Tag Archives: Sterling Equities

Willets Point developers discuss affordable housing, ramps at meeting with community board


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Ramps and affordable housing were at the heart of the first quarterly meeting between a local community board and developers of a major Willets Point redevelopment project.

Related Companies and Sterling Equities briefed Community Board 7 on October 17. The meeting was the first of four this year required under a last-minute pledge they made to sway the board towards approval. The joint venture must put $100,000 into a traffic fund for each one missed.

CB 7 Vice Chair Chuck Apelian said the city officially allocated $66 million in its capital budget for the design and construction of traffic ramps that will lead into the transformed Willets Point mixed-use development.

The ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway were necessary to fulfill the affordable housing portion of the major $3 billion redevelopment project.

“The key is that we didn’t have in our hearings any confirmation that there would be money to build these ramps,” Apelian said.

There was also some insight into housing site plans, including affordable units for seniors, Apelian said.

The joint venture is eyeing one location in Flushing near Main Street by the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station and plans to build about 235 units in Corona, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, according to CB 7.

Developers promised the City Council in October they would move up construction of the total 2,500 housing units — 35 percent of which will be affordable — from its original set 2025 date.

They are also discussing plans to expand LIRR service to Willets Point, according to Apelian.

The city currently owns 95 percent of 23 acres in the project’s first phase, according to New York City Economic Development Corp. There is no timetable as to when the remaining properties will be acquired, Apelian said.

“They still don’t own it all and until that time, they can’t transfer the property to the developers, so nothing will move forward,” he said. “It’s going to be an all or nothing proposition.”

 

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Community Board wants more answers on Willets Point project


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Community Board 7’s Land Use Committee told developers of Willets Point they need to return with more answers on the proposed project before the board makes a decision.

Committee members particularly want more information about parking, traffic flow and transplanting the plethora of small business owners within the Iron Triangle.

Chuck Apelian, first vice chair and committee head, told development and city representatives things had to be done about existing infrastructure around the area, especially roads and sewers.

The joint venture, between Sterling Equities and Related, needs to go through a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) for a special permit to move Citi Field parking to Willets Point in order to construct a shopping center, dubbed “Willets West.”

Without the permit, the project could essentially not go through.

Since the massive shopping center next to Citi Field was added to the project, board members found a number of changes from the 2008 plan. To build Willets West, the Parks Department would amend its lease with Queens Ballpark Company, which would be mediated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

NYCEDC promised it would work to help retrain workers and relocate businesses on the 23 acres on now mostly city-owned land.

CB 7 chair Eugene Kelty had an issue with how NYCEDC was moving workers and the small businesses out of the area. Kelty said he needed more answers on the relocation, or he would vote against the plan.

“The money they make there, fixing those cars, feeds their families,” he told representatives.

Kelty said EDC told CB 7 five years ago that tenants would be relocated before the properties they rented were sold to the city.

But Thomas McKnight, an executive vice president for NYCEDC, now said the city cannot legally relocate renters without first buying the property from owners.

David Quart, senior vice president of development for NYCEDC, said the agency is working to help move tenant and partnering with The Cornerstone Group, a non-profit workplace training program, to re-educate workers.

CB 7 must give a recommendation on the permit application, followed by Borough President Helen Marshall. From there it goes to the Department of City Planning and then voted on by the City Council.

Should the joint venture make it through the ULURP, the developers can only go so far in development until new exit ramps are built for the Van Wyck Expressway.

The city has promised to foot the bill for the ramps, which would go up between 2021 and 2024 with an estimated $50 million cost at today’s rates. If the city does not hold up its end of the bargain, under any circumstance, affordable housing and other components of the plan will not go through, said Jesse Masyr, one of the lawyers representing the joint venture.

“If you’re asking what remedies we as a developer have if the city doesn’t build the ramps, the answer is none,” he said.

“We have confidence that the city will build the ramps. It’s part of the overall risk the joint venture is taking.”

CB 7’s Land Use Committee will meet with representatives next on Thursday, April 25.

 

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Approved Willets Point plan to go through rigorous review


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Redevelopment of Willets Point will now go through a rigorous review process after its study was approved by the Department of City Planning (DCP).

The plan, approved by DCP on Monday, March 18, will first go to Community Board 7, which includes Willets Point, for an advisory vote. Borough President Helen Marshall will then get the plan for her own recommendation, followed by the City Council and DCP.

Between development at Willets Point and the addition of the shopping mall dubbed “Willets West,” the mixed use area will include housing, retail, hotels and an entertainment center.

Jesse Masyr, the project’s lawyer, said he’s confident the various levels of voters will jump on board with the plan, citing the environmental clean up that’s first on the project’s steps.

“It is a very, very significant effort and accomplishment,” he said, adding it would “reverse 50 years of unsuccessful attempts” to stop pollution in the area.

If the City Council ultimately rezones the area, the joint venture, between Related Companies and Sterling Equities, would begin by cleaning up the 23 acres commonly called the Iron Triangle. New York City has dedicated $100 million to removing spoiled soil and creating an infrastructure at Willets; the rest of the project is privately financed.

New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) has pushed for the project since updated plans were announced last June — much to the chagrin of some Willets Point business owners.

“This marks a critical step towards beginning the long-needed cleanup of toxic land in Willets Point that for years has damaged the waterfront and been a blight on the community,” a NYCEDC spokesperson said.

Opponents, however, are not confident in a fair process.

Michael Rikon, the lawyer for Willets Point United, said the city would probably approve the rezoning, and the seven-month approval process was merely a formality at this point.

This didn’t stop Rikon, however, from saying there were reasons why the project should be fought — including building Willets West on what is mapped as parkland.

“The whole thing and the whole process is a shame,” he said. “There could be 15 great reasons why there should be a condemnation on the plan.”

 

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Walmart, developers deny plans of a Willets Point store


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Rumors of Walmart setting up shop in Willets Point were quickly put to an end, after reports that the megastore was in talks with the developers about anchoring a store at Willets West.

The Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Related Companies and Sterling Equities, said in a statement that there has been no communication with Walmart.

“We have not had any talks with Walmart about a location at Willets Point and we have absolutely no intention of discussing this site with them,” the group said. “There have been and will be no negotiations, they are simply not a part of our plan to build an enclosed retail and entertainment destination at Willets Point, that will bring much needed jobs and economic activity to the area and lead to the development of a new neighborhood.”

A Walmart spokesperson said that while there is a public demand for the big box store in the five boroughs, the store did not have anything in the works within the city limits.

“While most New Yorkers want us in the city and we remain interested in ways to better serve local customers, we don’t have any announced projects in New York,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) added that talks or plans for a Willets Point Walmart were completely untrue.

“The developer has had no discussions with WalMart and these reports are absolutely without merit,” the spokesperson said.

In early 2011, there was a major backlash from the city council and small business owners when the store tried to move into the city. The store has been criticized in the past for reputed labor issues.

The idea of Walmart coming to Queens is not protested by all, however, as Councilmember Dan Halloran said he wouldn’t be against the chain coming to the borough and bringing with it thousands of jobs.

“If Walmart violates a single labor practice law, I’d be the first one to call them out on it and make sure they are fully dealt with by the labor department and other agencies,” Halloran said. “But I certainly don’t want to tell them to not bring their jobs here.”

Mayor Bloomberg: Willets Point facelift to bring thousands of jobs


| tpetropoulosedit@queenscourier.com

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More than 12,000 construction jobs and 7,000 permanent jobs will come from the proposed Willets Point renovation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, which includes retail space, a hotel and quicker access to the Van Wyck Expressway.

The reconstruction — to be funded by $3 billion in private investment, as well as $100 million in city capital for the demolition, remediation, infrastructure and permanent improvements — is expected to bring $4.2 billion in economic activity over the next 30 years.

The specifics of the long-awaited project were announced on June 14 during the Mayor’s meeting with the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

The city felt the plans for Phase 1 would best be done by the Queens Development Group, a joint venture of Sterling Equities, Inc. — owned by Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz — and Related Companies.

“For generations, Willets Point was neglected, no investments were made in the roads or in the sewers or in environmental remediation … and it remains one of the city’s most polluted sites,” Bloomberg said. “Each year, four million people visit the area. These are four million potential shoppers, local business and restaurants, creating thousands of new jobs and laying the groundwork for thousands of housing units.”

The plan includes the activation of the 126th Street corridor, building a 200-room hotel with 30,000-square-feet of retail and dining space. There will be an additional 20-acre parking area that can be converted for open recreation, it was announced, which will be open during the MLB offseason and during certain Mets road trips.

A new component, Willets West, is designated from a portion of the Citi Field parking lot to become one-million square feet of space for retail, entertainment and dining.

New off-ramps from the Van Wyck Expressway will be added after Phase 1 of the project is completed in the next 10 to 15 years to provide better access to the area. The off-ramps were approved in March by the Federal Highway Administration and the New York State Department of Transportation.

Still left open were tentative plans for affordable housing and a home for a planned convention center in the area — two concerns of Queens Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Friedman.

“We just hope the mayor’s vision, and the book he has with it, has all the chapters we want to see in it,” Friedman said.

Though affordable housing plans have been pushed back until after the project’s completion, many officials feel this is the way to bring new residents to the area.

“This is the way that you get to affordable housing,” said Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). “[The first phase of the plan] not only doesn’t preclude the development of the rest of Willets Point [including the affordable housing] but makes it more likely by activating the site and creating more magnets to draw people to the area.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged on June 1 that talks for what would have been the largest convention center in the country near the Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park had fallen through. Not long after, officials began to eye Willets Point as a possible alternative.

If not Aqueduct as the convention center’s home, Friedman said Willets Point would be the most ideal and practical place for the center, based on its location.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who represents the area that includes Aqueduct and the Resorts World Racino, said he supported any kind of project that would benefit Queens and bring jobs. What Addabbo said was a time factor for Willets Point — environmental testing — had already been done at Aqueduct. The preparedness, he said, could relieve the push for time.

State Senator Jose Peralta released a letter to Governor Cuomo, two days before the official announcement, asking the governor to consider Willets Point for the planned convention center. Frank Sorbino, a spokesperson for the senator, said the mall announcement would not deter courting developers to Willets. Rather, he said, it would help the region’s case.

“This does not preclude the building of a convention center,” he said. “If anything, it makes Willets Point an even more attractive site for a convention center.”

Meanwhile, some property owners of long-established businesses at Willets Point continue to cry foul ball at what the city and the Wilpons may call a home-run.

“This is why the city initiated condemnation against local landowners? To get a hold of private property and hand it over to the Mets and their partner for the sum of $0? This project needs to be stopped in its tracks and the question of Willets Point should be set aside until a new mayor, one not imbued with a spirit of crony capitalism, is elected,” said Jake Bono, owner of Bono Sawdust.

Michael Rikon, the attorney who represented Willets Point property owners during their fight against eminent domain, said he predicted — while challenging the condemnation — that the taking would only benefit Sterling Equities and the Wilpons.

“Now here it is. We hit it directly on the nose,” Rikon said. “This is a figment of Bloomberg’s imagination. It’s really outrageous. There are still properties that are privately owned — they don’t control the entire site.”

Rikon said 152 businesses — and 654 people, the vast majority Hispanic — would be directly affected during Phase 1 of the project.

Jennifer Friedberg, spokesperson for the NYCEDC, said 95 percent of the project area is currently in city control. Relocation and worker assistance programs, she said, would be provided by the city to businesses in the 23-acre Phase 1 affected area.

But Rikon said already existing environmental concerns and the fact that the site “looks like a piece of Swiss cheese” make the project seem even less plausible.

The streets are pockmarked with deep craters and the area lacks necessary sewers and sidewalks. But Willets Point United, a group formed to oppose the city’s plans to take over the area, said the city deliberately neglected the area — despite the group’s push for years to have the severely deteriorated streets repaired.

“The whole thing is just mind-boggling,” Rikon said. “There’s no affordable housing in this thing. It’s a giant shopping mall. There’s absolutely no need for it, and it’s just going to benefit a private developer.”

But for property owner Danny Sambucci of Sambucci Bros. — a family-owned and operated Willets Point business since 1951 — the decision to strike a deal with the city, for an undisclosed amount, was a better business decision and meant less strife.

“If you’re dealing with the city, it just seemed like the wise thing to do,” he said.

— With additional reporting by Tim Petropoulos

Mets reach deal to develop Willets Point, according to reports


| mchan@queenscourier.com

A new deal has been reportedly struck between the city and a real estate firm to redevelop Willets Point into a mixed-use retail and housing hub, according to reports.

The city rescinded its bid two weeks ago to acquire and develop Willets Point through Eminent Domain, and instead, according to published reports, has reached an agreement with Related Companies and Sterling Equities — which is controlled by the owner of the Mets and Citi Field — to build a 1.4 million-square-foot mall with a parking garage on one side of Citi Field and a 200-room hotel and stores on the other.

A Sterling spokesperson declined to comment, and Jennifer Friedberg, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, did not confirm the reports but said the city expects to have an announcement in the coming weeks.

Published reports anticipate another prolonged process and said the new proposal awaits an environmental review, public hearings and a public review by the city. However, Friedberg said the city is still scheduled to complete the project in 2013.

According to the Wall Street Journal, developers have until 2025 to begin construction on the property.

Meanwhile, property owners in the 20-acre piece of land are still fighting to keep their businesses and are urging the city to repair the severely deteriorated streets before emergency response times are more hindered and further revenue is lost.

Attorneys representing the land owners are also seeking over $281,000 in legal fees and disbursements spent on the eminent domain case over three years.