Tag Archives: Willets Point

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

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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


By Queens Courier Staff | 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


By Queens Courier Staff | 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

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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

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.

Aqueduct convention center scrapped, Willets Point eyed


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

convention center

Willets Point might become the new destination for a convention center, after it was announced that plans for one near the Aqueduct Racetrack have fallen through.

Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged Friday, June 1, that talks for what would have been the largest convention center in the country were not working out. Any future plans to discuss building elsewhere will wait until voters decide on new gaming laws in November 2013, said Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

Because the Genting Company – the desired builder of the center – holds the rights to build at Aqueduct, other investors may be called in for alternative sites, should the new gaming laws pass next year, he said.

While directly discussing potential projects with new bidders may not start until then, Friedman said planning for an alternative at Willets Point has already begun.

Willets Point would be the desired alternative, he said, because of its closer train ride to the city and LaGuardia Airport. Currently, the area known as the Iron Triangle is planned for a shopping mall, but Friedman said a convention center would bring more and better jobs.

“We’d like to see that plan modified for a much larger convention center,” he said.

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.

Willets Point biz owners fighting for repairs, legal fees


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Willets Point

A coalition of Willets Point business owners are urging the city to repair severely deteriorated streets in their “forgotten land” before emergency response times are more hindered and further revenue is lost.

“There is no reason to deny our neighborhood essential services. We are New York City taxpayers, and we will not tolerate having to operate our businesses under ridiculous conditions that are direct results of the city’s deliberate neglect,” said Ralph Paterno, who owns Empire Commercial Corps on 37th Avenue. “It’s been neglected for 40 years on purpose. Now we’re just fighting to get basic services that any other community has.”

According to Paterno and his group, Willets Point United, the dilapidated conditions of city streets in Willets Point — a district they say employs close to 1,800 people — obstruct the productivity of more than 250 businesses that operate there and discourage customer access.

Besides the streets being pockmarked with deep craters, Paterno said there are no sewers and few sidewalks in the area. He also said there is no sanitation pick-up, forcing business owners to pay for their own carting services.

According to Janice Serrone, also a Willets Point property owner, the poor condition of the roads directly impacts emergency responders.

“Right now, if a medical or fire emergency was to occur in Willets Point, emergency response vehicles — including ambulances and fire trucks — cannot get to their destinations within Willets Point efficiently or in spots at all,” she said, adding that in 2010, an entire fire truck got stuck in a deep pothole for an extended period of time. “By deliberately denying street repairs and maintenance services in Willets Point and allowing the terrible roadway conditions there to fester, the city is going to be legally liable if and when an emergency occurs and emergency response times are extended with deadly consequences.”

Willets Point United members said they have sent out about three written complaints to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) but said they have never received a response back.

A spokesperson at the DOT said the agency repairs — and will continue repairing — potholes on an ongoing, as needed basis both in Willets Point and throughout the city. More than 500 were fixed since 2008 in the Willets Point area, the spokesperson said, including nearly 100 in the past year.

According to the spokesperson, the agency completed a targeted strip-paving project in October 2010 to resurface a two block stretch from 34th Avenue going from 126th Street to nearby 128th Street. However, given ongoing repairs to sub-surface infrastructure in the area, the DOT said full resurfacing projects cannot be scheduled.

“Financially, I’ve suffered quite a bit,” said Joseph Ardizzone, the only homeowner left standing in Willets Point. “I think it’s a disgrace. Democracy is not alive in this country at this point in time right now.”

Last week, the city rescinded its bid to acquire and develop Willets Point through eminent domain, according to opposing lawyer, Michael Rikon. Rikon, who represents property owners in Willets Point, challenged the city’s legal bid to condemn property on the 12.75 acre piece of land. He said his firm is seeking about $281,000 in legal fees and disbursements spent on the case over three years. Combined with Arnold and Porter — the other firm working against the city — he said the bill could go as high as $800,000.

Meanwhile, city representatives said they will continue to pursue a revitalization of the neighborhood, which would transform the area into a retail, hotel and entertainment center in place of the established businesses.

“We anticipate an announcement soon for the future of Willets Point,” said Jennifer Friedberg, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation. “Since breaking ground on the offsite infrastructure in the fall, we have made enormous progress and are scheduled to complete the project in 2013.”

– Additional reporting by Liam La Guerre

Eminent Domain dead, but Willets Point will still proceed


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

New York City rescinded its bid to acquire and develop Willets Point through Eminent Domain and may not be able to obtain it for a while, according to an opposing lawyer.
“They cannot condemn this property,” said Michael Rikon, the lawyer who represented Willets Point property owners against the city. “That would require starting from square one.”

Last week, lawyers for the city called Rikon to inform him of their withdrawal of the bid to acquire the neighborhood nearby Citi Field using Eminent Domain. Rikon was shocked but saw the move coming.

“My reaction was surprised, but I understood because there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to win,” Rikon said. “The city saw that as well.”

However, city representatives said they will continue to pursue a revitalization of the neighborhood.

“We’re very close to having a deal in place that will transform Willets Point into New York City’s next great neighborhood and continue the historic progress we’ve already made there,” said Julie Wood, a representative from the mayor’s office. “Last week’s action ensures that our plan will comply with the site’s myriad technical and legal requirements.”

Before Rikon learned of the city’s decision, he was getting ready to argue that the city didn’t treat the business owners fairly at the public hearings.

“They targeted 150 Hispanic businesses with over 650 employees and they didn’t hire a translator,” he said. “That was so disrespectful.”

Rikon added that the property owners were not properly informed of public hearings. He said they should have been told about them personally within 10 days.
He also denied that the city could have actually transformed the entire 60-acre land for public use because he said there would be too much work for the city to do on a $3 billion.

Rikon admitted that the city could still buyout tenants and property owners.

According to the NYC Economic Development Corporation, the plan to improve Willets Point included a full makeover “with retail and entertainment amenities, a hotel and convention center, mixed-income housing and public open spaces.”

Ramps approved, repairs wait at Willets Point


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

willets point6w

As the redevelopment of Willets Point moves ahead, city officials are “ramped” up, thanks to approval by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) of the proposed ramps that would connect the Van Wyck Expressway to Willets Point.

However, area businesses fighting the city’s use of Eminent Domain to revamp Willets Point say that the ramps are not what is needed — pothole repairs are necessary.

Proprietors are dissatisfied over the recent decision, expected to greatly increase area traffic instead of decreasing the number of potholes lining the neighborhood’s major roadways.

According to several published reports, the area, referred to as the Iron Triangle, has been without repairs because it is slated for redevelopment. As part of a multi-phase process, the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC) hopes to install retail and entertainment amenities, a hotel and convention center, mixed-income housing and public open space in the upcoming years.

According to the EDC, the purpose of these new ramps, approved by the FHA on March 22, would be to “provide direct access to the Willets Point Development District and to facilitate traffic circulation in the area once it is redeveloped.”

Willets Point United, a group of local property and business owners, has remained staunchly against this neighborhood makeover.

Larry Santana, manager of a plant that creates asphalt, has run his business in Willets Point for over 30 years. Santana’s company, Willets Point Asphalt, belongs to a collective of local businesses called Willets Point Industry and Realty Association.

He feels that the city needs to do something to repair the potholes.

“There are some pothole areas right in front of my yard that look like speed bumps but they’re not,” said Santana. “Whenever there are potholes and vehicles going over it, it’s not a good thing.”

According to a representative from the DOT, the agency repaired more than 500 potholes since 2008 in the Willets Point area, including nearly 100 in the past year. The DOT also completed a targeted strip-paving project in October 2010 to resurface a two-block stretch from 34th Avenue going from 126th Street to nearby 128th Street.

The DOT representative alleged that they are currently unable to schedule resurfacing in this area because of ongoing sewer work. They will not make paving adjustments until after all other roadway changes have been made.

— Additional reporting by Steve Mosco

 

Foreclosed Willets Point property will go up for sale


| mchan@queenscourier.com

The mortgage to a 3.5-acre piece of land in Flushing, in the midst of a foreclosure lawsuit, is expected to be sold within two weeks, officials said.

According to David Schechtman, executive managing director for Eastern Consolidated — who represents the lender and is supervising the sale of the defaulted mortgage — owners of the site, located on Janet and Roosevelt Avenues, did not pay the $37 million loan last December, so the bank sued for a foreclosure.

Schechtman said the bidding process for the land concluded last Friday, March 16, and he said offers are currently being reviewed.

“We’re pleased with the results. The market has demonstrated once again that the demand for both real estate and mortgages secured by real estate in Queens and Brooklyn remains incredibly strong,” he said.

Schechtman could not comment on the proposals in consideration.

However, Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District, said he hopes the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) will purchase the mortgage as part of the ongoing Willets Point Redevelopment project.

Plans to turn Willets Point into “New York’s next great neighborhood” — with retail and entertainment amenities, a hotel and convention center, mixed-income housing, public open space and community use — was announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007.

Since then, the city has been able to acquire nearly 90 percent of the land, officials said.

“I think that would be great. Many people would agree that junkyards in Willets Point are an eyesore for the community. We want this place to develop and attract more business and more tourists to visit Downtown Flushing,” Yu said. “It’s really going to connect Downtown Flushing and Willets Point.”

Abs Flushing Development, the former property owner who bought the land in 2006, did not return calls for comment as of press time.

‘Offensive’ billboard taken down


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Senator Toby Ann Stavisky

A shot at advertising for one vodka company didn’t go down as smoothly as planned.

A Willets Point billboard — declared offensive by local leaders — read “Escort Quality, Hooker Pricing.” The provocative message, officials feared, could potentially reverse efforts and resources put into developing the area into a residential, retail center for families.

The sign hung above 127th Place and Northern Boulevard, overlooking Citi Field, before local leaders said they pushed to have manufacturers take it down.

“The offensive nature of this ad in such close proximity to a family destination like Citi Field was highly inappropriate,” said Assemblymember Michael Simanowitz, who worked alongside Senator Toby Ann Stavisky to have the billboard removed. “Keeping such content out of the view of young children should be a priority.”

Stavisky and Simanowitz said they wrote to James Dale, CEO of Panache Beverages — which manufacturers the promoted Wodka Vodka brand — to urge the company to consider removing their ad.

Soon after, they said the company complied, and the sign came down on Monday, March 12.

“I’m glad the vodka company agreed to remove the billboard. We took particular exception with placing such a distasteful and disturbing advertisement in a neighborhood we have worked so hard to rehabilitate,” Stavisky said.

However, according to a marketing executive for Wodka Vodka, the company took down the slogan simply and only because “the campaign ran its course.”

“Contrary to apparent memos that have been circulating in the community, we did not take the billboard down because of supposed community uproar, letters or other pressures,” said Brian Gordon, CEO of Engine Shop, the marketing agency that handles Wodka Vodka. “We’ve always stood by the campaign.”

Gordon cited data that shows “at least 80 to 90 percent of people actually look at the billboard favorably.”

“There are much more serious issues going on. Community leaders should focus on jobs, the economy, crime and so on, rather than a billboard that was obviously created to be humorous,” he said.

But Stavisky said the issue is not “a silly distraction.” The sobering truth, she said, is that it “sends a message that denigrating women is acceptable, or worse, fashionable.”

Gordon said the company plans to put up new billboards next week. While he said he did not yet know the location, “there will be at least one site in Queens,” he said.

This is not the first time Panache Beverages has been slammed for its unfavorable marketing campaigns. Last November, a Manhattan-placed advertisement read “Christmas Quality, Hanukkah Pricing,” which incensed the Anti-Defamation League and was ordered to be taken down.

Could Queens get two convention centers?


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Possession is nine-tenths of the law — a lesson Governor Andrew Cuomo has apparently learned the hard way.

According to published reports, when the governor proposed a plan for the largest convention center in the country next to Resorts World in South Ozone Park, he was under the impression the land belonged to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The property, however, is reportedly owned by New York City and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who may be hesitant to sell due to his plans for a convention center of his own in Willets Point.

The Willets Point convention center is part of a redevelopment of the entire area, which will include retail and entertainment amenities, a hotel, mixed-income housing, public open space and community uses.

The $4 billion project in South Ozone Park, dubbed the New York International Convention and Exhibition Center (NICE), would be financed by Resorts World and encompass 3.8 million-square-feet, including 3,000 hotel rooms.

Repeated attempts to contact Cuomo’s office went unreturned. The mayor’s office declined to comment pending further information.

Bettina Damiani, the project director of Good Jobs New York, a watchdog on the city’s economic development subsidy program, is disappointed the city and state have been unable to collaborate to promote the most productive project.

“Why is the Cuomo administration pushing for a convention center at Aqueduct when the Bloomberg administration has already put so much effort into one at Willets Point?” Damiani asked. “One hand not talking to the other is disappointing.”

Despite the recent rush to construct convention centers, Damiani believes the facilities may not be the best venture for New York.

“History shows convention centers are not a good investment,” she said. “A report by the Brookings Institution showed that attendance to convention centers has been declining across the country since the late 1990s.”

Other Queens leaders believe the borough could benefit from both facilities, with neither diminishing the other.

“The governor’s proposal is exciting, but I don’t think it prevents the one in Willets Point,” said Claire Shulman, president and CEO of the Flushing, Willets Point, Corona Local Development Corporation, which is advocating for the Willets Point project. “The one in Willets Point is a bit more modest of a convention center, which would deal with LaGuardia Airport business. Queens can use both.”

Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, echoed Shulman in promoting the distinct benefits each center would offer.

“The Ozone Park convention center is great for the borough,” Friedman said. “It is transformative, and in many ways, will help establish the borough as a tourist destination. It is a huge opportunity to rebuild south Queens area, specifically downtown Jamaica and the Rockaways. For years, Queens has suffered from tourists coming into our airports, taking cabs into Manhattan and not spending any money in the borough, and I think this will change that. The one in Willets Point is a completely different type of convention center. It is for smaller trade shows and exhibitions. The thoughts of convention centers in South Ozone Park and Willets Point are not mutually exclusive – they can support each other.”