Thursday, May 13, 2010

Islanders rumor puts Willets Point in spotlight

Originally published: May 11, 2010 10:09 PM
Updated: May 12, 2010 1:53 AM

The news that Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon has spoken to Charles Wang about building an arena in Queens and relocating Wang's Islanders hockey team to the site puts the spotlight on Willets Point: a 62-acre tract in Queens near Citi Field known as the Iron Triangle.

Last year, 29 potential developers formally filed paperwork with the New York City Economic Development Corp. to redevelop Willets Point. While Wang was not one of them, Sterling Equities, the Wilpon family's umbrella company, was, the EDC confirmed Tuesday. The EDC said a formal request for proposals will be issued later this year.

On the surface, a marriage between Wilpon, Wang and Willets Point seems ideal - there's a sports team already in place and the city wants to add housing, office space and retail. It was unclear Tuesday whether Wilpon would build an arena on the Willets Point land, or elsewhere near Citi Field.

Wang did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Interviews show that developing Willets Point will not be easy.

New York City officials have said they are not contemplating the idea of the Islanders, or Wang's $3.8-billion Lighthouse project, heading to Queens, because an arena isn't part of the approved plans for Willets Point. The entire process, they said, would have to start over.

"There would have to be a very strong economic and development case made for it," said a New York City Economic Development Corp. official who asked not to be named.

Tuesday, Andrew Brent, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said, "There are no plans for a professional sports facility" at Willets Point.

With unpaved streets and no sewers, the Willets Point area is home to more than four dozen industrial businesses. The redevelopment could include a hotel, convention center, retail and residential.

Meanwhile, a number of business owners at the Willets Point site say they won't leave, despite city efforts to make a deal. About 21 of them have filed a lawsuit against the city.

"They're taking my home. They're taking my business. They're taking everything I worked for," said Plainview resident Jerry Antonacci, who owns waste management company Crown Container. "If they want to bring the Islanders here, or anything else, they better schedule it for 2020 or 2025, because we're going to fight it. We're not going easy."

But the city is moving forward. "Willets Point represents one of the city's most significant long-term development opportunities," said Brent, the Bloomberg spokesman.