Skip to content

Willets Point

Willets Point Overview

Prepared by the East Elmhurst Corona Alliance

In 2008 the new York City Council rezoned Willets Point and approved a development plan for it. However, nothing has yet been built there. This presentation will summarize what the original plan was, the changes since then, and what the situation is today. Like a chronology:

Willets Point consists of 62 acres of desirable property located five miles from Manhattan; across the street from Citi Field stadium and 126th Street; near Roosevelt Avenue; across the Flushing Bay from LaGuardia Airport.

For many decades, it was home to 250 industrial businesses, especially automotive parts and repair. Popular place to get your car repaired at reasonable cost. Many businesses operated by Latinos and other immigrants.

However, the City never maintained or repaired the Willets Point streets or installed a sewer system. The area developed a reputation as undeveloped, or a no-man’s-land.

In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a total redevelopment of Willets Point. All existing businesses have to leave; City would take over the property.

Bloomberg’s Willlets Point Plan included No Affordable Housing. Then Councilmember Hiram Monserrate along with advoicay groups Acorn, NYPIRG and others organized and rallied for Housing with the Council at the point of blocking the re-zoning.
Monserrate lead in the City Council a movement to block the re-zoning without the affordable housin concessions. Bloomberg relented adopted the affordable housing component and proceeded to tout the two main benefits: Developer would remediate the land; and developer would construct the City’s “next great neighborhood,” including 5,500 residential units, 1,900 of which would be affordable housing.

That was the original generic plan, approved by the City Council in 2008. However, no developer was attached to the plan.

By 2012, the Bloomberg administration had decided to tackle an initial “Phase One” of Willets Point consisting of 23 acres located across the street from Citi Field. The administration designated as developer “Queens Development Group” – a joint venture of Sterling Equities, whose owners also own the New York Mets, and Related
Companies, a multibillion dollar developer. On the 23 acres, they would construct 2,490 housing units – 872 of which would be affordable housing.

But their plan would not only develop part of Willets Point, it would also expand to include public parkland located west of Citi Field stadium. This plan was supported by then-Councilmember Julissa Ferreras a clear departure from the original plan.

Initially they proposed to construct a full Las Vegas-style casino on that parkland property. Their final plan replaced the casino with an “entertainment/retail center” of 1.4 million square feet. An enormous shopping mall. In 2013, the City Council voted to approve that plan.

To facilitate that entire project, the Bloomberg administration purchased roughly 23 acres of Willets Point property from private landowners, spending more that $200 million of taxpayer dollars to do so. The Bloomberg administration then approved the sale of that land to Queens Development Group.

What price did the Mayor set, for 23 acres which cost taxpayers hundreds of millions to acquire? $1 (one dollar). The Queens Borough Board approved the sale of the property, for the price of $1 (one dollar).

Then, in the final two weeks of Mayor Bloomberg’s term in office, his administration actually went ahead and sold two acres in the middle of Willets Point to the developer, for $1 (one dollar).

But this entire development plan ran into a problem. The land where they would build the entertainment/retail center is parkland, inside Flushing Meadows Corona Park. It is used around the year for various popular events – all of which would be displaced if the shopping mall was constructed there. Legally, no one can build anything on parkland without the state legislature voting to approve it.

Community groups and State Senator Tony Avella sued the City and the developer, challenging their plan to construct the shopping mall on the parkland. The case took three years to reach the Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York state. In 2017, the court ruled that the developer cannot build the shopping mall on parkland without authorization of the state legislature. As it stands, they cannot do what they planned.

Meanwhile, during the time that the court case was pending, the City evicted most businesses from the 23 acres in Willets Point where the project would have been built.

So as of right now:
23 acres = vacant; 39 acres = business as usual:
The City owns roughly 23 acres, which are vacant; while throughout the rest of the 39 acres, the industrial businesses are still operating and the auto mechanics are open for business.

Opportunity for City to take back public property:

Even though Queens Development Group could not deliver the development plan as agreed with the Bloomberg administration, up until 2018 the developers owned two acres which it received for $1 (one dollar). Fortunately, the project contract allowed for the City to take back those two acres for the taxpayers. Community activists lead the charge for the City to reclaim the 2 acres and won. See:

de Blasio’s development plan:
In February of this year, the de Blasio administration announced that it will use six acres of Willets Point land, located nearest to Roosevelt Avenue, to construct 1,100 apartments, a 450-seat elementary school, neighborhood retail and public open space.
Of the 1,100 apartments, Seniors earning between $17,190-$35,800 will be eligible for the 220 units of senior housing. The remaining units will be for applicants who earn less than $111,670 for a family of three. The developer is the same one designated by the Bloomberg administration: Queens Development Group. They say that 500 of the housing units will be built by 2022. To date January 2023, no housing has been built.

The remaining 17 acres, beyond the 6 acres:
Borough President Katz and Council member Moya co-chair a Willets Point Task Force, which is supposed to “identify community priorities and produce recommendations for the remainder of the 17 acres of the Willets Point development site.”

The Task Force met four times from June through September of this year. However, according to Queens Community Board 7, they did not produce any particular recommendations. Katz and Moya will continue collaborating with the de Blasio administration to come up with ideas for the site.

And CM Moya has already supported constructing a soccer stadium inside Flushing Meadows Corona Park – which did not happen – Moya supports the building of a 25KSoccer stadium at Willets Point and presented the plan to Mayor Eric Adams. Moya was heavely supported by Soceer big wigs during his Assembly and Council campaigns. See:

Delta Airlines terminal construction parking:
And finally, plans have been drawn up that show two whole blocks of Willets Point land being used as parking lots for 665 vehicles – to facilitate the Delta Airlines LaGuardia East Side Reconfiguration project, which is supposed to take until 2026 to complete.

Community groups rally against new stadium before Mayors announcement:
On July 31, 2022 several community group members gathered outside the empty lot next to Citi Field and held a rally against a proposal to construct a soccer stadium for NYCFC in the area. Among those protesting were members of the Black Institute and Nos Quedamos Queens.

The protesters called upon Mayor Eric Adams and Councilman Francisco Moya to instead devote all the land to build 100 percent of all units of housing at Willets Point to be affordable, consistent with the original 2008 plan passed by the City Council and to increase the amount of units to 10K affordable housing units in light of the current affordable housing crisis. See:

Mayor de Blasio inherited this situation from Mayor Bloomberg, de Blasio’s administration proposed its plan for 6 acres and now in comes Mayor Eric Adams.

On November 21, 2022 Mayor Adams and Councilmember Moya announce plan to build 2,500 units of housing and a 25K Soceer Stadium at Willets Point which includes major concessions to the proposed new soceer stadium owners. As Ross Barkan points in his column titles , “Willets Point is now city-owned land. More than a decade ago, it was seized as part of a deal to successfully evict most of the auto shops that were operating there. NYCFC said it will pay an annual rent that will start at $500,000 and top out in the year 2076 at $4 million. Over a half century, the total would come to less than $30 million in present value. Given how valuable the land next to Citi Field probably would be on the open market—Mets fans flood the area throughout the season, and the popular Flushing-Meadows Park is a short walk away—the rent the city is set to collect from a Saudi-owned soccer club is rather paltry”.

The housing figures, too, are less impressive when scrutinized further. An earlier proposal for Willets Point called for 5,500 apartments, some of them market-rate. The proposed affordable apartments, developed by a joint venture of The Related Cos. and Sterling Equities, would rent for 30% to 130% of the area median income—which could include families of four earning as much as $173,400 per year.

In conclusion, over the past 14 years, the Willets Point development has shifted from its original promises of remediation and becoming the City’s “next great neighborhood,” to uncertainty, piecemeal development, and purposes never considered when the plan was originally approved. The City purchased properties to the tune of 200 million dollars and displaced over 130 small businesses owned by people of color under the premise of building desperately need affordable housing not a soccer stadium.

Back To Top