Will the Citi Field Area Ever Be NYC's Next Great Neighborhood?

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Will the Citi Field Area Ever Be NYC's Next Great Neighborhood?
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The space outside Citi Field is filled with junk yards and car repair shops. (Photo courtesy of Eric …

COMMENTARY | Bellmore, New York, resident Kevin O'Braskin shook his head in disgust as he walked down Willets Point Boulevard on his way to Citi Field for a New York Mets game last year, the same way he has for much of the past decade.

To his left, there was a heaping pile of scrap metal covered in oil next to three old hub caps and a pair of flat tires. To the right, a "Muffler Welding and Body Repair" sign covered in dirt and graffiti, hanging above a greasy set of car supplies. Straight ahead, polluted streets and junk yards as far as the eye could see.

Stopping to ask a passerby where he could find some food in the area, he was met with a confused shrug of the shoulders. "I think there's one bodega somewhere down one of these side streets," the man told O'Braskin. "But they don't take credit cards and someone got robbed outside there last week."

'There's Nothing to Do There'

O'Braskin's experience is similar to that of thousands of others who have made the trek down Willets Point Boulevard en route to Citi Field to watch baseball with friends and family.

"The space outside Citi Field is so gross," O'Braskin said. "I wish there was more to do before and after games. There's nothing to do there except get your car fixed. No one has reason to go there unless they want tints on their car."

Many New York baseball fans are starting to think the eyesore of an area outside Citi Field will never become the great neighborhood filled with hotels, restaurants, and entertainment amenities that the city has promised.

Opening Day of the 2013 MLB baseball season is rapidly approaching, and over 60 acres of Willets Point property directly outside Citi Field look much the same as they have over the past 50 years.

The Willets Point area, directly outside Citi Field to the east of the stadium, is filled with junk yards, cinder block garages, outdated auto repair shops, and polluted streets, with no developers or construction crews in sight.

Just a few miles away, outside the New York Yankees' new ballpark in the Bronx, bars, restaurants, and T-shirt shops bustle with business on game days. Bronx baseball fans walk around comfortably, enjoying the outside attractions with friends before heading into Yankee Stadium for the game. Mets fans don't have it so lucky.

Pre-game dining and bar-hopping are an integral part of the baseball game day experience, and Mets fans have been missing out since becoming a franchise in the 1960s.

What's the Holdup?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has an agreement with Related Companies and Sterling Equities, along with New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, to build a gigantic mall and parking garage next to Citi Field, along with hotels, restaurants, and shops in the surrounding area, but redevelopment is at a standstill, because there must first be an environmental review, public hearings, and an expensive cleaning process.

The process could take years, with some estimating more than a decade. "It's going to happen eventually," O'Braskin said of redevelopment outside Citi Field. "I'm hoping they'll build some sports-related stuff -- sports bars and T-shirt shops. Nothing like a mall, though. We don't need more congestion."

Eric Holden is a lifelong New York Mets fan. Follow him on Twitter @ericholden.

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