Tag Archives: Willets Point

City drops its appeal of court’s decision against Willets West development

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYC Economic Development Corporation

Updated Friday, Aug. 21, 9:43 a.m.

Plans for the redevelopment of Willets Point took another hit Wednesday, this time from the City of New York.

The de Blasio administration announced it would not participate in an appeal of a State Appellate Court’s decision blocking the construction of Willets West, a million-square-foot mall on the Citi Field parking lot where Shea Stadium once stood. The court declared that the parking lot is city parkland, and that the parties involved did not reach an agreement to replace parkland lost in connection with the project, violating a state mandate.

The withdrawal came after failed negotiations between the city and the project’s main developers — Queens Development Group (QDG), which includes Related Companies and Sterling Equities — over plans to speed up the creation of affordable housing within the larger redevelopment plans for Willets Point. That demand, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, was not viewed by the developers as being economically feasible.

It also marks a stark reversal for the city, which previously supported the mall’s creation under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city has thus far spent more than $400 million in purchasing land in Willets Point to make way for the neighborhood’s transformation from an industrial hub to a commercial and residential community.

The source, however, claimed the city’s decision was not a matter of philosophical differences between administrations, noting that the city apparently attempted to leverage the impending appeal into the expedited creation of affordable housing at Willets Point.

“They threw out the baby with the bathwater,” the source said, adding that the city was calling upon the developers to “take a leap of faith” and make a commitment to affordable housing at Willets Point without offering secure economic means to get the job done.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, in an official statement, acknowledged that the city desires “significant improvements that would mean that the public would also see a healthy mix of affordable and market-rate housing, delivered on a real time frame.”

“Nearly half a billion dollars is an enormous public investment to make when the only guarantee is a shopping mall. The deal as it stood did not require any affordable housing actually be built,” Glen said. “We know a lot has gone into this project, and we hope that this team will continue to work towards that goal with us.”

Nevertheless, Queens Development Group is pressing on with its efforts to overturn the Appellate Court’s decision on Willets West and the redevelopment of the area as a whole, according to spokesman Phil Singer.

“We are committed to the redevelopment of Willets Point and are confident that our appeal of the Appellate Court’s ruling will be successful,” Singer said in a statement. “The QDG plan, which was overwhelmingly approved by the City Council, provides an additional $3 billion private investment which will finally clean up the long-contaminated land at Willets and provide the facilities and infrastructure for a brand-new neighborhood.”

Regarding the city’s push for affordable housing, Singer indicated the QDG supports the de Blasio administration’s efforts and is “committed to significantly accelerating the housing portion of this plan.”

“But those efforts need to be backed by a financially viable model,” he cautioned.

Opponents of the Willets West plan hailed the city’s withdrawal from the appeal effort.

“I am pleased to hear that the city administration has decided not to appeal the Appellate Division’s unanimous and well-reasoned decision,” said state Senator Tony Avella in a statement. He charged that the developers, by continuing the appeal, “have refused to see the fundamental flaws in the Bloomberg plan in all its variations.”

Shea Stadium, as pictured in 2007.  (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Shea Stadium, as pictured in 2007. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The Willets Point saga has gone on for nearly a decade. Back in 2007, the city put forth a multibillion-dollar vision of turning industrial Willets Point into a neighborhood featuring more than 5,000 new apartments, many of which were to be reserved as affordable housing. Businesses in the area, however, banded together in an effort to thwart the city’s acquisition plans; many of them eventually settled and agreed to relocate to the Bronx.

Before putting a shovel in the ground, the city is also required to remediate decades of pollution left by industry there and develop basic infrastructure such as sewer and water lines. Completion of the redevelopment is currently projected for 2026.

Meanwhile, in 2012, the city and Sterling Equities — which owns the New York Mets and Citi Field — announced plans for Willets West, including a large mall, a movie theater complex and a 200-room hotel. Opponents of Willets West filed suit, pointing out that the former Shea Stadium site where the mall is to be built is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park — a claim that the Queens Supreme Court dismissed in 2014 but the State Appellate Court accepted this year.



Plans for Willets Point mega mall blocked by appellate court

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of NYCEDC

An appellate court blocked developers of proposed mega mall Willets West last week from using designated parkland without legislative approval, creating a major bump in the road to the project’s construction.

The Supreme Court had previously ruled on Aug. 21, 2014, in favor of the developers, Queens Development Group, who were co-defendants with the city in the suit. That decision was made on the grounds that the development was legal under a 1961 law written to allow for the construction of Shea Stadium on parkland, and effectively dismissed a suit aiming to block the development brought by state Senator Tony Avella and park advocates.

The four appellate judges overturned the Supreme Court on July 2 and unanimously agreed that the project cannot be legally built on the site because it is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Queens Development Group did not undergo a process called alienation, which allows a municipality to transfer parkland to a nonpublic entity. In this process the municipality must receive prior authorization from the state in the form of legislation enacted by the New York State Legislature and approved by the governor.

Justice Angela Mazzarelli wrote that the law allowing for the construction of Shea Stadium on parkland did not exempt any future projects from having to undergo the proper approval process.

“No reasonable reading of Administrative Code section 18-118 allows for the conclusion that the legislature in 1961 contemplated, much less gave permission for, a shopping mall, unrelated to the anticipated stadium, to be constructed in the park,” said Mazzarelli.

Avella and the leader of civic group Willets Point United, Gerald Antonacci, were glad to have claimed a victory after such a long fight.

“Since 2007, we have battled the city at all times over its plans for Willets Point, which expanded in 2012 against the community’s wishes to include the gigantic proposed ‘Willets West’ mall on public parkland,” said Antonacci. “Today the Appellate Division agrees with what we’ve said all along: The city and developers failed to follow lawful procedure and now as a result their whole project cannot proceed.”

“The fact of the matter is, this land was intended to be parkland, not the development of a shopping mall,” said Avella. “In a city where public land is in short supply, simply handing parkland over is a betrayal of trust.”

Willets West was proposed as the first phase of a major two-part rehabilitation plan for Willets Point which would have seen a retail mall and movie theater constructed on 30.7 acres of parking lot adjacent to Citi Field. These first steps toward redevelopment were to begin in 2015, and would have also included major infrastructure updates, including the remediation of 23 acres of Willets Point, the installation of sewage systems, roads and ramps to access local highways, parking spaces, and the development of a 200-room hotel.

The second phase of the Willets Point development was expected to commence in 2026, and involved the construction of mixed-income housing, a public school and additional acres of open space.

In an emailed statement, Queens Development Group said they would appeal the decision.

“This decision, which overturns a well-reasoned decision of the New York Supreme Court, blocks a plan that has been embraced by a wide variety of stakeholders from the City Council to civic groups to labor organizations and others,” said a spokesperson for Queens Development Group. “We believe the Appellate Division Court misinterpreted the statute, improperly narrowing the broad authority it conveyed which would result in an unacceptable status quo, instead of enabling a widely supported investment that will reverse 100 years of pollution and create thousands of much-needed good paying jobs.”


Flushing development update: lack of space, increasing demand

| stephen.preuss@cushwake.com

Rendering courtesy of TDC Development International

In March, we discussed the development market in Flushing. Over the past couple of years, Flushing has been experiencing a rapidly increasing development market.

Approvals for multiple mega mixed-use projects were carried through — for example, the Willets Point project, Flushing Commons, and multiple hotel sites, including the Intercontinental Hotel at 36-18 Main Street, are in the development works.

Another topic of discussion in 2014 was potential upzoning for West Flushing, which would allow for increased residential development in order to provide for the dense flow of residents in Flushing. But although we have been seeing record pricing in 2015 as previously discussed, recently we have seen a lag in available land for development while demand is still rising.

Flushing has long been considered as a development Mecca in northern Queens. Its population is rapidly and consistently rising. Predominantly Asian, it is a thriving city for Asian culture, earning the name “the Chinese Manhattan.” Residential condos are selling at record prices — up to $700 per square foot for a two-bedroom condominium — and apartment rentals are seeing up to $2,000 and beyond per month for a one-bedroom. So it is no wonder downtown Flushing and its greater area has kept developers bullish over the potential.

Flushing Commons and the Willets Point project reach a square footage capacity upwards of 500,000 square feet. The amount of land left in Flushing to accommodate another project like that of Flushing Commons is significantly lacking.

We have been recently retained to sell 30-05 Whitestone Expwy. in Flushing. The site boasts 80,510 square feet of lot area with proposed plans for rezoning for a potential 523,315 buildable square feet for a mixed-use project or hotel development. Its location is within minutes from LaGuardia Airport and blocks away from downtown Flushing with great visibility from the Whitestone Expressway.

As previously discussed, the lack of space available has been a hindrance for developers — this site could serve as a rare opportunity for developers looking to capitalize on the little space Flushing has left.

Stephen R. Preuss is an executive director in the Capital Markets Group of Cushman & Wakefield, where he focuses on investment sales for various Queens neighborhoods. He has transacted in over $1 billion of investment and commercial real estate over his 15 year career. During his tenure, he has sold over 125 properties to date with an aggregate value of over $650 million.

Stephen Preuss

Stephen Preuss


Willets Point property, not part of city’s mega development plans, hits the market

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Ana Jimenez/ PropertyShark

And then there was one.

The only property in Willets Point that was not owned by the city and will not be handed over to developers for the neighborhood’s massive revitalization plan has been listed for sale.

The property at 34-09 126th St., across from Citi Field between 34th and 35th avenues, comprises a one-story warehouse on a 20,000-square-foot lot.

An asking price was not disclosed, but offers are being accepted, according to Swain Weiner, president of Greiner-Maltz Investment Properties, which is marketing the site. The property has been popular with investors, because it has a maximum of 130,000 buildable square feet and it will be surrounded by housing and entertainment of the new Willets Point neighborhood when development plans are completed.

“It’s the odd piece out. That’s the beauty of it,” Weiner said. “Just imagine when everything is built.”

The remaining property for sale is in a special zoning district and a variety of projects could be built there, including a hotel or residential structure, Weiner said.

In March, the Sunrise Cooperative, a group of auto shop owners that rented space in Willets Point for their businesses, agreed to move to the Bronx in exchange for $5.8 million.

The Bloomberg administration tapped the Queens Development Group, a joint venture between real estate firms Related Companies and Sterling Equities, for the Willets Point mega project following a request for proposals in 2011.

In the first phase of the plan, a shopping center with 200 stores and other attractions will be built to the west of the baseball stadium, where there is currently a parking lot. Then the area to the east, where all the auto shops are located on contaminated land known as the Iron Triangle, will be remediated.

After the cleanup, developers will build a residential community of 2,500 housing units, 35 percent of which will be affordable, and community facilities, a public school, more retail, a hotel and parking space. The city said that it would create 12,000 construction jobs and another 7,100 permanent jobs once development is complete.


Willets Point auto shop owners settle suit with city, moving to Bronx: report

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

File photo

After years of fighting, a group of Willets Point auto shop owners has reportedly settled its lawsuit with the city and developers planning to transform the land adjacent to Citi Field known as the “Iron Triangle.”

Crain’s New York reported on Thursday the landowners — operating as the Sunrise Cooperative — agreed to accept a combined $5.8 million from the city, Sterling Equities and Related Companies, then divvy up the funds to relocate from Willets Point to the Bronx, where an auto business co-operative will be created.

“Sunrise is happy that they got to an agreement,” attorney Harvey Epstein of the Urban Justice Center, who represented the cooperative, said in the Crain’s report. “We look forward to building a large auto co-op, and to everyone in New York starting to use it.”

The Bloomberg administration first initiated action to redevelop the Iron Triangle into a new community featuring housing, retail markets, a hotel and even a convention center. Related Companies and Sterling Equities — the latter of which owns the New York Mets and developed Citi Field — formed the Queens Development Group, which the city selected in June 2012 to redevelop Willets Point.

At the time, Queens Development Group and the city were expected to pour over $3 billion into remediating contamination and then developing the neighborhood. The city touted it would create 12,000 construction jobs and another 7,100 permanent jobs once development is complete.

While the city viewed Willets Point as a chance to update a blighted area, property owners charged the blight was the city’s own doing, as it neglected to provide the zone with essential services.

The Sunrise Cooperative launched litigation when the city, after negotiations to purchase the land failed, attempted to acquire it through eminent domain. In the settlement, the city agreed to pay $4.8 million, while Sterling Equities and Related Companies will contribute $960,000.

Along with redeveloping the Iron Triangle, the Queens Development Group also plans to construct a large shopping center just to the west of Citi Field, on the parking lot where Shea Stadium once stood.


First QNS Real Estate Conference set for February

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Real Estate Conference logo edit

The growing Queens real estate market will soon have a forum where industry leaders can gather to network and discuss opportunities across the borough.

The premier QNS Real Estate Conference will be held on Feb. 26, 2015, and will feature top real estate firms that are investing in the borough, while welcoming prospective developers, owners, architects and other industry members.

Star Network and The Queens Courier, in association with the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), are hosting the event, which will include a keynote address by Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Real estate website PropertyShark and Flushing Bank are sponsoring the conference.

“This event is a great opportunity for the public to learn about the latest trends and investment information in Queens from the top people in our industry,” said Jamie McShane, REBNY senior vice president for communications. “Queens is becoming increasingly important as we have seen projects from Astoria Cove to Hallets Point, and projects at Queens Plaza South and the Long Island City waterfront, as well as Willets Point. And the members of the REBNY are very involved with a growing number of exciting projects in Queens, our largest borough and the most ethnically diverse county in America.”

The event will be at Terrace on the Park at 52-11 111th St. in Flushing at 8 a.m., beginning with breakfast and ending with three panel discussions.

The panel discussions will focus on why big investment firms are coming to Queens, the experiences of major developers already based in the borough and experts’ perspectives on the market in Ridgewood.

“The Queens market has huge opportunity, and this event will shed light on the power of it,” said Josh Schneps, co-publisher of The Courier. “This event is a perfect platform to do so for the industry. We hope people interested in the Queens market will attend and hopefully make investments in the borough.”

Click here to register for the event.


Queens’ official historian announces walking tour of Willets Point

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

File photo

Updated Friday, Oct. 17. 

Queens’ official historian will be holding a walking tour through Willets Point next month to make the public more aware of the small industrial area near Citi Field lined with mechanic shops.

Jack Eichenbaum, who holds a Ph. D. in urban geography, offers walking tours throughout New York City  and on Nov. 8  he will take a group of 30 people through Willets Point to raise awareness about the area and get people involved in its development. Those interested can register on Eichenbaum’s site.

He is also hoping to dispel the “misnomer” in referring  to that area as WIllets Point.

“It’s not actually Willets Point,” he said. “It’s the mouth of Flushing Bay. And the real Willets Point is actually Fort Totten.”

He also pointed out that there is a Willets Point Boulevard but it’s not actually in the area known as Willets Point.

“I’m an educator first. I want to show people the history and geography,” Eichenbaum said. “This walk will not be a pleasant walk. It’s about the political, ecological and economic situation.”

The name Willets Point is used to refer to the area near Citi Field and Flushing. Current plans for the area call for a 1.4 million-square-foot complex which will consist of a mall and housing units with commercial and retail space, according to earlier reports.

But Eichenbaum and others don’t want a mall. Joe Ardizzone is the area’s last remaining resident and he is a member of Willets Point United, a group that advocates for a similar solution to Eichenbaum’s with housing as a top priority.  So far, the group has had little success in preventing commercial development or eminent domain.

“There are four malls in Flushing. We need another mall? How about housing?” Eichenbaum said. “We ought to develop it.”

But Eichenbaum is in a position to influence Borough President Melinda Katz. In 2010, he was appointed as the Queens Borough Historian and part of his job is advising Katz. He’s hoping that politicians as well as ordinary people will participate in his lecture and tour.

“Most people don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “If a shopping mall is built there it will have a major impact on the surrounding areas and people need to be included in the discussion and figure out whether that’s a good or bad thing.”


Sen. Tony Avella, park advocates sue to stop Citi Field mega mall

| mchan@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy NYCEDC

State Senator Tony Avella and a long list of Queens park advocates are suing the city to stop a mega mall from coming to Citi Field.

The 1.4 million-square-foot shopping center is part of a major $3 billion project by Sterling Equities and Related Companies to redevelop Willets Point.

The ambitious and controversial plan, approved Oct. 9 by the City Council, also includes the cleanup of 23 acres of contaminated land and the eventual construction of housing units with commercial and retail space.

The group filed the suit Feb. 10 in New York County Supreme Court, saying the project cannot proceed without state Legislature approval under a doctrine that protects state parkland.

The suit also seeks annulments of city approvals.

“It’s a serious principle here,” Avella said. “If the city is allowed to get away with this, what’s to stop them next time? If we keep giving it away, someday we’ll wake up and there will be no parks.”



City still tallying Willets Point business owners who took final payout to relocate

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

The city is still tallying the number of Willets Point business owners who took a final payout to relocate, officials said.

A pooled $3.5 million was up for grabs for auto shop owners in the Phase 1 area of the development site who agreed to leave the Iron Triangle by the end of January.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) offered shop owners a payout equal to one year’s rent, if they relocated by Nov. 30, and six months’ rent, if they left between December and the end of January.

The city was still making final counts Wednesday, an EDC spokesperson said, adding that a more concrete number would be available next week.

In December, nine businesses agreed to vacate by Jan. 31 and 22 took a payout to relocate by November, according to Megan Montalvo, a spokesperson for Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area.

At the end of November, 30 relocated, signed new leases or are close to doing so, she said.

About 50 business owners from the Sunrise Co-op, a large group fighting to relocate together, are inching closer to signing their own lease with the city to move as a group to the Bronx, Sunrise leader Sergio Aguirre said.

“We will have good news soon,” he said.

The city has been urging shops to leave in order to make way for a $3 billion project to redevelop Willets Point, which includes cleaning up 23 acres of contaminated land, and eventually constructing housing units and a mega mall near Citi Field.



Convention center and 25-story hotel headed for Corona

| mchan@queenscourier.com

Renderings courtesy of Fleet Financial Group

A convention center complex as big as a city block, with a 25-story hotel and apartments, may be coming to Queens. 

Fleet Financial Group plans to build a roughly 106,000-square-foot convention center, the largest in the East Coast, at 112-21 Northern Blvd. in Corona.

The $200 million real estate project also includes 292 river-view hotel rooms, 236 luxurious apartments, a shopping center and a high-class restaurant.

“That area is really booming. It’s going to be great for Queens,” said Fleet president Richard Xia.

The site is near Citi Field, where a major $3 billion redevelopment project, including a mega mall, is slated for Willets Point. It is also by the Grand Central Parkway, about two miles from LaGuardia Airport.

“People pass by, but they never stop here,” said Xia, who lives and works in Flushing. “It’s going to be something that will create a lot of jobs and, in the meantime, bring a lot more business activity to Queens.”

Fleet purchased the 1.67-acre property — currently the site of the DiBlasi Ford dealership — last month for $17 million, according to Xia.

The company is also in the midst of completing an 18-story Westin Element hotel, with a medical center, at 42-31 Union St. in Flushing.

Construction of the massive complex in Corona, dubbed the Eastern Emerald Center, would create nearly 3,000 jobs, Xia said.

Work is expected to start this June and end in 2017, though the proposal still needs approval from Community Board 3, the Queens borough president and the city.

The project has support from Queens Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Seth Bornstein and Queens Chamber of Commerce President Al Pennisi.

“It sounds like a really good idea,” Bornstein said. “We lack quality, large-scale space for events. It would really be a benefit to the borough.”

Pennisi said the city “could use more than one” facility like the Javits Center in Manhattan.

“[The Chamber] thought of this project,” Pennisi said. “It’ll bring conventions of all sizes into a modern facility. Everybody will benefit from it.”

Councilmember Julissa Ferreras and Victor Rodriguez, a Corona resident who owns a mini market near the proposed complex, hope the development will be a boon for the neighborhood.

“I think it’s good for us,” Rodriguez said. “It’ll bring more people here.”

But a local educator, who did not want to be named, said the slated site is near too many schools on an already accident-prone portion of Northern Boulevard.

“To have something of that magnitude, and all these people coming to town, I can’t see how that improves anything,” she said. “Money is good and people need jobs, but there are so many other things not fixed as is.”


City OKs $43M in tax breaks for Willets Point developers

| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo rendering courtesy of NYCEDC

The city has approved $43 million in tax breaks for developers who plan to transform Willets Point into a retail and entertainment destination. 

The New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA) voted Tuesday to give the incentives to the Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and Related Companies.

“That’s one of the most terrible things the city is doing,” said Arturo Olaya, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee of Small Businesses and Workers.

“The city is giving the money to the billionaires. And you know what they’re doing to the people here in Willets Point? They’re evicting the people and closing the businesses to give them this land for free,” Olaya said.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has offered more than $12.5 million in relocation aid to business owners in the first phase of the development site.

As of the end of last month, 30 have already relocated, signed new leases or are close to doing so, according to a Megan Montalvo, a spokesperson for Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area.

The city also plans to give the land to developers for $1 after the Queens delegation of the City Council approved the sale in November.

State Senator Tony Avella said aiding developers with the additional millions was “an absolute disgrace.”

“The city is taking advantage of those property owners, who are really getting the shaft,” he said. “The city is giving that land to them for a dollar, and now they want $43 million in tax breaks.”

The major $3 billion project to redevelop Willets Point, now made up of hundreds of auto shops, includes cleaning up 23 acres of contaminated land.

Plans also eventually call for constructing housing units and a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping center west of Citi Field.

“While I remain confident that this development, as a whole, will greatly enhance the quality of life for my constituents, I will respect whatever decision the IDA deems appropriate for this application,” Ferreras said.



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



Borough Board approves $1 sale of Willets Point

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

The project to build a shopping center next to Citi Field is on the move.

The Queens Borough Board voted on November 18 to allow the city’s Economic Development Council to sell the 23 acres of land for $1 to the Queens Development Group. The land is needed for the Willets Point project and would be cleaned up to make way for a 1.4 million-square-foot complex which will consist of a mall and housing units with commercial and retail space.

“After carefully reviewing the Willets Point proposal and taking my district’s needs into account, I am confident that this development will be a win for my constituents, a win for Willets Point, and a win for the great City of New York,” said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area and voted yes to the proposal.

All seven councilmembers on the board who were present during the meeting and Borough President Helen Marshall voted yes to the proposal. The only no vote came from Community Board 7’s Chair Eugene Kelty.

“The votes in favor of this proposal give us the unique opportunity to remove the blighted history of Willets Point and ensure it is a place for families to enjoy living and shopping for years to come,” said Ferreras.

The City Council approved the $3 million Willets Point project in October.



A Willets Point wish list for de Blasio

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by 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.”




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.”