Last year, the New York State Attorney General determined that Claire Shulman's local development corporation – substantially financed and supported by the New York Mets, whose owners also own developer Sterling Equities, Inc. – illegally lobbied for approval of the proposed Willets Point development. Despite the clear findings of illegality, neither Shulman's group nor the Mets nor any other financier was ever prosecuted or held to account in any way. They all got off, scot-free. And the development they said they wanted, was approved by the City Council.
Now we finally see what their objective was: NOT any affordable housing or remediation of Willets Point property, which were supposed to be the main "benefits" of the proposed development – but instead, a monumental land grab to facilitate the construction of a 450,000 square foot gaming floor/casino on 30+ acres of public parkland property that is adjacent to Citi Field.
There should be red flags and sirens blaring, when the same people involved with illegal activity to gain approval of the project not only attempt to convert the project into a casino, but then are awarded the contract for the project.
Sterling/Related and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) have exploited the classic formula used time and time again by seasoned developers to obtain project approvals: Present a project that appears to benefit the public, and that decision-makers will approve.
The supposed "benefits" of the Willets Point development – affordable housing, cleanup of property, job creation – were actually just window-dressing to fool the public into believing that the project is for them, while masking the real motive: The extraordinary waterfall of money that a full casino will put into the developers' pockets, as proven by the $630 million that the Aqueduct casino – without any table games – earned in just its first year of operation.
There is no greater cash cow than to be the sole full casino in New York City, and Sterling/Related know it. After their involvement in the Bernard Madoff ponzi scheme, developers Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz sought to rake in cash for themselves, and the public be damned.
A benefit to Sterling/Related of proposing to include a casino within the Willets Point development which they are already designated to implement, may be that Sterling/Related would somehow circumvent the bidding process which all other prospective casino operators will be obligated to undergo, in the event that the state government decides to authorize downstate casino sites. Neither Sterling nor Related apparently has any experience operating a casino, and therefore they could be at a disadvantage if required to bid against other firms that specialize in casino operations.
The Sterling/Related casino proposal is a supreme example of "bait-and-switch" and "smoke-and-mirrors". Would anyone have deemed it a good idea, to displace over 250 functioning Willets Point businesses off of private property owned by roughly 90 owners, and to use eminent domain to forcibly do so, so that their property could become a parking lot for customers of a Mets casino?
As outrageous as that sounds, that is exactly what Sterling/Related had in mind, as the City actually invoked eminent domain at Willets Point during 2011 for different stated reasons and imposed a black cloud of condemnation to intimidate land and business owners there.
No high echelon developer that is able to set the City's wheels of power in motion to take peoples' property, is entitled to finance illegal activity, fool the public and gain approvals of a project whose stated public benefits the developer has no intention to implement. Something is very wrong with our system, when a developer can get away with doing that.
This is exactly the type of victimization of the weak by influential parties that U.S. Supreme Court justices warned against, in their dissenting opinions in the infamous Kelo eminent domain case. The property owners of Willets Point United Inc. are prepared to challenge and prevent this wrongful preying of the powerful upon the weak. We have long said that the City's proposed Willets Point development is actually a swindle. We remain absolutely committed to keep our rightful ownership of our land, and we will fight in every possible way to prevent the abuse of eminent domain and the resulting discriminatory exploitation of the weak and minorities.