By David Brand
More than a dozen Queens organizations united on Tuesday to demand that New York City reclaim two acres of land in Willets Point that it handed over to the Queens Development Group for $1. That land is the potential home of a new soccer stadium, which will likely host Queensboro FC, a United Soccer League team that will reportedly begin play in 2020.
The coalition of community groups, known as Nos Quedamos, called on the city to take back the land and create affordable housing at the site instead of a stadium and/or some other high-profile development.
Poet, author and Freedom Entertainment Group President AniYa A. began the demonstration by specifically calling out a proposed stadium, a likely part of a deal to introduce a pro soccer team to Queens.
“Nos Quedamos means we will stay. We are here to stand up and fight,” AniYa A. said in a statement. “Fight against greedy developers. Fight the mayor who forgot us. Fight for the people of color who are sick and tired of being pushed around and pushed out of our City! Fight the Queens Borough President [Melinda Katz] and local Councilmember [Francisco Moya] who want a new stadium built at Willets Point. We Fight against an Air Train. We Fight because none of these proposals meet the needs of our community,”
Moya and Katz have not responded to the Eagle’s repeated requests for comments via email, phone and social media.
At issue for the coalition is whether the city would honor its commitment to ensure Willets Point is redeveloped with affordable housing for local low-income residents. The city got the Queens Development Group to commit to building 1,100 affordable housing units on six acres, but that commitment was reportedly in jeopardy as the developer considered turning the land into a parking lot for LaGuardia Airport travelers.
UPDATE— 12/22/18: That reporting was inaccurate, however, officials said. The land where housing would be developed under the Plan’s Phase 1A is not the same land that was reported to have a parking lot. The February agreement with QDG increases the affordable units to 1,100 on six acres compared to a 2013 agreement, which would have produced approximately 875 affordable homes in the entire 23-acre development site, officials said.
In 2008, the City Council approved a plan to construct 5,500 units of housing in Willets Point, including 1,925 units for affordable or middle income housing.
“The development at Willets Point has been in complete disarray since it was first proposed. We have seen small businesses forced to close and community members wage battle in court to prevent the loss of public parkland, something that still hasn't been returned,” said Bertha Lewis, founder and president of The Black Institute. “It's time for the city to return to its original plan that includes affordable housing, schools and a community center, and we will fight until that happens.”
The Eagle first began reporting on the proposed soccer stadium in October after Katz’s press team shared a photo of Katz, Moya and David Villa at Queens Borough Hall with local reporters and editors
“One option that was discussed is a proposal to build a 10,000 to 25,000-seat soccer stadium in the Willets Point redevelopment area that would serve as home for the Queensboro Football Club, a proposed new team that would play in the United Soccer League, a second division professional league,” the statement said.
Chris Kivlehan from the website Midfield Press has also learned a lot about the prospective team and quickly identified a likely owner as a soccer media executive named Michael Cohen by searching for the QueensboroFC.com domain name information.
Cohen is listed as the owner of the website, which currently links to a GoDaddy.com placeholder page. He owns the media company Bizzy Signals Entertainment and has two decades of experience producing television coverage of high-level soccer tournaments, including World Cups.
David Villa, who recently left NYCFC for Japan, is another likely investor, several soccer insiders have told the Eagle.
Kivlehan said he wonders whether the Mets will get involved in bringing Queensboro FC (or a Queens-based USL team by some other name) to Willets Point. Queens Development Group, which operates the Willets Point Redevelopment plan is a joint venture between Mets owners Sterling Equities and Related Companies.
Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts purchased the USL’s Chicago club, which plans to build a 20,000-seat stadium.
A proposal for a soccer-specific stadium in Willets Point is nothing new. NYCFC were long-rumored to be seeking a stadium at the site. The MLS club will likely pursue a location in the South Bronx, however.
Katz and Moya formed a task force to study Willets Point stadium proposals in 2017 and Katz reiterated her support earlier this year.
“I have not made it a secret that I support a stadium there,” Katz told Crain’s in February. “I think it would be a great thing for the constituents of the borough of Queens.”
But a lot of people do not.
“Everyday people of color are displaced by market forces and government action. Our community says no more,” East Elmhurst Corona Alliance spokesman David Aiken said. “We are here to stay and we will fight for our right to stay in Queens and in NYC the Mayor needs to get it right.”
UPDATE — Dec. 22, 2018: The city has a 30-day grace period after the Dec. 20 deadline and plans to exercise the call option before moving ahead with the next phase of the development plan, officials said.