Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sterling/Related gambled on a casino at Flushing Meadows

Gambling on Park Land.  Related Companies, Sterling Equities and Triple M Development's Willets Point original proposal included building a massive 3.2 million sq. ft casino and entertainment complex adjacent to Citi-Field in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  (Click on images to enlarge) Photos By Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates
Quite a shocking story in today's NY Post:
The Mets’ owners want to roll the dice on building a Las Vegas-style casino next to Citi Field to recoup some of the $162 million for which team brass are still on the hook following the Bernie Madoff Ponzi-scheme debacle, plans obtained by The Post reveal.

While team owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz are still having trouble opening their tight pockets for high-priced free agents, that didn’t stop their development arm, Sterling Equities, from betting on a proposal that called for bringing a massive casino with gaming tables and slots, a 500-room, full-service hotel, 1.8 million square feet of retail and other amenities to the Willets Point development site in Queens.

The Southampton-based Shinnecock Indian Nation signed on to operate the casino, and the Wilpons and partners even offered the city $100 million for the 62-acre site, according to the development team’s proposal, which was first obtained by project opponents Willets Point United and NYC Park Advocates.
It's amazing what you can learn from a FOIL!
City officials pulled the casino from the Willets Point plan partly because they thought the government-approval process would take too long, sources said. However, a city spokesman declined to comment when asked if the city would push for a casino there if the state Legislature eventually backs it.

The Mets declined to comment, but a spokesman for Sterling-Related said it’s “focused” on the project the mayor endorsed.

Although Sterling Equities wouldn’t directly operate or build the casino, any investment by the Mets’ owners in such a venture would raise eyebrows, considering Major League Baseball’s tough antigambling policies.
The casino proposal of Sterling/Related makes an absolute mockery of the entire public review process for the proposed Willets Point development, and proves where these developers' real priorities are.

It's outrageous, that the joint venture of Sterling/Related responded to the City's Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking a Willets Point developer, with a proposal that would construct NO housing whatsoever (affordable or otherwise), and that deliberately minimizes remediation of Willets Point property to the greatest possible extent – thus failing to deliver the two key 'benefits' that were said to justify the project's approval during 2008. But most disturbingly, Sterling/Related instead proposed to construct a 450,000 square foot gaming facility/casino – and to do so on 30+ acres of parkland property that is beyond the bounds of Willets Point and that was mentioned nowhere within the RFP. The Willets Point development was never envisioned or presented to decision-makers as a casino-centric project. That the Sterling/Related joint venture proposed to convert it into one, and to expand the project's boundaries to encompass nearly all property surrounding Citi Field (whose New York Mets' owners also own Sterling Equities, Inc.), underscores that the Willets Point development is merely a pretext for the owners of the Mets to consolidate property surrounding the stadium, and exploit it for their maximum profit.

Anyone who questions why prospective developers would have resorted to illegal lobbying, need only consider the tremendous and extraordinary financial gains to be generated by a casino. That the proposals of all other developers, which adhered to the RFP specifications, were rejected in favor of designating Sterling/Related, betrays the cronyism that must be at work here.

More on this story at A Walk in the Park.