Tag Archives: Economic Development Corporation

LIC loses some free Wi-Fi hotspots amid bankruptcy scandal


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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Long Island City has lost some of its connection.

Spain-based Wi-Fi provider GOWEX, which was announced last year as one of the organizations that would help bring free Wi-Fi access throughout the city, has filed bankruptcy and had “dozens” of its hotspots go offline, according to the New York Post.

Some of the hotspots include areas in Long Island City, the Bronx and Staten Island, the Post said.

According to the Post, analysts at Gotham City Research posted in a July 1 report that GOWEX had lied about the size of its contract with the city’s Economic Development Corporation, claiming it had 100,00 hotspots throughout the world, when it actually had about 5,000.

Founder and CEO of GOWEX, Jenaro Garcia resigned after he admitted he inflated the revenues, according to the Chicago Tribune.

When it was announced last year, GOWEX was expected to help bring free Wi-Fi access to the Long Island City area with the network being installed along the Vernon Boulevard, Jackson Avenue and Queens Plaza commercial and retail corridors.

GOWEX had a contract with the EDC worth $245,000 and it has paid the company about $185,000 so far, according to published reports. The contract with GOWEX runs through September 2016.

 

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Madelaine Chocolate owner hopes for share of disaster recovery funds


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

File photo

Madelaine Chocolate wants its fair share of the billions of disaster recovery dollars coming to the city post-Sandy.

“Superstorm Sandy put us out of the chocolate business,” said Jorge Farber, owner of the 65-year-old Rockaway business. “When I was able to get to the factory [after the storm], one thing was clear: things would never be the same.”

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) held a hearing Tuesday at the Madelaine Chocolate complex where Farber was able to address city officials and request funds from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), which is expected to bring in about $16 billion for superstorm victims.

Madelaine Chocolate officials are still working to pay back a $13 million loan from the Small Business Association, according to Farber. He suggested the CDBG-DR be “grant-only” because “many employers, like Madelaine, have already taken on all the debt they can handle.”

He also said the grant limit should be raised to $10 million for companies, like his, which meets defined criteria, including a significant number of employees and a great economic impact.

“I am not an economist . . . but Madelaine has the potential to continue to contribute millions to the New York City economy,” Farber said. “Make no mistake, the assistance we are asking for will make a huge difference in the lives of the employees who depend on us to continue making chocolate in New York City,” Farber said.

Before Sandy, Madelaine Chocolate’s 400 employees produced about 20 million pounds of chocolate per year, according to Farber.

The Rockaway Park sweet spot also boasted hiring a majority of their employees locally, as well as providing chocolate for local vendors. Today, they are utilizing half of their 200,000-square-foot complex and operating with about 100 employees, and Madelaine Chocolate is up for sale.

“It is little more than a skeleton crew,” Farber said. “But, if we can get the assistance we need, we can hold up our end of the partnership right here in New York City.”

 

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Rockaway Ferry service extended to May


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

File photo

Residents on the peninsula no longer will experience the dreaded end of the Rockaway Ferry. The water service has been extended until May.

“While the Rockaway Ferry service began as an emergency measure, serving residents after Hurricane Sandy devastated other public transit options, it has since proved to be a valuable part of the city’s transportation infrastructure,” said Kyle Kimball, NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) president.

The ferries, which connect Beach 108th Street, the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Lower Manhattan, were slated to end Jan. 31, but will continue throughout the next several months with an option to extend further until August.

However, instead of $2 one-way tickets, the price to ride will be $3.50.

The EDC will additionally determine the viability of long-term service and identify a ferry operator.

Next month, the EDC will issue a Request for Proposals to make this determination, which will monitor ridership during the extension and show whether an additional extension to August is necessary.

This is the fourth extension of the ferry since its initial launch in November 2012, and since then it has carried more than 200,000 passengers.

“We are committed to the Rockaways’ recovery. From accelerating rebuilding programs to today’s ferry extension, we are going to keep our focus on communities hit hard by Sandy to ensure no one is left behind,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

 

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More than 30 business owners take payout to leave Willets Point


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

“We’ve moved” signs are popping up in Willets Point, as 22 business owners took a payout to relocate by the end of last month, city officials said.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) in August offered a pooled $3.5 million to auto shop owners in the Phase 1 area of the Willets Point development site who agree to leave the Iron Triangle by the end of January.

Shop owners who relocated by November 30 will be given a payout equal to one year’s rent, while those who leave between December and the end of January will get a payment equal to six months’ rent.

Nine businesses have agreed to vacate by January 31, according to a Megan Montalvo, a spokesperson for Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area.

As of the end of last month, 30 have already relocated, signed new leases or are close to doing so, Montalvo said.

About 50 business owners from the Sunrise Co-op, a large group fighting to relocate together, are in talks with the city to move to the Bronx, according to Sunrise leader Sergio Aguirre.

“We are in negotiations,” Aguirre said. “We don’t know when we’re going to finish. Until we have that agreement, we can’t say anything.”

But some have no plans to leave the site, including Yoni Chazbani, who owns ACDC Scrap Metal on Willets Point Boulevard.

“If they were to give me 12 times the monthly rent, I wouldn’t be able to move a few cars out of here. That’s for sure,” he said. “Honestly, I hope I could stay here for another 20 years. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Chazbani said customers are pouring in daily, hoping the auto shops will stay put.

“They look at the place and they say, ‘I can’t believe you guys are moving. I’m going to need you. I’m going to need to fix my car for a good price,’” he said. “Everywhere, out of this yard, prices are more expensive. This does everyone good. It benefits everybody but the city.”

Businesses have long said they can only survive if they are moved as a whole and can continue as a one-stop shop for motorists.

“I already invested a lot of money in my business, but to the city it’s garbage,” said Arturo Olaya, owner of Arthur’s Upholstery on 36th Avenue and president of the Willets Point Defense Committee for Small Businesses and Workers.

The city has been urging shops to leave since February, in order to make way for a $3 billion project to redevelop Willets Point. But, the entire Phase 1 area must first be vacated before environmental remediation can begin.

Plans for the larger project include cleaning up 23 acres of contaminated land and eventually constructing housing units and a mega mall near Citi Field.

The first-come, first-served payouts were added onto the $9 million in relocation aid already offered.

With additional reporting by Liam La Guerre

 

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$3.5M in payouts on table for Willets Point business owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com

A pooled $3.5 million in payouts is on tap for some Willets Point business owners who agree to leave the Iron Triangle by the end of January.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) sent letters earlier this month to 90 auto shop owners in the Phase 1 area of the Willets Point development site, alerting them of the extra millions now on the table.

Shop owners who relocate by November 30 will be given a payout equal to one year’s rent, city officials said. Those who leave between December and the end of January will receive a payment equal to six month’s rent.

Under the payment plan, if a business owner who currently pays the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development $2,000 a month in rent leaves by the end of November, he or she would get $24,000.

The new pooled funds are on a first-come, first-serve basis, city officials said, and are added onto the $9 million in relocation aid already offered.

The EDC, which has said the entire Phase 1 area must be vacated before environmental remediation can begin, has been urging shop owners to relocate since this February.

Only one has left the Phase 1 site so far, an EDC spokesperson said, but two others have struck relocation deals and others are in “serious negotiation.”

Plans for the larger $3 billion project to redevelop Willets Point include cleaning up 23 acres of contaminated land and eventually constructing housing units and a mega mall near Citi Field.

“I think we’re getting pushed out,” said Tommy Cohen, who owns ACDC Scrap Metal. “We don’t have a choice.”

Willets Point United said on its website the deal is “fool’s gold and is little more than a bus ticket out of town for these immigrant Hispanic business owners.”

About 120 people attended a city-hosted informational meeting in Corona last week to discuss the new payouts and additional free services.

Representatives were available at booths to talk about relocations, business loans, job and education training.

There are still ongoing talks between the city, developers and Willets Point shops, said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area. These include possibly relocating the affected businesses as a group.

 

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Road closure hurting Willets Point businesses, say owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Business has come to a screeching halt for about 20 auto shops stunted by construction near Citi Field, The Courier has learned.

“It’s crushing us,” said store owner Sal Yaloz. “We’re really, really suffering. I just want to work, and you don’t hear that too often.”

The city shut out business for nearly two dozen storefronts down 34th Avenue when it closed off the roadway at 126th Street entirely about three weeks ago, store owners said.

Construction from the first phase of a major $3 billion project to transform Willets Point has been gradually cutting down income for area businesses since last October, they said.

But the strip of stores in the project’s second phase was brought to a complete standstill when the major street was barricaded.

“This is a main road. If you close it, it’s like closing a main artery to your heart,” said David Antonacci, co-owner of Crown Container.

Asad Zamayar, who runs Lightning Auto Service, said the stores heavily depend on street traffic.

“If there are no cars, there is no money,” he said. “When the road is closed, there is no business.”

Determined motorists could instead loop around and enter from 127th Street, but shop owners say few take the detour.

“If you can’t get into this area, you’re going to go somewhere else,” Antonacci said.
Yaloz, who almost single-handedly runs Fast Tire Shop, estimates losing 80 percent of his business since the street closed.

“My tax bill is still coming. I still have to pay rent, but I don’t have regular income coming in,” he said.

Business owner Charles Akah, who has a corner alignment shop, totaled his losses to at least $80,000. He said he used to see between 10 and 15 customers daily.

“If I get one or two now, I’m very lucky,” he said. “I feel bad for a business that’s been there for 20 years. I’m hardly paying my rent, let alone my taxes to the city.”

The street temporarily reopened on August 22 for the US Open but closes again September 10 when the international tennis tournament is over.

The day after the concrete street barriers were lifted, Yaloz said he saw more customers that morning than he had all week.

“There was a huge difference,” he said.

But the two week break is not enough, store owners said.

“I’m hoping they’ll have some sympathy and open up the streets for good so we have access for our customers to come in,” Akah said.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation said officials are “currently reviewing possible steps towards mitigation,” which includes possibly adding more signage for “increased visibility.”

“We have been in contact with these businesses for several weeks,” said spokesperson Patrick Muncie, “including speaking with the owners directly at last week’s public informational meeting.”

Traffic and business resumed for the strip of auto shops on 34th Avenue one day after the street temporarily reopened.

 

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Sewer project set to bring flood relief


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of DEP

Springfield Gardens may soon get relief from years of flooding problems.

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Carter Strickland announced the start of work to dredge Springfield Lake and double its depth. It will then become part of a new network of Bluebelt wetlands designed to receive stormwater through a new sewer system.

Stormwater will collect in the sewer system from neighborhood streets, sidewalks and roofs; once it is distributed into the lake, it will be filtered before heading into Jamaica Bay.

“[This ensures] we are better prepared for an uncertain future,” said Seth Pinksky, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

The project, managed by the EDC, is part of a $69 million project that will bring three miles of new water mains, storm sewers, roadways and sidewalks to Springfield Gardens. It is the fourth phase in a $175 million neighborhood upgrade, consisting of additional storm sewer lines, water mains, fire hydrants and more.

Strickland said once completed, the project will “improve living conditions for local residents and promote economic growth while helping to protect the health of Jamaica Bay.”

Installation of the water mains is already 95 percent complete and the work on the Bluebelt wetlands is ongoing. Installation of the sewers began in June.

The project broke ground last fall and is expected to be completed by the fall of 2014.

 

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Board greenlights transient hotel in downtown Flushing


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo renderings courtesy of Fleet Financial Group

The developer of an 18-story building in downtown Flushing received a key nod to operate as a short-stay hotel.

Community Board 7 voted 30-8 to approve a variance with conditions that would allow developer Fleet Financial Group to function as a transient hotel over a residential one at 42-31 Union Street.

Guests are required to rent rooms for at least 30 days in resident hotels, but can stay for shorter times in standard, transient ones.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation gave developer Richard Xia approval to build a Westin Element extended-stay hotel with 161 rooms, as well as a nine-story medical facility. The building’s foundation is already 70 percent complete.

Xia, who purchased the property for $17 million, needs permission from both the community board and the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to stray from his original plans.

“I think Flushing needs something like this,” said Xia, the site’s sole owner and president of Fleet Financial Group.

“I’m pretty sure that by the time this building is done, it’s going to be something everybody likes. It’s going to provide a critical medical facility, which we need in this area.”

There would be about 40 suites inside the 44,000-square-foot North Queens Medical Center, according to Vincent Petraro, the zoning and land use attorney representing Xia. Nearly 200 jobs would be created.

“In the last few years, Queens has lost at least four hospitals,” Petraro said. “There is a need for medical space in this area and throughout Queens.”

Some of the conditions the community board voted on include having the developer provide 300 paid, public parking spaces and a guest shuttle from the hotel to Main Street. The hotel also cannot offer catering, a restaurant or liquor, the board said.

Xia is also seeking permission to build to 243 feet, which is the maximum height the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allows. The FAA and Port Authority have already approved the height.

Both applications now go to the BSA, which has not yet scheduled a public hearing.

Neighbors of the site said construction has ruined their quality of life and caused the foundation of their century-old apartment building to crack.

They have an ongoing petition against the next-door tower with 32 signatures so far.

“Since the project started, everybody’s life is miserable,” said neighbor Erica Brassoi. “They’re destroying everybody’s life.”

Xia, who lives and works in Flushing, agreed to delay morning construction by 30 minutes. He also offered to pay for the demolition of a neighboring church, which is slated to undergo its own expansion project.

“I’m going to honor that in front of everyone in the community,” he said. “The noise won’t last forever.”

 

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AG: Development Corporations lobbied illegally for projects


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Three city development corporations have admitted to illegally lobbying the City Council to win approval of their favored projects, including a much-contested plan to revamp Willets Point, the state attorney general said.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation (FWCLDC) — headed by former borough president Claire Shulman — and the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) settled charges of attempting to influence legislation in connection with development projects in Willets Point in 2008 and Coney Island in 2009, according to a three-year investigation by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The projects require City Council approvals pursuant to the state’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). But local development corporations (LDCs) are barred by statute from influencing legislation.

“These local development corporations flouted the law by lobbying elected officials, both directly and through third parties,” Schneiderman said.

According to probe findings, the three agencies attempted to create the appearance of independent grassroots support for the projects by concealing their participation in community organizing efforts. This included ghostwriting letters and op-eds and preparing testimony for unaffiliated community members, Schneiderman said.

The EDC — the city’s economic development arm — also played a behind-the-scenes role in the lobbying activities of the other LDCs, he said.

The nonprofit organizations will now have to reform their practices to comply with the law and end lobbying for development projects. They will also have to comply with mandatory training, and the EDC will have to publicaly disclose any funding provided to other LDCs.

The EDC intends to restructure, according to spokesperson Jennifer Friedberg, and cease to be considered an LDC. Doing so, she said, would allow the company to legally influence legislation and “operate freely in areas that are necessary and appropriate for it to achieve its economic development mission.”

The agency, which formerly claimed to not have known a “clear definition” of influencing legislation, will not be subjected to fines or penalties as part of the settlement.

Robert Bishop, a lawyer representing FWCLDC, said the group also plans to comply with the new agreement.

“The LDC is a great organization that does great things, and we will continue to do great things,” he said.

Shulman declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the mild rebuke from the state is drawing heat from the city comptroller, who said the restructuring alone is insufficient and pushed for organization officials to be held accountable.

“While these revelations of illegal lobbying are alarming, we cannot say that they come as a surprise,” said Comptroller John Liu. “For some time, this mayor has been using the EDC to create ‘astroturf’ groups to support his agenda, reward allies and dole out welfare to wealthy corporations.”

Willets Point United members said the investigation confirms their original suspicions that the entire land use review process was based on fraudulent and illegal behavior. They urged the city to end all recent and future actions regarding the area’s development.

“Our properties were put at risk by an illegal scheme, and we were forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect our constitutionally protected rights against a municipality and its front group engaged in activities that were rife with fraud,” the group said in a statement.