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Groundbreaking set for Willets Point building project. Will stadium follow?

Developers of the city’s first professional soccer stadium are set to break ground Wednesday in Queens on the first part of the sprawling, mixed-use development with more than 1,000 units of affordable housing nearby.

The so-called “phase one” of the Willets Point project also includes 22,000 square feet of retail space, 5,000 square feet of community space, and 30,000 square feet of open space, along with a 650-seat school for grades kindergarten through eighth grade, according to Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

Some of the housing will be reserved for formerly homeless people, and more than half of the rental units will be priced at 80% of the average median household income. The project also includes 220 apartments reserved for seniors.

“We really worked extremely hard to make sure that we reached the lowest depths of affordability, which was a sticking point for us,” Richards said in a press roundtable on Monday.

The groundbreaking follows a public hearing last week on “phase two” of the project, which includes a $780 million soccer stadium with 25,000 seats. The local community board approved the project earlier this month, and Richards will need to provide his recommendations before it moves on for approval from the City Planning Commision, City Council and mayor.

Developers Related Companies and Sterling Equities did not immediately respond for a request for comment. City Hall estimated the project would generate $6.1 billion in economic impact over the next 30 years, creating 1,550 permanent jobs and 14,200 construction jobs.

Richards said he’s not yet ready to say “yes” to the stadium project, but he’s optimistic that he will come to an agreement with the developers.

“There are a lot of sticking points for us,” Richards said of the next phase of the project, adding that he wants the plan to incorporate local street vendors and ensure that there are sufficient benefits required for the surrounding communities.

“These benefits have to reach the communities,” Richards added on Monday. “The kids who are going to live in this neighborhood, the surrounding neighborhoods of Corona and Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst, deserve to touch the field the same way. They deserve for their feet to kick a soccer ball on the turf.”

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