A Willets Point wish list for de Blasio


| editorial@queenscourier.com |

Photo by Thad Komorowski
Photo by Thad Komorowski

After the City Council gave the green light for a Willets Point mega mall, opponents are waiting to see what newly elected mayor de Blasio will do.

THAD KOMOROWSKI

The $3 billion plan to transform Willets Point from a grungy haven for auto shops into a slick shopping mega center has sparked protests, petitions and even a hunger strike since the Bloomberg administration announced the project.

But opponents largely fell silent after the City Council voted to approve the plan on October 9. Now, they’re waiting to see what the incoming mayor might do.

Willets Point United, an organization that has protested the proposal since it was announced, has kept quiet in the wake of the Council’s decision. Normally updating its blog and Twitter feed with the frequency of a teenager, the group has been unresponsive to reporters’ calls and emails.

The silence has even extended to the group’s attorney Michael Rikon, who also represents business owners in Willets Points, located in the shadow of Citi Field.

“Maybe the organization is so exhausted from the fight that they would not come up to my office,” Rikon said. “They may be in a really bad bind. But I can’t represent an organization that won’t meet with its attorney.”

While Willets Point United may be quiet, resentment of the plan is alive and well among the affected business owners.

Arturo Olaya, proprietor of Arthur’s Auto Trim, said the city is displacing him and other Willets Point business owners without giving them enough money or understanding the area’s way of life.

“People here can’t pick up a business and move it,” Olaya said. “Willets Point grew up by itself with no help from the government. Now Bloomberg is just concerned with big business and wants to level everybody out.”

Queens residents are suffering from the redevelopment plan too, said Alan Gross, a Census Bureau field representative who lives in North Flushing.

“Those shops provide an important service to people in Queens, and I experienced that firsthand,” Gross said. “People can’t afford to go to the dealerships and get parts from part stores themselves.”

Locals say they would have preferred to improve the neighborhood in small ways. If simple sewage, street and gas repair were done, Rikon said, Willets Point would repair itself.

But John Choe, director of One Flushing Community Economic Development Center, said that smaller community needs getting abandoned in favor of large-scale development is a hallmark of the Bloomberg era.

“We have fallen by the wayside,” Choe said. “Maybe the next administration could do a better job addressing the needs of the surroundings here.”

Newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio has not commented on the Willets Point redevelopment, and didn’t respond to inquiries.

The construction of the project’s mall is set for completion by the time of the next mayor’s second term or exit in 2018. Choe said locals can only hope Bloomberg’s successor will take the small communities’ needs seriously as the project progresses.

“We’re looking for more of a presence of the mayor, where they’re actually coming to the neighborhood besides in election time,” Choe said. “We’re hoping the next mayor will have a longer outlook of what’s going on here and an active interest in us.”

 

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