By Maurice Pinzon
Next Monday, former New York Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez is scheduled to throw out the first pitch on opening day at Shea Stadium in Flushing. As fans enter the 43-year-old stadium, they will be able to catch a glimpse of “Citi Field,” the newly branded Mets stadium being constructed next to Shea.
But before the new stadium is built, the subway station where thousands of fans get off the No. 7 train to watch Mets games may also need a name change. The signs in the Flushing station now read “Willets Point-Shea Stadium.”
The naming rights to the new Mets stadium were acquired by Citigroup, the financial services company, in an exclusive 20-year deal with the New York Mets owners.
According to the Mets organization’s November 2006 news release announcing the renaming, the agreement is a “fully integrated partnership [that] also includes, for Citi, brand and business unit presence throughout the new ballpark[,] rights to the Mets and Citi Field marks”, and other promotional benefits.
Citigroup and the Mets seemingly have a Velcro branding relationship, but it is not clear whether the MTA will accept a name change to “Willets Point-Citi Field.”
So far they are not saying. MTA spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla told New York News Network that “We haven’t made any decision” on a name change for the train station.
In response to an inquiry, a Mets spokesperson said, “The Mets are in continuing dialogue with the MTA on a variety of topics at this time primarily focused on enhanced and expanded service on the 7 Subway and LIRR. The name of the station will not change for 2007 or 2008.”
But what about in 2009, when Citi Field is supposed to be completed?
Marilyn Bitterman, District Manager of Community Board 7, the board that covers Flushing, believes the station would eventually be named Citi Field. But she also told New York News Network that so far the MTA has not been very cooperative in committing to more services on the No. 7 line or any of the details concerning a proposed redesign of the Willets Point subway station. But a name change for the station was discussed last Thursday at a meeting attended by various City officials and Mets representatives.
On the other side of the tracks, the United States Tennis Association (USTA), which passed up the financial incentive to rename the USTA National Tennis Center after a corporate sponsor, instead chose to name its sports facility in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The USTA may want a say in what the train station is called, since it also serves fans attending tennis matches, not to mention the thousands of Queens residents who visit the park.
And with a proposal to build a convention center across the street from Citi Field – an area now occupied by scrap metal and auto body shops and other related businesses, the name of the Willets Point subway station may still be up for grabs.