By Maurice Pinzon
Yesterday, on the steps of City Hall, City Council member Hiram Monserrate assembled an assortment of advocates and community leaders who spoke in opposition to the City’s Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) proposed development of Willets Point.
Council member Monserrate and critics charged EDC with being uninterested in the people who worked and owned businesses in Willets Point, and the people who lived in the nearby communities of Corona and Flushing. Council member Monserrate represents Corona and Willets Point, and was joined by Council member John Liu, who represents Flushing. Both vowed to take up the fight in the City Council if the Bloomberg administration did not reconsider its current development course for Willets Point.
Willets Point is located across the street from the east parking lot of Shea Stadium, where the Mets plan to build their new stadium. Willets Point is often referred to as “The Iron Triangle” because of its auto body shops and industrial businesses.
Without sewers, paved roads, sidewalks and other common amenities, and pot holes the size of small craters, the streets of Willets Point can be mistaken for a place in an economically underdeveloped country.
But according to the “Willets Point Land Use Study” conducted Dr. Tom Angotti, a Professor at the Hunter College Center for Community Planning & Development, a study funded by Council Member Monserrate, business is bustling.
The study calculated that there were 225 firms operating in the area, employing somewhere between 1,400 – 1,800 employees. Close to 75% of those employed are Queens residents, many of whom are Spanish speaking, according to the study.
At the Thursday news conference, critics also emphasized that there was plenty of business activity in the area, which was being ignored by the Bloomberg administration. Speakers indicated that without the input of businesses already operating at Willets Point, jobs would be destroyed rather than created.
EDC has selected 8 companies who are bidding to develop Willets Point. They include: The Macerich Company and Avalon Bay Corporation, The Westfield Corporation, Vornado Realty Trust, TDC Development & Construction Company, Forest City Ratner Companies, The Related Companies, General Growth Properties, Inc., Rosenshein Associates, LCOR Incorporated, and Sage Hotel Corporation, Muss Development LLC
But before any of these developers can move forward with their proposed projects, which have not been made public, private property would have to be condemned by the City at Willets Point.
Council member Monserrate explained that the City’s proposed development process would involve condemning property by the power of eminent domain, resulting in what Council member Monserrate called “artificially” low real estate prices for the businesses and owners in Willets Point.
Adam Friedman, Executive Director of the New York Industrial Retention Network said, “There’s an awful lot of small business here, but together they employ 1,400 to 1,800 people. And they have survived under incredibly appalling conditions.”
Mr. Friedman acknowledged that even though the Bloomberg administration did not create those conditions, the administration did have an opportunity to rectify the situations that business owners and workers had long endured. He suggested the City go “through a correct planning process…figuring out how to keep these jobs here.”
Mr. Friedman also said that the City’s current proposals for Willets Point undermined the City’s ability to maintain its infrastructure.
He said: “The City has gone through a whole series of zoning changes. In those instances, and in this instance, what’s at risk here – concrete factories and asphalt plants, and the docks where they tie up the tugboats, and the barges – all of which are necessary to keep this City running, to build offices, to build new residential towers and buildings.”
Eve Baron, from the Municipal Art Society Planning Center, was also highly critical of the City’s planning process. She said, “The Willets Point RFP [Request for Proposals] enshrines the worst elements of planning in New York City and denies the best elements of this community. It’s developer driven, it’s market driven, it’s top down. It denies the economic synergy of existing businesses. It denies the diversity of interests and people of this community.”
But Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for EDC, disputed the assertion that the community had not been included in the planning process or that the development process was not comprehensive.
In a statement sent to New York News Network, she wrote, “The RFEI [Requests for Expressions of Interest] and RFP for redevelopment of Willets Point were the result of extensive input and collaboration with numerous stakeholders including community members, community board representatives, elected officials and City and state agencies. The redevelopment goals and objectives were developed in partnership with the Willets Point Advisory Committee, headed by BP [Queens Borough President] Helen Marshall. Members of the Committee include Councilmen Liu and Monserrate, as well as Community Board 7, Assembly Members Jeff Aubrey and Nettie Mayersohn and State Senator Toby Stravinsky.”
Ms. Patterson continued: “The guidelines include targets for community and cultural uses, and requires that developers put forward a local hiring and participation plan that must include methods for facilitating MWBE involvement. The RFP responses will provide insight for the creation of a Master Development Plan, which will be subject to full public review before a developer is selected.”