It’s quiet at Willets Point. The New York Mets are at spring training in Florida. And most of the auto body shops on 126th Street, across from Citi Field, are closed, with demolition of the ramshackle buildings underway.
While that’s progress, the former industrial zone tucked away in a corner of Corona is a long way from being the hub of economic activity NYC officials envisioned a decade ago. The 62 acres just beyond the stadium’s rightfield wall could and should be a regional centerpiece, home to a retail mall and a hotel, to jobs and economic development, to sports and entertainment, and to affordable housing.
Besides the seasonal flow of Mets fans, Willets Point would become a destination if the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia gets off the drawing boards. No matter what the vision, the site remains a cesspool of unsewered property, unpaved roads and land in desperate need of environmental remediation.
Part of the problem with advancing the overall development of Willets Point is that it is mired in legal battles over whether the Citi Field parking lot is parkland and can’t be used as the site of a mall. The state Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the case on April 25.
Still, there is much NYC can do. Beyond ongoing demolition, there’s significant cleanup and infrastructure needed to prepare for new construction. The city’s Economic Development Corp. said most of the remediation will not begin until the lawsuit is settled and final plans are agreed upon by the city and the developers, a combination of Related Companies and Sterling Equities, which owns the Mets.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who has no authority over the project but has made it a focus this year, asks: Why wait? And she’s right to ask. Environmental and infrastructure work has to be done no matter what. Developers and city officials should do more now. That would hasten an already long-delayed timetable, and would be a sign that they’re committed to the project.
Now is the time to start. The city and the developers have to find a way to move Willets Point forward.