As the Queens Chronicle reports, the long-planned redevelopment of Willets Point has been delayed once again, as a handful of business owners refuse to budge after defying the city’s June 1 deadline to leave the land. The business owners and Sunrise Cooperative, who had previously challenged the city with a lawsuit, have "vowed to go on a hunger strike" until the city aids their relocation to the Hunts Point area of The Bronx. While the proposed timeline for construction calls for a full demolition of the auto "chop shops" to be completed this year, the business owners’ unwillingness to vacate the area has delayed the first phase of the hotly contested redevelopment plan.
Aesthetics aside, this delay has major implications for the Mets. Willets Point, and its unsightly mess of tin-roofed auto-parts shops adjacent to Citi Field, has long been a site of contention and controversy between its business owners, the city, and the Wilpon family. The Wilpons and their development company Sterling Equities are partners in the $3 billion redevelopment plan for the land approved in 2013, making the Mets’ owners the biggest private stakeholders in the refashioning of the area. But the development, which first requires a cleanup of the reportedly polluted land and the full installation of a sewer system, cannot begin until all the area’s shops are vacated.
Such a snag in the plans for Willets Point prolongs a process The Wilpons have been engaged in for years. The Wilpons were essentially awarded the land by Mayor Bloomberg and the city in 2008, a huge boon which coincided with their and the Mets’ period of financial uncertainty in the aftermath of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Even as the Wilpons have refinanced debts, cut back spending on the Mets, and attempted to sell minority shares in the team, the Sterling Equities-led redevelopment of Willets Point has represented the possible key to solidifying the financial future of the Mets. For now, though, the Mets’ financial future, and that of a developed commercial area next to Citi Field are still fraught with uncertainty.