Steve Cohen, billionaire owner of the New York Mets and Citi Field, is reportedly opposed to the New York City FC stadium planned for Willets Point. The tycoon is said to be “playing hardball” to gain approval to build a casino in exchange for allowing soccer fans to park at Citi Field when the NYCFC stadium is in use.
This all comes in a new report from The City‘s Katie Honan, a detailed piece that provides useful context for this latest bit of parking lot drama NYCFC will have to deal with. You might remember that a past NYCFC stadium deal in the Bronx reportedly died in part due to a disagreement over parking availability with the Yankees.
Cohen is portrayed in The City’s story as having always opposed NYCFC’s planned Willets Point stadium. It’s a somewhat concerning development given that Cohen is set to be NYCFC’s next door neighbor, and that he also owns the stadium where a good number of the team’s matches are played.
The story relays that one of Cohen’s top aides reportedly said in a City Hall meeting about Willets Point held in May 2022 that Cohen explicitly did not want NYCFC to build a stadium across from Citi Field. Supposedly “heated discussions” were needed to coax Cohen into a verbal agreement about Citi Field parking’s utilization by NYCFC, with the stadium deal moving forward from there.
But after Mayor Eric Adams unveiled the NYCFC stadium and total Willets Point redevelopment back in November, the New York Post had Steve Cohen striking a very different tone about the project. Back then, the Post cited some unnamed Cohen “insiders” who claimed the billionaire believed the $780 million Willets redevelopment would be “a big win” for his attempts to bring a casino to Citi Field’s 50 acres of parking lots.
Now, though, The City points out that Cohen’s casino bid has not yet gotten the necessary New York City government action to move it closer to reality. The report that he is stalling the Citi Field-NYCFC parking deal appear, in part, to be an attempt by Cohen to find new leverage with New York City politicians to aid his casino development efforts.
In The City’s report, “multiple people familiar with the conversations” relayed that Cohen had recently told NYC government officials he would not agree to any NYCFC parking deal unless the City Council voted to help with a crucial step in his casino-building process.
Notably, Cohen made his fortune running the investment fund SAC Capital, which pleaded guilty to insider trading charges in 2013 and paid a record $1.8 billion in penalties. Cohen personally escaped punishment despite his close ties to the fund – “SAC” stands for Steve A Cohen. But he was barred from supervising a hedge by the Securities Exchange Commission.
While all the Cohen opposition may sound a bit troubling as it pertains to NYCFC’s stadium, The City cites both a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams and “two people familiar with the soccer project” as saying that the land use review and approval process for the NYCFC stadium project remains on time, and that the project can still proceed regardless of Cohen’s parking lot negotiations, since the Willets Point redevelopment carries with it no minimum parking requirements.
Cohen is pouring tons of resources into his lobbying efforts to redevelop the parking lots that surround Citi Field, with a casino at the heart of Cohen’s desired project. He faces a unique political and bureaucratic challenge in that the parking lots he wants to transform are designated officially as parkland, meaning many more steps are necessary beyond just securing a casino license and beginning construction.
It therefore feels unsurprising to see the hedge-fund billionaire attempt to pull every negotiating lever possible to help in his latest white whale-like quest to enrich himself through this casino-and-redevelopment scheme.
While this new parking lot dispute seems like a complicated situation that will need to be smoothed over before the NYCFC-Willets Point project is complete, it also seems unlikely to really derail the project’s progress.
A powerful billionaire neighbor such as Cohen does not seem like the kind of public enemy NYCFC would want. Cohen’s anti-NYCFC stadium stance also comes as something of a surprise given the Mets and NYCFC are supposed partners, as far as the collaboration goes around NYCFC matches held at Citi Field.
It feels worth pointing out, though, that Cohen has no vested interest in the NYCFC-backed part of the Willets Point redevelopment, nor does he have any stake in NYCFC—unlike his Mets’s Major League Baseball neighbors the New York Yankees, who still retain their stake in the MLS side now worth an estimated $690 million.