good schools, and open space. Thankfully, this plan takes all of this into account, and deserves our support.”

The new neighborhood will rise on land that was known for generations as the Iron Triangle, which was home to a warren of auto body shops and metal scrap yards.

“Willets Point has always been a vast wasteland that divides the Corona and Flushing communities,” Flushing resident and affordable housing professional Jason Osborn said. “I’m glad to see a development finally moving forward that can help link the two communities and provide much-needed affordable housing to Queens. This is an intersection of several communities, including the creation of a new community, but so much of what ties these cultures together— is soccer. So this project just makes sense.”

Jenny Lando, a Queens resident and public school employee, spoke of the 650-seat public elementary school that is part of the proposal.

“I work at a Queens public school. As student-to-teacher ratios have increased, additional school seats are increasingly important. These new school seats will help make it easier for future students to get the attention they deserve,” Lando testified. “Additionally, the proposed new school’s close proximity to several world-class sporting venues could lead to some very unique career days! As a lifelong New Yorker, I can say that this project will unequivocally help make my community, my borough and my city stronger.”

Small business owner Sergio Munoz looked at the big picture.

“The area could become a world-class sports destination. With Citi Field and the Billie Jean National Tennis Center right next door, this world-class soccer stadium would encourage even more sports fans – from around the country and the world – to visit Queens,” Munoz said. “Additionally, Willets Point has long been home to polluting industries, particularly the predatory chop shops that called the area home. The project’s environmental remediation will improve the quality of life for future residents and for neighboring communities.”

Several supporters of the New York City Football Club, which will build the 25,000-seat soccer stadium, spoke of Willets Point becoming home to the 2021 Major League Soccer champs.

“I’ve been a resident of North Queens since 1991 and drive by the site at Willets Point every day,” Omar Garcia said. “I am a proud NYCFC fan and am a season ticket holder. The club has created a positive and supportive community that I and my family feel a part of. For 100 years, the project site has provided almost no benefit to the community. The longtime industrial uses in this neighborhood have created serious environmental issues on the site. Longtime Queens residents have been waiting decades for a redevelopment project for this site that will finally clean up Willets Point.”

Chelsea Socias fell in love with soccer during frequent visits to Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“Since I was young, I remember going to the park with my family and friends to enjoy the outdoors. Every time we go, there are people playing soccer and there are lots of people watching them,” Socias said. “Some of the players are former professional soccer players from South America who have come to New York City for a better life. Through NYCFC, I have found a group of supporters that I now call friends and family. On match days, you will see me helping lead the club’s supporters group — Los Templados — while playing drums. This club has become like a family for me and I want other Latinas in Queens to have that same experience.”

Of the 41 people who testified during the scoping session, 40 of them spoke in favor of the plan.

“As an original member of the Willets Point Task Force that has long advocated for the equitable, smart, and inspiring transformation of this long-blighted area, the Queens Chamber of Commerce strongly supports this plan as a generational opportunity to create housing, jobs, and a true destination for the borough,” Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech said. “The synergy of thousands of units of all-affordable housing, a state-of-the-art soccer stadium, and far-reaching economic development makes this proposal a winner that everyone can get behind, and we look forward to strongly supporting it as it advances through public approvals.”

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