If you’ve been to a New York Mets game ever, you’ll have noticed that the area right around the stadium is pretty desolate — there’s the parking lot, which includes the site of the former Shea Stadium (the old diamond is helpfully marked off in concrete), and the auto shops across the street in the neighborhood of Willets Point. New York City has long planned to redevelop Willets Point, most recently by building a shopping mall in the Mets parking lot and razing some of the auto shops for replacement parking. But that plan was unexpectedly shot down last week by an appeals court ruling noting that the Mets parking lot is still technically city parkland, and so can’t be used for commercial development:
The construction of a mixed-use, mall-anchored development on the former site of Shea Stadium in Queens, without the state Legislature’s approval, would violate the doctrine restricting the use of public lands for private purposes, a Manhattan appellate court ruled Thursday…
Justice Angela Mazzarelli said that purposes for the use of the subject law—”considered in vacuum”—are not necessarily related to a stadium, but that the law contains specific examples of purposes that are traditionally associated with a stadium, including athletic events, concerts and assemblies.
“Its focus is on the stadium, and the stadium only,” Mazzarelli wrote. “There is simply no basis to interpret the statute as authorizing the construction of another structure that has no natural connection to a stadium.”
In short, the city was trying to use a 1961 state law authorizing the construction of Shea Stadium on city parkland (which also was used to justify the later construction of Citi Field next door) to build a mall there as well, on the grounds that the old law said that a stadium would promote “trade and commerce,” so anything that promotes trade and commerce should be fair game, right? The appeals court told the city to stick it in its ear, though it did note that the state legislature could still amend the 1961 law to allow the mall to proceed.
This is good news for fans of parkland being protected space, certainly, though in the short run all it means is that people will still get to run the old bases in an asphalt parking lot for the foreseeable future. (Not that that’s not legitimate public recreation — it’s fun for all ages!) Also, there’s nothing stopping the city and developers, presumably, from switching up their plan and building the mall in Willets Point and leaving the parking where it is. That would be good for Mets fans wanting to buy whatever it is people buy at malls before games, I guess, and bad for merchants in the rest of the city that have been selling turkey sandwiches to fans to cart on the subway to games.
But hey, either way we can cheer the principle of the thing, right? After all, Mets fans are used to cheering pyrrhic victories.