A new real estate partnership headed by Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz of Sterling Equities and Stephen M. Ross, Chairman and COO of Related Companies have plans to turn Citi Field into New York’s version of Patriot Place. The dynamic duo plan to transform the crappy area surrounding the beautiful stadium into a posh retail, entertainment, and housing center known as Willets West. This $3 billion project — the largest private sector investment in the borough’s history — will create 12,000 union construction jobs and 7,100 permanent jobs as well as generate $4.2 billion in economic activity over the next 30 years. That is a huge infusion of new jobs in this neighborhood. Between this and the Amway storefront every man, woman, and child in Queens stands to be employed by the end of 2014! The only rub is that no one will want to come see a team that loses games to the depleted Miami Marlins teams.
Once approved, the first phase of the redevelopment project will involve a comprehensive environmental cleanup of 23 acres of contaminated land that is expected to begin in 2014 and be completed the following year. After the cleanup, development of 126th Street will begin and add retail shops, restaurants and a 200-room hotel to the east of Citi Field while on the west, developers will create Willets West, a one million-square-foot retail and entertainment center on the current Citi Field parking lot. What about the chop shops? What the hell are they going to do with all those damn hub caps? Can they tie a green initiative around disposing them? Maybe they can build a theme park to compete with Lego Land where everything is made out of rims and caps? I would buy a ticket to ChopShop Land. Wouldn’t you?
Willets West. It just rolls of the tongue doesn’t it? Maybe Wilpon wasn’t bluffing when he spoke out so eloquently this spring about his family finally being free of debt? If not, then how would he and the Katz family have the means to embark on this 3 billion dollar project? If it seems too grandiose of an idea to succeed take a drive up 95 to Foxboro and see for yourself. It probably will. Despite a challenging retail and commercial real estate environment created by the worst economic downturn in decades, Patriot Place has exceeded Foxborough’s revenue projections outline in the 2006-07 Koff Report, according to Patriot Place General Manager Brian Earley. In 2012 alone, Patriot Place was visited by over 8.5 million people. Twenty percent were restaurant customers. The complex is generating close to 3 million dollars for the town of Foxboro annually. A large sum of that number is tied to hotel occupancy and restaurant meal taxes. The Willets West plan calls for the creation of a 200 room hotel and a slew of restaurants which will allow the borough of Queens to enjoy the same monetary success.
Do we really want Freddie Boy to get rich again? The Mets don’t see any of the money anyhow. I like our chances when he and his family are down on their luck. Maybe, just maybe the Mets would have a chance to break free of his iron grip then. Fred Wilpon did not supply the organization with the cash they needed to make a splash in free agency this year. You are watching the results of that decision unfold on a nightly basis. Each time our over forty bullpen blows a lead or our journeyman outfielders misplay a fly ball the repercussions of that choice are echoed. Yet at its core, Willets West has the potential to turn the Flushing/Corona area of Queens into an economic gold mine. Citi Field is of course, the cornerstone of this attraction but only if the Mets continue to be relevant. Fred Wilpon, real estate mogul, is going to need to fulfill his duties as owner of the New York Mets to be successful in this venture. This will involve spending money on the Mets organization. It will mean combing free agency to find proven MLB talent and signing, smartly structured deals. He will need to architect the infusion of the young, pitching rich talent from the minors to the bigs. Money will be needed to keep these youngsters in NY for the foreseeable future. The future has to be brighter to ensure that they want to stay and make their mark. The New York Mets cannot be run as a small market team. I don’t care what Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill said about it in that boring movie. The reality is that this is New York and New York needs a big market, big ticket product to sell. If he is intent on seeing this dream through there will need to be a symbiotic relationship between the real estate investment and the team. Hotels and restaurants outside the ballpark will peak people’s interest but a winning team will ensure they come. If you want to manage the team by following the message of a baseball movie go ahead and re-watch Field of Dreams.
If You Build It, They Will Come (the team Mr. Wilpon, build the team!)
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