Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tony Avella: A true politician for the people!

From Tony Avella for Mayor:

Tony has also been fighting to save the small business community at Willets Point, which is threatened with displacement.

Tony believes that what’s happening at Willets point is just one of many examples of how Mayor Bloomberg continues to use Eminent Domain to take away land from middle- and working-class New Yorkers in pursuit of his goals of high-rise luxury condos and new office buildings.

He is asking communities to stand with him in sending a message to Mike Bloomberg that New York City is not for sale.

“It is completely unacceptable for Mike Bloomberg to call these Willets Point businesses ‘blighted’ and then move them to another community,” he said.

Tony believes this is truly a moment in our city’s economic history when we need jobs for working people that are not dependent on Wall Street. He believes the city should recognize and preserve Willets Point as a small business incubator.

It's all true. Tony Avella and Charles Barron were the only 2 council members to vote against eminent domain abuse and for the business and property owners of Willets Point on November 13, 2008. Avella also has been supportive of our efforts since then. The video shows him with us at our Cleanup Day on March 27, 2009.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

College Point wants Willets Point fixed

The Queens Chronicle has an article about College Point residents protesting the move of 5 Willets Point businesses to the old Flushing Airport site:

Many voiced agreement when Avella (D-Bayside), one of the rally organizers, said that Willets Point businesses should remain in Willets Point.

“Let them stay by Shea. They should improve Willets Point,” said protester Joa Carbanini.

Her friend, Debra Raehje agreed. “Are they embarrassed of having those businesses next to their new stadium?” she asked. “Let them fix up Willets Point.”

Another protester who gave his name only as Mario believed he had an even better solution. “They should put the businesses where Bloomberg lives,” he said.

We don't understand the point of moving businesses from an area with a high water table to another area with a high water table. It kind of defies common sense. But then again so does spending $400M on a development boondoggle when you are closing firehouses and cutting back emergency medical services.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Truth About Times Square

Eminent Domain Impeded Times Square’s Revival
Says Man Who Oversaw Government Plan

There is an old expression in journalism: “Consider the source.” So, when a former government official who oversaw a development as prominent as Times Square says his agency and its use of eminent domain actually impeded the area’s development, that is news.

In a new report released today by the Institute for Justice, William J. Stern, former chairman and chief executive of New York State’s Urban Development Corporation—the agency tasked with orchestrating Times Square’s revival—tells the story of government incompetence and eminent domain abuse in The Truth About Times Square (available at:

Since its revival in the 1990s, Times Square has been touted as the standard of urban planning, with government and private actors working harmoniously to produce the great tourist destination we know today. But in The Truth About Times Square, Stern demonstrated how all of that is a myth. In the report, Stern said, “Almost none of the grandiose plans my colleagues and I created and aggressively spearheaded at the time ever came to fruition. Our extravagant plans actually retarded development for decades. The changes in Times Square occurred despite government, not because of it.”

“Eminent domain was not needed in Times Square,” continued Stern. “In fact, it delayed the development, added tremendous cost, and was unfair and inefficient. There was no shortage of developers willing to acquire property the old-fashioned way—through the private market.”

After watching Times Square decline for decades, Stern and his fellow state officials working under Gov. Mario Cuomo decided to completely remake the former “Great White Way” with the 42nd Street Development Project, which envisioned four giant office towers, a 2.4-million-square-foot merchandise mart and a luxury hotel. The plan relied on the use of eminent domain to condemn a 13-acre area of mom-and-pop shops interspersed with seedy sex shops. Soon after the project’s approval, Stern saw the influence peddling, cronyism and corruption involved in determining which properties had to go, especially in The New York Times’ attempts to become a key influence in the project—later going so far as to have the state condemn an entire city block for its third and latest headquarters move.

By 1989, property owners trying to defend what was rightfully theirs had filed 40 lawsuits, tenants dropped out, and developers balked, as the city continued to pursue condemnation. All the while, private development boomed in the area outside the government’s project area. Only after the government’s plan for 42nd Street failed did Viacom, the Walt Disney Company and other attractions flood in, developing Times Square with private investment rather than government force.

“Times Square succeeded for reasons that had little to do with our building and condemnation schemes and everything to do with government policy that allowed the market to do its work, the way development occurs every day nationwide,” concluded Stern. “By lowering taxes, enforcing the law, and getting out of the way instead of serving as real estate broker, the government incentivized investment and construction and encouraged the rebirth of Times Square to what it is today.”

“The monolithic power of state and local government, the media and developers worked together to condemn small businesses in Times Square but couldn’t produce a successful development,” said Institute for Justice Director of Activism and Coalitions Christina Walsh. “Stern’s paper makes it clear that Times Square was restored to its former glory not with government control and intervention, but only when the government got out of the way. That is a lesson others should be heeding across the nation and especially in New York City, where eminent domain for private gain is destroying property rights in Brooklyn, Willets Point in Queens and in both East and West Harlem. Each of these government-forced development projects is yet another example of those who refuse to learn the lessons of history, thereby repeating its failures.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

AP story on WP redevelopment not so rosy

From an AP news story:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an ambitious plan two years ago to turn the downtrodden area into living and working space. His expectation was for homes, office towers and a convention center to replace the gutted garages, rusty fences and graffiti-covered storefronts.

The city says the plans are on track despite the deep economic downturn, but critics wonder where financing will come from. And, nearly two dozen business owners who don't want to leave have filed a lawsuit to halt the redevelopment.

"There's not a demand for office space," said Jerry Antonacci of Crown Container Co., one of the business owners who sued last month in state Supreme Court challenging the city's environmental review of the area, known as Willets Point.

"There's not a demand for housing. Retail stores are closing up. What developer in their right mind is going to build something when nobody wants it?"

"We're not going to stop fighting," said Jake Bono of Bono Sawdust Supply Co. "This plan is never going to happen."

Things must not be going well over at the EDC. Why else would they be putting out stories assuring the public that the plan is on track? How can the Bloomberg administration even assert that the plan is on schedule when they recently announced that they would have to proceed in phases instead of all at once as they once claimed?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mets get City services, we get tickets

Street sweeper in front of CitiField on opening day, 4-13-09.

Ticket agent in the Triangle on Tax Day, 4-15-09. There has been a ticket blitz by all City agencies since we filed our lawsuit against the City.

Meanwhile, our federal case for lack of street maintenance, sewers and other City services is going to be heard before a judge on April 24th.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Opening Day at Willets Point

Photos from Willets Point's sign protest today. This is what greeted fans coming to see the new ballpark for the first time.

Monday, April 6, 2009

City tries the strong-arm tactic

Instead of negotiating as they said they would, the City has sent the NYPD and Department of Buildings to Willets Point to harass business and property owners. Last Thursday and Friday, they evicted tenant businesses, claiming their structures were unsafe.

They are concentrating their efforts in the area below 35th Avenue, which is the site they have announced will be developed first.

This is exactly the kind of strong-arm tactic we have come to expect from the EDC and Mayor Bloomberg. They are trying to deprive holdout landlords of rent and motivate them to ink a deal with the city.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

More media coverage of WP United

Photo by Stephen Stirling

Excerpts from articles in this week's papers:

"In what business owners said was a rare appearance, the department has been visiting Willets Point in recent days. Street sweepers and garbage trucks canvassed the area for much of last week — which the agency said was nothing more than standard duty for the road crews working in Willets Point. Crown Container Co. owner Jerry Antonacci insisted the increased city presence was far more insidious, however.

“Ever since we passed out fliers saying we were going to do a cleanup, they’ve been out sweeping the streets,” Antonacci said. “They got wind of our cleanup day and figured they’d beat us to the punch. If they can come around and do what they’re doing now, that’s great. But they should be doing that every week.”

Business owners and workers in the area said they seldom see city sanitation workers in the area, adding that they generally only come through once a year before the neighboring New York Mets hold opening day.

Antonacci, also president of Willets Point United, said despite the Sanitation Department presence, his trucks dumped two large loads of trash following the cleanup — one of 5.19 tons and another of 3.24 tons."

from Willets Pt. cleans up despite city sweepers by Stephen Stirling of the Times Ledger, 4/2/09.

"Willets Point has no sidewalks or sewers. Potholes are ignored and fill up with rain in the spring and ice and snow in the winter. Many of the businesses are auto-related and used-car parts and damaged vehicles are strewn throughout the area.

The area is bounded on one side by 126th Street, where many of the auto shops are located, right across the street from the newly completed Citi Field.

The city’s redevelopment plans calls for housing, a school, office and retail stores, a small convention center and hotel. No developer has been selected yet.

“There is no plan,” Bono said, “but the city approved it anyway.”

Although the city has promised to help relocate businesses and plans to move several to College Point, Bono indicated no alternate sites have been suggested this year. And he and others are determined to stay.

“This is our property. We bought it,” he said, noting the city announced it will use eminent domain to gain possession if necessary."

from Willets Point owners do tons of dirty work for city by Liz Rhoades of the Queens Chronicle, 4/2/09

"WPU’s presence has blossomed online since its January inception, and has received the backing of Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who questioned the need for the day’s events.

“Why? So Mike Bloomberg can turn around and give the land to one of his millionaire developer friends,” he said."

from Willets Point owners do tons of dirty work for city by Joseph Orovic of the Queens Tribune, 4/2/09

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jake Bono representin' WP United

From "The Recession Hops the 7 Train" by Eliot Brown at the New York Observer:

Whatever path the Bloomberg administration takes at Willets Point, it is bound to face a lengthy legal battle, as more than 50 property owners there have yet to reach deals with the city to buy their property. The others would likely face eminent domain if they do not sell, and many are vowing to fight back with lawsuits as long as they are able.

Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain, a group which includes numerous landowners in the area, last month filed a challenge to the city’s environmental review of the area, and has enlisted the successful environmental attorney Michael Gerrard.

“Let’s face reality,” said Jake Bono, a spokesman for and member of the group, “no one here is going anywhere."

You can hear more from Jake Bono on Ruschell Boone's NY1 report, "Area Surrounding Citi Field Could Undergo Major Redevelopment."