Conceptual rendering of Mayor Adams vision for Willets Point. New...

Conceptual rendering of Mayor Adams vision for Willets Point. New York City's largest fully affordable housing, a soccer stadium, a hotel, and local retail. (Citi Field appears to the left of the rendering.) Credit: S9 Architecture

When Francisco Moya was elected to the state Assembly in 2010, he and chief of staff Meghan Tadio listed a few significant projects they hoped to accomplish “before we could hang up our hats and call it a day.”

Among the items on that list: Willets Point.

The “Valley of Ashes,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald called that area of Queens, once was home to an ash removal company. Now known as the Iron Triangle, the blighted swath of polluted wasteland until recently was filled with auto shops and torn-up streets.

But in Moya’s eyes, it could be so much more.

“I’ve always had a wonderful imagination of what could be there,” Moya, a Corona native, said this week. “That’s never left my head.”

Now, New York City, in a move Long Island should note, has taken an enormous step, announcing plans for an extensive mixed-use development at Willets Point, including 2,500 units of affordable housing, an elementary school, a hotel and, thanks to a partnership with the New York City Football Club, a privately-financed 25,000-seat soccer stadium.

It’s real — and coming soon. Housing construction could begin next year and Moya, now a City Council member, hopes the soccer stadium might be completed in time for the 2026 World Cup. New York City is slated to be a host city, and the location could be a training venue. Someday, Moya dreams, a young child now playing soccer at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park will wear an NYCFC jersey and compete professionally right next door.

“The future of what has been described as the Valley of Ashes is a new neighborhood, an economic engine for the borough of Queens, a symbol of what’s possible here,” he said.

That wasn’t always the case. The Willets Point story has been the tale of a large piece of land that for decades had its share of starts and stops, of big plans and dashed hopes. Land where elected officials tried again and again to get development going, without success. Land which faced naysayers and roadblocks at every turn. Land where grand ideas went to die.

Sound familiar?

Just 20 miles away sits another large tract. This one isn’t a valley of ashes, but a sea of asphalt. The property around Nassau Coliseum, too, should become a new neighborhood, a vibrant economic centerpiece. But the Nassau Hub lacks at least one critical element: a powerful, steadfast voice who refuses to give up.

“It took me a long time, but it was worth understanding what worked and what didn’t work in the past to get to this point,” Moya said of Willets Point. “I was never in doubt that we were going to get there. It was just a matter of time — and finding the right partners.”

The right partners — including committed elected officials and real estate developers, a soccer club searching for a home, and an engaged community — all willing to overcome potential problems.

What a web we in this region weave. Years ago, NYCFC sought to build a new stadium at Belmont Park, which ultimately became home to the New York Islanders, who had left Nassau Coliseum behind. Now, the soccer team is turning to Queens — where it really always belonged. And as for Nassau Coliseum?

It still sits, mostly empty, waiting for the right partners and a steadfast voice who won’t give up until a new economic engine for Nassau County rises from that sea of asphalt.

 

n COLUMNIST RANDI F. MARSHALL’S opinions are her own.