Tag Archives: Willets Point

Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com


TODAY’S FORECAST

Tuesday: Partly cloudy. High of 43. Breezy. Winds from the West at 15 to 20 mph. Tuesday night: Clear. Low of 30. Winds from the WNW at 10 to 15 mph.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Jewish Love Songs: from the Shtetl to Second Avenue

The Capitol Heights Lyric Opera presents, Jewish Love Songs: from the Shtetl to Second Avenue, a tribute to the Jewish love song, from the traditional (“Tum Balalaika”) to the immigrant era (“My Yiddishe Mame”) to the golden years of Yiddish Theater (“Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn”). February 12 at the Forest Hills Library. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Willets Point property owners want city to pay legal fees after extensive eminent domain clash

The legal sparring over Willets Point isn’t quite over yet. Lawyers representing more than a dozen business owners of the gritty Iron Triangle are awaiting a judge’s decision on whether the city will be required to pay their legal expenses, which have surpassed more than $1 million. Read more: New York Daily News

With eye on mayor’s office, Quinn turns her attention to income inequality

Christine C. Quinn, confronting an emerging theme among her rivals in the Democratic mayoral primary, proposed an affordable housing plan and a middle-class tax break on Monday, in an acknowledgment that not all New Yorkers have prospered equally under the Bloomberg administration. Read more: New York Times

Lawsuit seeks to toss current employee protections for school bus drivers

Several school bus companies have filed a lawsuit against New York City Monday, seeking to have existing protections for drivers declared illegal as those drivers press on with a strike. Read more: CBS New York

Five city firehouses headed for landmark status

Five city firehouses, including a 100-year-old Rockaway building that escaped the fire and floods of Superstorm Sandy, could soon receive landmark designation. Read more: New York Daily News

Fake grenades in bag force Port Authority evacuation

The Port Authority bus terminal was evacuated and closed for under an hour Monday evening as police investigated a traveler’s report of a bag containing what appeared to be grenades, authorities said. Read more: NBC New York

Obama to stress jobs, guns in State of the Union

The American public will get a competing mix of rhetoric and imagery in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday, a speech that offers a heavy dose on the economy even as it plays out against a visual backdrop dominated by the current national debate over guns. Read more: ABC New York

China joins U.S., Japan in condemning North Korea nuclear test

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday in defiance of existing U.N. resolutions, drawing condemnation from around the world, including from its only major ally, China, which summoned the North Korean ambassador to protest. Read more: Reuters

‘Green’ at the center of debate on Willets project


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Terence M. Cullen

Willets Point might be making headway to become a destination for shopping and entertainment in the borough, but many either living or working near there are pointing out that the project could have negative effects on the surrounding area.

The Jackson Heights Green Alliance (JHGA) held an emergency meeting on Monday, October 1 to speak out against the parkland that would be lost be several projects planned around and within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. This includes the development of Willets Point and the parking lot to the left of Citi Field, Willets West; renovation and expansion of the U.S. Tennis Center; and talks of a possible Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium where what is currently Industry Pond sits.

Donovan Finn, a professor of urban planning at Stony Brook University and JHGA board member, said the actual green space in the park was already significantly less than what is actually billed for the borough’s largest park. Factoring in facility buildings, water, walkways and other items, there are only 333 acres of actual green space, Finn said.

“I think it’s reasonable that when all is said and done in 20 years, in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which the Parks Department claims is 1,200-and-some acres, usable green space [will be] 250 acres,” Finn said. “No one would be proposing these projects in Prospect Park and Central Park. They never have and they never will.”

Talks about a possible soccer stadium at Flushing Meadows were met with disapproval from residents in attendance. Finn said a stadium, which if constructed would hold around 25,000 spectators, would be the wrong solution to clean up the area around, and including, Industry Pond.

“I would argue it’s a heavily utilized part of the park,” he said. “They’re not taking over the whole park, I admit that, but this is not the kind of use that we need.”

Many of these concerns, among others, were brought before the city at a September 27 court-mandated scoping hearing for the Willets Point project. Residents, advocates and workers voiced concerns over traffic effects, the legalities of the project and the displacement of thousands of jobs, blaming these problems on several agencies.

The hearing was designed to create a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement(SEIS) to study a number of factors that might have changed since the General Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) that was filed in 2008, because parameters of the project have changed. The study will look at items ranging from potential transit issues, effects to businesses within half a mile and possible hazardous materials, according to officials.

Because the Citi Field parking lot — most of which will become Willets West — is technically parkland, some civic representatives alleged the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) had bypassed rules for parkland alienation.

Cristyne Nicholas, a spokesperson for the Joint Venture at Willets Point, noted that the development to the north of the park was separate from any expansion at the Tennis Center, or talks for a stadium within the park. And while the parking lot is technically parkland, Nicholas said the end result would great more green space within Willets, with the construction of recreational and open space areas.

“The Willets Point redevelopment will first and foremost clean 23 acres of contaminated land,” she said. “The Willets Point project will not in any way reduce the availability of open space within Flushing Meadows Corona Park. In fact, the project will increase open space for the community by building off-season recreational uses and five acres of additional open space on the Willets Point land.”

Christina Wilkinson, representing Communities of Maspeth and Elmurst Together, said there were several state parks polices needed to be addressed before Willets West could carry on.

“The developers of this project are not entitled to circumvent the parkland alienation process and the involvement of the State Parks Department in this matter,” she said. “The city never originally proposed that parkland would be involved in the Willets Point development, and the developers doing so at this late date does not provide any excuse to avoid the alienation process.”

Benjamin Branham, the NYCEDC’s vice president for external affairs, said the hearing would help guide the project moving forward and fully understand what needs to be done to get the Willets project off the ground.

“[The] public hearing for the proposed Willets Point redevelopment plan marked an important first step in the approvals process for this transformative project that will clean up dozens of acres of toxic land and create thousands of jobs for Queens residents,” he said. “We are grateful for the significant turnout, strong enthusiasm and extensive engagement from the community on this critical project, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue we move forward.”

‘Don’t sell out’: Brooklyn holdouts’ message to Willets Point owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The battle against the behemoth billion dollar Barclays Center has long been lost for some Brooklynites, but leading opponents of the project are hoping the war waged against the city will be won in Willets Point.

“Fight to the bitter end,” said Donald O’Finn, one of 14 Brooklyn plaintiffs that took state developers to court in 2009. “These are really important fights. We lost our battle, but the war is not done.”

The Barclays Center — Brooklyn’s new 675,000-square-foot sports arena and home to the Nets — opened on Friday, September 21, but only after a decade of debates by community activists who opposed the project and multiple lawsuits filed by landowners fighting to keep their properties.

Daniel Goldstein, co-founder of “Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn” (DDDB), a volunteer-run community coalition, said he fought against developer Bruce Ratner of Forest City Ratner, for seven years in federal and state court until eminent domain was used to condemn the entire 22-acre site, including 171 units of housing and 35 businesses, in 2009.

O’Finn, co-owner of Freddy’s Bar — which received a “Ratner payout” to vacate — recalled the seven years spent aggressively fighting legal battles as “sad,” in light of the arena’s grand ribbon-cutting last week.

“It seemed wrong the way things were happening, with the misuse of Eminent Domain, how things were sort of just taken by people who have power and wealth just because they want to,” he said. “It was just so wrong.”

Meanwhile, a similar battle has been brewing over in the next borough.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in June that he had selected the Wilpons of the Mets, Sterling Equities and Related Companies to develop 23 acres of land in Willets Point into a major hub for retail, hotels, entertainment and dining.

But before “environmental remediation” can begin, the entire area — home to scores of long-established auto repair shops near Citi Field — must first be vacated, according to Benjamin Branham, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

Twenty-seven property-owning entities in the “Phase 1” area have reached deals with the city for an undisclosed amount, while four have refused to sell, Branham said. They are Janice Serrone, Ralph Paterno, George Romano and Tony Crozzoli — none of whom returned calls for comment.

The city rescinded its first bid to acquire the “Phase 1” neighborhood using Eminent Domain in May. Branham said the city would only go back to using it “as a last resort.”

“It remains our strong preference to reach negotiated agreements with these remaining owners, and we’re optimistic that we can achieve this,” he said.

O’Finn, who urged remaining residents in Willets Point not to sell out, said the key to securing victory is to ignite the community.

“You need to get people to listen,” he said. “If you can find a way to get people to actually hear you — that would be my advice, especially in New York, where everything is so busy and fast. I really hope at some point we can win this war.”

Goldstein, however, said the land grab in Willets Point is only similar to what happened in Brooklyn in one way.

“They’re getting screwed just like we are,” he said.

Op-Ed: An Ambitious Plan for Willets Point


| editorial@queenscourier.com


By Borough President Helen Marshall

It’s time to move from discussion to development at Willets Point project.

While Queens was strongly impacted by the global recession, it has been able to weather the downturn by capitalizing on its unique strengths — a multi-faceted economy of small to international businesses and a resilient workforce and a diverse community that supports one another.

Our progress on rezoning has unleashed the potential to build a better future for Queens, creating a new wave of interest in our borough’s commercial hubs including downtown Flushing, downtown Jamaica and Long Island City.

Despite our best efforts, Willets Point has remained a blighted and neglected area, in desperate need of a total overhaul with new infrastructure and remediation. For too long, its revitalization has been the subject of empty and futile discussion – and failed development efforts.

This June, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious proposal that aimed at facilitating a complete transformation of Willets Point into a thriving and dynamic mixed-use neighborhood and destination for visitors. While the historic realization of this community-driven vision was approved by the New York City Council in 2008, the promise of its fruition has not been realistic. Until now.

The Willets Point Development Plan is at a critical nexus – the stage of the review process that will put into action a comprehensive construction plan that facilitates development pursuant to the originally envisioned Special Willets Point Zoning District and Urban Renewal Plan along with additional development beyond the Special Willets Point District.

The project will not only link Willets Point to basic infrastructure, but also establish a major new mixed-income neighborhood with commercial destination facilities creating jobs and recapturing billions in spending that is now lost to the suburbs.

The first phase of the project will include the acquisition of 23 acres of land to the east of Citi Field by the Queens Development Group. They will initially build retail and a hotel on this land, as well parking for Citi Field and recreational uses in the baseball off-season. West of Citi Field — on the current Citi Field parking lot — they will build an entertainment and retail attraction resulting in more comprehensive and continuous transit-oriented development linking Flushing to Corona.

Ultimately, the new plan will develop into a thriving residential community of 2,500 units, 35 percent of which will be designated affordable housing, as well as additional hotels, offices, commercial space, a school and open space, with the eventual plan to develop over 5 million-square-feet in a unified neighborhood, transforming a contaminated wasteland into a model community for the future, with up to 5,850 units of housing, a convention center and a central eight-acre park.

The expanded vision will infuse $3 billion of private investment into the local economy and create 7,100 permanent jobs, 12,000 direct construction jobs with MWBE and local hiring of 25 percent. During construction, the project will generate over $310 million in new tax revenue, and once operational, will account for over $150 million in new annual tax revenue.

Yes, the goals of this new plan are ambitious, but so are the people of Queens. Perhaps something less would suffice in meeting some of the community’s desire for clean-up and business development. But after years of deliberation and delay, we now have a plan for Willets Point that can truly transform the area into an economic epicenter for Queens. Not just remove an eye-sore, but create something that has positive impacts for the community and throughout the entire borough. We need to move beyond past roadblocks to create a true center of New York City’s and Queens’ future – standing for economic growth and a better life for ourselves and our neighbors.

More testing ordered at Willets Point


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Further environmental testing at Willets Point has been ordered by a court ruling, but is not expected to hold up development at the site, a member of the project’s team said.

The August 14 decision by the Manhattan Supreme Court said development of what is commonly called the Iron Triangle would not move forward until the city conducts a better environmental review of the area.

“The city will not proceed with development in Willets Point,” the ruling reads. “The appropriate environmental review will be prepared and any additional approvals that are necessary will be sought for future development in Willets Point.”

This ruling was not driven by the June announcement of concrete plans for what will become a major retail area and destination spot; rather, it refers back to a case between the city and Willets Point United, an advocacy group against development of the area.

“The city had filed a stipulation of discontinuance prior to our being designated,” said Jessie Masyr, a land use lawyer for the joint venture of Related Companies and Sterling Equities. “We’re doing a do-over, in essence, of the environmental review…we just saw it come out.”

The filing dates back four months before the decision was released, Masyr said.

The city currently has 95 percent of the land in the Iron Triangle, and only about four or five shops are holding out, Masyr said during a Courier editorial board meeting.

Cleanup for the Willets Point area is expected to be completed by 2015, according to a plan provided by the joint venture. This cleanup effort includes leveling the scores of auto body shops, inserting new soil and creating an infrastructure such as drain sewers, developers said. Development of the project is not expected to be held up by the court decision.

One shop owner said the city should have done additional testing years ago, as the area is poorly cared for and has scores of potholes.

“They should have done it 30 years ago,” said Michael Nieto, owner of Gringo’s Auto Parts Express. “This area’s been so neglected by the city, and it just seems like sometimes to their convenience is when they want to buckle down and follow the rules.”

Nieto, who rents his property, said he’s allowed to stay until 2015, when the cleanup is expected to be completed. The city had neglected the area, he said, and was now trying to blame the tenants and owners for the crumbling infrastructure.

“Now they want to do soil,” he said. “I think it’s just a joke. They’re [the city] only doing it to try and gain some advantage to say that we’ve never taken care of the property here.”

Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com


TODAY’S FORECAST

Tuesday: Overcast with thunderstorms and rain showers. High of 79. Winds from the SSE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 70%. Tuesday night: Overcast with thunderstorms and rain showers. Low of 75. Winds from the South at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 70% with rainfall amounts near 1.5 in. possible.

EVENT of the DAY: Special preview of Ira Sachs’s latest film “Keep the Lights On” at the Museum of the Moving Image 

This event closes “Looking for Love: The Films of Ira Sachs,” the first comprehensive NYC retrospective of Sachs’s work that includes all his feature films and a selection of short films, each followed by a Pinewood Dialogue with Sachs in person. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Plans to convert College Point paint factory into waterfront condos back on table

A stalled proposal to transform a 150-year-old paint factory in College Point into a waterfront condo complex may be coming back to life — sparking community concerns. Read more: New York Daily News

Cops in hot water

Abandon ship! A Queens couple was forced to make a desperate leap into Jamaica Bay moments before a powerful 600-horsepower NYPD Harbor Patrol boat rammed into their tiny fishing dinghy. Read more: New York Post

Court orders city to do proper environmental review of Willets Point

Plans to revamp the gritty industrial landscape of Willets Point must remain on hold until the city can produce an “appropriate” environmental review, a court has ruled. Read more: New York Daily News

Schumer: Deny cop killers parole for murder of NYPD officer in 1988

Sen. Charles Schumer has spoken out, demanding four convicted cop killers to not be granted parole. Officer Edward Byrne was killed back in 1988 while he was sitting in his patrol car protecting a local citizen’s house who feared retribution local drug gangs. Read more: CBS New York

IBO: Longer NYPD shifts would bring greater efficiency

City police officers could be working longer hours, if the city implements the ideas from a new study.
The nonpartisan Independent Budget Office suggests lengthening officers’ shifts from 8 hours, 35 minutes to anywhere between 10 and 12 hours. Read more: NY1

Dems open convention in push for tested president

Four years later Democrats have gathered again, this time in support of a president who carries the power and the burden of incumbency, both in evidence as the opening gavel is struck at the Democratic National Convention. Read more: AP

Stanford scientists cast doubt on advantages of organic meat and produce

Does an organic strawberry contain more vitamin C than a conventional one? Maybe — or maybe not. Stanford University scientists have weighed in on the “maybe not” side of the debate after an extensive examination of four decades of research comparing organic and conventional foods. Read more: New York Times

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.”

Willets West will ‘commemorate’ Shea


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

SHEA BASE 02w

To the left of Citi Field’s main entrance is a parking lot where Shea Stadium once stood.

In this parking lot, amid the white lines that now outline parking spaces, are four bronze plaques that mark the bases that made Shea’s diamond. A first base where Keith Hernandez and Ed Kranepool stood; second where Wally Backman darted back and forth; third base, where more than 120 have played the position, from Don Zimmer in 1962 to current all-star David Wright.Then a home plate 90 feet away from a bronze rectangle to outline where Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and many others would set team and MLB records.

This site will soon, however, become home to Willets West, a one-million-square-foot shopping area that promises to bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the area.

While there are no set plans how the bases, or Shea’s 44-year legacy, will be remembered, fans and developers agree there should be some sort of tribute to the ballpark.

Ron Dresner, who is the managing editor of The Very Unofficial Mets Fan Site, said development in the area is something he supported fully — noting that Willets Point has always been prime for that. At the same time, the lay of the land needs to also be considered, he said.

“You can still move ahead with economic development and neighborhood plans but customize the design according to your ‘landscape,’” he said.

“I am not a design or engineering professional, but any new plans must incorporate the memory and recognition of Shea Stadium – especially marking the base locations,” he continued. “The last thing I would want to see is some huge movie complex built right over the old Shea diamond.”

Speaking on behalf of the Queens Development Group, spokesperson Cristyne Nicholas said that as Willets West was in the earliest stages, there had not been a set-out plan to memorialize the former home of the Mets and Jets. The developers would, however, ensure that the would be some sort of tribute in the 200-store shopping area.

“Although Willets West is still in the early planning phase and the design layout has not yet been finalized, Shea Stadium and its historic contribution to Queens will be properly and proudly commemorated,” she said.

Dresner noted that in the past the team’s legacy has been put into question. In 2009 when Citi Field opened, he said the ballpark overemphasized its Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants roots with little to no memory of the stadium where the Mets won two World Series championships.

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.

Development up throughout Queens


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

willets3w

Temperatures are not the only thing that’s been skyrocketing this summer.

Development in Queens has been booming in the borough, with announcements of major projects, the near-completion of others, and talks of even more to come.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on June 14 the long-awaited, finalized plans for a Willets Point facelift that is expected to bring more than 12,000 union construction jobs and 7,000 permanent jobs.

The project includes a 200-room hotel and 30,000-square-feet of retail space on what is now the Iron Triangle, a 20-acre convertible recreational area, and a 200-store shopping area on what is currently the west parking lot of Citi Field.

Roughly $3 billion in private investment will go into this project, as well as $100 million in city capital that will go toward demolition and permanent improvements. In turn, the overhaul of the area is expected to bring an estimated $4.2 billion in economic activity over the next 30 years.

It was announced the same day that the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, home to the U.S. Open, will undergo its own expansions and renovations.

The Louis Armstrong Stadium, which currently holds about 10,000 fans, will be replaced — in the same spot — with an updated stadium that will hold 15,000 fans and include administrative and broadcast spaces.

The Grandstand Stadium will be built in the southwest corner of the center, holding some 8,000 spectators.

The renovations, which are expected to begin in the fall of 2013, are expected to bring an extra 10,000 tennis fans to the center per day during the U.S. Open.

Following the announcements for the Tennis Center, Borough President Helen Marshall said this was a step forward for both Queens and the Tennis Center, which employs 6,000 with seasonal jobs, according to the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA).

Marshall said that this would further the already robust revenue the National Championship brings to Queens.

“For generations the borough of Queens has played host to the U.S. Open, a world class sporting event and a major economic catalyst for our city,” she said. “I look forward to working with the USTA to ensure that the new additions to the National Tennis Center bring the maximum benefit to the people of the borough of Queens.”

Sixty acres of downtown Flushing waterfront would also be revitalized as part of the state’s Department of State Brownfield Opportunity Areas program.

The proram consists of mixed use projects over the next 10 years, including recreational, commercial, entertainment and residential portions.

And sailing west, another waterfront in Queens might get a revamp of its own.

The Hallets Point project could break ground as early as the fall of 2013, the Daily News reported. The process would reshape seven acres of Astoria waterfront and see around 2,200 housing units throughout seven towers, along with a supermarket and a park along the East River.

Lincoln Equities Group, the developer of the project, has agreed to set aside 20 percent of the units for affordable housing aimed at seniors, a project official told the Daily News. The site will be located close to the Astoria Houses, a public housing complex.

The Briarwood Organization is currently adding to its plaza on Bell Boulevard that will be home to business and medical offices. The site, located at 36-29 Bell Boulevard, is the most recent of several structures the century-old development company has built on Bell Boulevard. The building is expected to open September 2013, Briarwood partners said.

To the south, a new center that looks to spark development, creativity and understanding is in its last stages of completion.

A new center for New York Families of Austic Children is expected to open this September, said NYFAC CEO Andrew Baumann. The center will be home to programs ranging from drama to expression for children and adults with autism, Baumann said, along with support groups and educational programs for parents and family members.

The new center will be at 164-14 Cross Bay Boulevard in Howard Beach.

And as ground is being broken or the final cornerstone is laid, plans for even further development in the borough are still in the works.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation has opened four Requests For Proposals (RFPs) throughout the city — one of which is located in College Point.

The 40,000-square-foot rectangular lot is in the northeast portion of the area’s Corporate Park, which currently houses more than 200 corporations employing approximately 6,000 employees.

And in recent weeks there have been talks of bringing a new Major League Soccer (MLS) Stadium — and new team — to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The stadium, it has been reported, would sit some 20,000 to 25,000 soccer fans in one of the borough’s largest parks. Assemblymember Francisco Moya said the project would have multiple benefits for the borough, both economically and culturally.

The potential project — still in its earliest stages, according to the assemblymember — would be privately financed, not affecting taxpayers. As part of any deal, Moya said, the developer would renovate the several soccer fields in the park now.

Moya also noted the large soccer culture not just in Queens, but in the park. The devout FC Barcelona fan said he learned the game in Flushing Meadows as a child and has played there since.

“That’s where my dad took me to play,” he said. “That’s where I played my whole life.”

 

60 acres of Flushing Waterfront to be revived


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of FWCLDC

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.

 

Op Ed: The case for Willets Point


| editorial@queenscourier.com


By State Senator Jose Peralta

It was tremendously disappointing to learn that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to build the country’s largest convention center at the Aqueduct Racetrack will not come to fruition.

No sooner had the governor announced the plan during his State of the State address in January than I endorsed the idea and offered to help however I could in making the governor’s vision for the Aqueduct venue a reality.

Fortunately, there is another viable venue in Queens that has numerous significant advantages over other locations reportedly under consideration elsewhere in the city.  That site is Willets Point.

Willets Point is, quite literally, across the street from some of the city’s most popular destinations: Citi Field, the National Tennis Center and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  The No. 7 train runs from these locations westward, all along Roosevelt Avenue, to Grand Central Terminal.  Millions of New Yorkers and visitors to the city each year take in a Mets game or U.S. Open match, or participate in a festival or recreational activity in the park.

And there perhaps is no more diverse a culinary experience to be enjoyed anywhere on the planet than along neighboring Roosevelt Avenue, which is lined with restaurants specializing in a nearly mind-numbing array of cuisines from all over the world.

In addition, the area, which is also accessible via multiple bus lines and the Long Island Railroad, is just minutes from La Guardia and Kennedy Airports.  The extension underway of the No. 7 line, already one of the city’s busiest, will add greatly to the area’s commercial appeal and potential.

Whether by plane, train, subway, bus or car, you can get to Willets Point relatively easily from anywhere in the world.  The transportation infrastructure already servicing the area dwarfs what other potential venues in and around the city have to offer.

Making the case for Willets Point even stronger are the plans to develop the area, long an eyesore that includes the Iron Triangle, a maze of auto repair and scrap businesses.  To the east of Citi Field, plans call for retail, hotel and commercial spaces to go along with a residential community of 2,500 housing units, 875 of which will be affordable housing.

Immediately to the west of Citi Field, a stadium parking lot will be converted into a one-million-square-foot retail and entertainment center, complete with more than 200 retail stores, movie theaters, restaurants, entertainment venues, a parking structure and surface parking for 2,500 cars.

Not surprisingly, Crain’s New York Business reported last week that Willets Point “is seen as the trade show industry’s first choice for a huge convention center.”

I trust that the governor will give Willets Point the serious consideration its many advantages warrant.  I look forward to a meaningful discussion of why the site would make an ideal home for the largest convention center in the United States, as well as the opportunity to help bring thousands of construction and permanent jobs to Queens.

 

Jobs — that’s he name of the game


| editorial@queenscourier.com


Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Willets Point announcement last week came with some nice numbers.

More than 12,000 construction jobs and 7,000 permanent jobs will come from the proposed Willets Point renovation, 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.

In this economy, that’s music to our ears.

The only part of the plan still left open are tentative plans for affordable housing and a home for a planned convention center in the area — both of which we support wholeheartedly.

Just think of it — in a few years’ time the area that is now the Iron Triangle will be refreshed, refurbished, and buzzing with business.

What could be better than that?

Mayor Bloomberg: Willets Point facelift to bring thousands of jobs


| tpetropoulosedit@queenscourier.com

willets2w

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

Senator Peralta says Willets Point perfect for convention center


| tcullen@queenscourier.com


Courting of Willets Point as a potential site for what could be the nation’s largest convention center – and a major booster for New York City’s economy – has begun, with an open letter from State Senator Jose Peralta to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In the letter, Peralta notes that he supported the governor’s original announcement in January to build a convention center at Aqueduct.

He goes on to say that although it was unfortunate that current talks have fallen through, there are still options in north Queens.

“Fortunately, there is another viable venue in Queens that, I hope you will agree, has numerous significant advantages over other locations reportedly under consideration elsewhere in the city,” he writes. “That site is Willets Point.”

Peralta says the area that is currently the Iron Triangle would be ideal as it is close to Citi Field, the National Tennis Center and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

“I hope you will give Willets Point the serious consideration its many advantages warrant and look forward to a meaningful discussion of the site’s merits,” Peralta writes.