60 acres of Flushing Waterfront to be revived


| mchan@queenscourier.com |

Photo Courtesy of FWCLDC
Photo Courtesy of FWCLDC

A local development group hopes to revitalize the Flushing River and 60 acres surrounding it.

Flushing’s future will have a revitalized, accessible waterfront — bridging the downtown area and Willets Point — if early projections proposed by a local development group become finalized.

“Downtown Flushing, or the Flushing waterfront rather, is an area of enormous untapped potential,” said Nick Roberts, project manager at Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation (FWCLDC) — the north-central Queens-based organization spearheading expansion efforts. “We believe that revitalizing Flushing’s waterfront is the next crucial step to furthering Flushing’s status as one of the city’s greatest neighborhoods.”

The FWCLDC received a grant through the state’s Department of State Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOA) program to revive 60 acres of downtown Flushing by the waterfront. The site is bounded by Northern Boulevard to the north, Roosevelt Avenue to the south, Prince Street to the east and the Flushing River near the Van Wyck Expressway to the west, with College Point Boulevard running through the middle.

The team embarked on the BOA project in spring of 2011, and while the project is still in its early stages and await input from the community and final reviews from city and state agencies, the group presented two working concept models — neither of which are set in stone — to the Flushing community during a town hall meeting on June 21.

The first concept features a 130-foot wide waterfront edge corridor at Flushing River, which would be turned into an amenity, allowing residents to either meander along the river on walkways or possibly canoe and kayak on it. The second concept focuses more on “seamlessly” connecting the river to downtown Flushing with park-like, landscaped corridors running east to west. Small parks, officials said, would also be installed at the end of each street under this model.

With either proposal, developers expect the site to be parceled out between residential, retail, entertainment and other mixed uses within the next five to ten years. According to Peter Liebowitz, an environmental, planning and engineering consultant with the project, 75 percent of the land — totaling to 750,000 square feet — would go toward 600 units of affordable housing, based on market demand assessments. The total 1,005,000 square feet would be broken up between smaller percentages of retail, restaurants, office, hotel and entertainment options.

A more long term plan – over 10 years – calls for 1,600 residential units and only 6 percent entertainment, which officials said would largely make up of facility banquet halls.

The project is mildly restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration, said the project’s landscape architect Greg Leonard, since the development site is approximately 1.25 miles away from LaGuardia Airport.

Leonard said the maximum building height for the southeast portion of the site is capped at 170 feet before sea level subtractions. By the river, buildings could only be 145 feet.

Still, officials hope final recommendations will also feature a pedestrian bridge linking the waterfront to the future development site at Willets Point.

Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg detailed the city’s plans for the future of Willets Point, which includes the building of a 200-room hotel with 30,000-square-feet of retail and dining space and a portion of the Citi Field parking lot to become one-million square feet of space for retail, entertainment and dining.

The foot bridge will likely pass over the river at the lowest point of the Van Wyck Expressway, although officials said they still need to nail down the location, length and efficiency before designs are drawn.

“This is a very exciting area in terms of economics, despite the fact that some other areas of the country aren’t doing so well,” said former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, who heads the FWCLDC. “Flushing is really on its way up.”

Plans to dredge the putrid-smelling Flushing River are not entirely part of the project, since the state-regulated wetland is under the jurisdiction of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. But Shulman said the group is already in talks with the agency to push the measure.

“The dredging is being very actively dealt with right now,” she said. “If we’re connecting to the river, we want the waterfront to be clean, attractive and usable.”

The project has already drawn fire from Willets Point United, a group of property owners battling the city to keep their land. Group leaders said in a statement that the brownfield project is “actually a thinly-disguised land grab” and predicted FWCLDC would use eminent domain in the future to acquire all land in the 60 acres — a move WPU is familiar with.

Developers, however, said properties owners maintain full control of their rights throughout the planning and implementation process. They said they are “respecting property boundaries” and made a note not to affect surrounding businesses.

FWCLDC hopes to have enough feedback from the community within 30 to 45 days before taking the information back to city agencies for review.

The agencies, developers said, have not put up any roadblocks yet. The project also got the thumbs up from Jack Friedman, executive director at the Queens Chamber of Commerce, who said the chamber is fully supportive of the plans.

“This new concept — this is exactly what we need for the area,” he said.