Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reading between the lines

From the NYC EDC:

"New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) today released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to identify developers for the first stage of the Willets Point District in northeastern Queens. The entire 62-acre District is proposed to become one of the City’s first “Green” communities, with housing, retail, community space and other uses. NYCEDC will subsequently issue one or more Targeted Requests for Proposals (RFP) to selected firms responding to this RFQ. Additionally, the City continues to be successful in its commitment to acquire privately-owned property in Willets Point by negotiated acquisition, recently acquiring three additional parcels from private owners in Willets Point totaling 65,480 square feet."

They are just now putting out an RFQ. The developer was supposed to have been chosen months ago, according to EDC's schedule. They haven't even had the first round tryouts.

Then it continues: "The City is contemplating moving forward with a staged development strategy for Willets Point that will first focus on the southwest portion of the District that includes approximately 18 acres of development area and streets and about four acres of an interim buffer zone."

Notice the word "contemplating". The previous phrase was "committed to".

From Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Curbed is reporting on the latest EDC efforts to appear as if it has a great deal of momentum going in its plan to redevelop Willets Point-and remove the legitimate property owners: "Now, with the one-year anniversary of the rezoning win fast approaching, there is Willets Point news to report. The city's Economic Development Corporation has announced a new set of acquisition deals with landowners in the, er, colorful area, bringing the total amount of iTri land acquired to about 70 percent. And now the bigger headline: The EDC has issued a Request for Qualifications to interested developers. Could this crazy plan actually be happening? You gotta believe!"

What's left out of EDC's Lombino breathlessness, is that the city agency doesn't have agreements with over half of the current property owners-and that its methodology has apparently been changed, indicating an almost complete absence of truthfulness. As its press release tells us: "The City is contemplating moving forward with a staged development strategy for Willets Point that will first focus on the southwest portion of the District that includes approximately 18 acres of development area and streets and about four acres of an interim buffer zone."

This is a complete about face from its original assertion that, because of the soil contamination, the entire 60 or so acre parcel needed to be developed all at once. So, as Meatloaf used to sing: "What'll it be boy?" To us, it looks as if the city is continuing to posture-and we're in for a long an expensive process that the city lacks funds to see to a conclusion. Just wait until the budget starts to crater and the re-elected Bloomberg tells New Yorkers that he's going to spend $700 million to evict hundreds of tax paying businesses and thousands of workers-mostly immigrants (another example of how the mayor's campaign rhetoric directed at immigrants rings hollow.)

As fantasy prone as the EDC statement is, it lacks the imagination of the Queens BP who commented as follows: "Each step forward gives us a clearer vision of a plan that will redevelop Willets Point in way that will capitalize on the resources surrounding it, including recreational uses and a network of highways, while strengthening the entire region. The redevelopment of Willets Point will also provide construction and permanent jobs that will broaden our City’s tax base and create a much improved, greener environment for a new generation of residents and businesses.”

Our funny bone got tickled with the "network of highways" remark-an indication that Helen has overlooked the fact that there is no rational plan in place to get people in and out from upwards of 1,000,000 square feet of development. And we're still waiting for the city to put a price on all of this malarkey. The city should be informed at the costs-after all, the pie in the sky benefits are being trumpeted, so why not put a price tag on all of this so we can do our own cost-benefit analysis?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Convenient timing for Willets Point ticket blitz

Very early this morning, parking tickets were written for about 15 cars parked under the Whitestone/Van Wyck overpass, right in front of Northern Boulevard. For decades, the overpass has been an area where parked cars are welcome. There is no sign anywhere prohibiting parking. Mets fans routinely park in this area when attending games, and are not ticketed for doing so. Construction workers routinely parked in this area during the years of constructing CitiField, and were not ticketed for doing so. Willets Point workers have parked in this area for decades, and have not been ticketed for doing so. Today's ticket blitz seems unjustified. Moreover, the vehicles ticketed evidently are those whose drivers arrived at Willets Point very early, to begin a long day's work –– some of the hardest workers in the City, who are modestly paid and significantly hurt by the unprecedented tickets.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New York: Worst state in the nation for eminent domain abuse

From Gotham Gazette:

“New York is perhaps the worst state in the nation when it comes to eminent domain abuse — the forcible acquisition of private property by the government for private development,” according to a new report by the conservative Institute for Justice.

The study goes through a litany of examples of what they see as an unfair eminent domain process here. They point out that an area need only be considered in danger of becoming blighted in order to be condemned; describe a byzantine, opaque, and unaccountable hearing process; and focus on the short window of time for property owners to protest at inadequate proceedings.

Nicole Gelinas, at NY Fiscal Watch, adds that the threat of eminent domain can freeze business activity and actually create blight.

Although the report paints a bleak landscape of abuse in the state, it really doesn’t compare New York to other states. Another report by an arm of the Institute for Justice gave New York an ‘F’ – one of eight states to receive the grade – for failing to pass legislation reforming eminent domain.

Hopefully New York can get off that list, writes Damon Root at Reason Magazine. Next week the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments against the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards project. Root says this case is an opportunity for the state “to start reining in these abuses.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

That old gag...

From Newsday:

Less than two days after Charles Wang said he is ready to explore all his options, the executive vice president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce said Wang's search should begin in his borough.

"Option number 1 should be Queens," Jack Friedman said. "We are ready for him."

Friedman believes a potential new home for the Islanders would fit perfectly as a centerpiece in the city's plans for the Willets Point area. The project is still in the early stages; Friedman said ground-breaking probably won't take place for another four or five years.

But the Islanders' lease with Nassau County stipulates that they must play their homes games through 2015, so the team is still six seasons from a potential move, anyway.

If Wang is interested in the Willets Point area, Friedman said the first step in the process would be for him to meet with representatives of the city's Economic Development Corporation, which oversees all new development projects within the city limits.

A message left with the EDC's press office was not immediately returned, but Friedman said it's his understanding that they are "absolutely" interested in bringing Wang aboard.

Really? Well, Jack old boy, Wang would need to submit an application in response to a request for proposal. Hey - wasn't the developer supposed to be chosen by now? What happened? Things not quite going as planned? NBC is telling you it's a bad idea:

There are already community groups lining up against the Willets Point project, but we'll just focus on the arena part of the equation since the plan is in motion with or without the Islanders playing a role. The city does not need another arena to play host to a sports team on 40-odd dates a year. Between Madison Square Garden, the two baseball stadiums, the arena and stadium at the Meadowlands, the Prudential Arena in Newark and the proposed Brooklyn arena, there's already too much competition for the non-sporting events that can actually keep these arenas from doing more than sucking down municipal money and staying empty. And that's before taking into account the zillions of other places for concerts, special events and the like in the metropolitan area.

Once you throw in the fact that all but MSG and the arena at the Meadowlands are in their infancy, it becomes clear that there's neither a need nor a justification for another new building. If the Islanders want to play within the five boroughs, let them share space with the Nets in Brooklyn because if we're going to get a building we don't need we might as well keep it full for as much of the year as possible.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

And that's a conservative estimate...

People are starting to question the cost of the Willets Point redevelopment plan and whether it's worth it. From the NY Observer:

By our tally, more than $78 million in nine separate transactions have closed—though far more have previously been negotiated and yet to show up in city records.

There’s a number of things that aren’t told in that number, particularly what the city is spending in terms of relocation costs. There’s been $424 million allocated for both acquisitions and off-site infrastructure, an amount that would seem to be too small to do everything the administration has discussed.

The city has said the off-site infrastructure will cost about $150 million, for one.

And then there are land costs, which are substantial. Here’s the most recent closed deal: $11,993,825 for a lot that is 57,000 square feet (on the less valuable northern end of the site), according to the real estate tracking firm PropertyShark. That comes out to $210 a square foot, which, if extrapolated across the full 45 or so acres that are privately held on the site, would come out to $412 million.

According to an EDC document from December 2008, there was language written into some of the larger land purchases that would seem to give the landowners a pretty good deal.

For both businesses, House of Spices and Fodera Foods, two of the larger property owners on the site, an EDC board action said that EDC “must use its best efforts” to “promptly purchase replacement property,” then sell the property to those businesses for $1. Given that EDC would be condemning their land, then buying them new land (though “best efforts” seems a loose term), this could get expensive as well.

Does the City of New York have this kind of money, especially with the economy expected to get worse instead of better? As Neighborhood Retail Alliance puts it:

EDC has established an off set price here-and if the numbers are added up they probably would exceed $700 million. Where does the city expect to come up with this cash from-at a time when it is evicting the businesses and putting thousands of workers on the unemployment line?