Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bloomberg's Flushing New York

The NY Times has an interesting article on the new development in downtown Flushing: "Flushing, Queens, home to one of the largest Asian populations in the United States, is one of the most crowded downtown areas in New York City. The Flushing Main Street stop on the No. 7 subway line was the busiest station outside of Manhattan in 2009, and 19 city bus lines stop downtown, where more than 40,000 people reside.Yet there has been relatively little large-scale development in the neighborhood. The glassy towers that dominate other parts of the city are conspicuously absent — and a municipal parking lot takes up five acres in the center of downtown."

That is until Flushing Commons: "People come from China, and when they look at Flushing, they say, ‘This is the way China was 15 years ago,’ ” said Michael Meyer, the president of TDC Development, a subsidiary of the F&T Group, which plans to turn that parking lot into Flushing Commons, an $820 million, 1.8 million-square-foot mixed-use development. Mr. Meyer said he hoped to break ground within a year, and he estimated that construction would take three and a half years.

It is one of several major developments that promise to refashion the neighborhood’s landscape." Flushing Commons is then described with a high degree of inaccuracy: "Flushing Commons is to include 235,000 square feet of small-scale retail, 185,000 square feet of office space, about 600 condos, a 62,000-square-foot Y.M.C.A., a one-and-a-half-acre park and, to make up for the lost parking lot, 1,600 underground parking spaces. The project is a joint venture with the Rockefeller Group Development Corporation, which built Rockefeller Center."

Hold on one second. When this project was debated there was a mix of large and small retail-with the traffic study indicating a higher amount of small retail (to minimize traffic impact, sound familiar?), while the socio-economic section of the EIS emphasized larger retail (to minimize displacement of Flushing vibrant small business community).

As was pointed out elsewhere, EDC went to great lengths to minimize economic impacts: "Although Chair Comrie may feel that there is nothing to fear from the competition, apparently EDC does-because it goes to such great lengths (or rather its tied at the hip consultants do) to minimize this very issue by arguing in the socio economic impact section of the EIS that, since there will be mostly , "national chain destination retailers," at the mall, local retailers have little to complain, or worry, about."

Now, however, the Times is reporting something else. What is the truth? No one can tell because all of these environmental documents are rife with dishonesty. All we can say for certain is that Flushing Commons, along with other Flushing area developments is going to severely compromise the road and rail infrastructure.

As the Times tells us: "Nearby, the F&T Group is also building a $125 million mixed-use development that will combine a 168-room Hyatt Place hotel with three levels of retail, underground parking and a separate tower for office space and serviced apartments. Groundbreaking is this week; construction should take three years."

And the RKO Keith theater will be adding more retail along with the development at Sky View Parc: "Already the waterfront has one major new tenant — perhaps the most salient evidence of Flushing’s transformation up to now — on a site that Muss Development Company has owned for more than two decades. Sky View Center, an 800,000-square-foot mall a few blocks west of the Main Street station, is now 75 percent leased, and has big-box stores like Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Best Buy."

How will Flushing handle all of this over development? One local has real worries: "Mr. Yu, of the Flushing Business Improvement District, said he was happy that so much development was on the horizon but nervous about the practical effects in a neighborhood already congested with traffic. Already, he said, “it can take you six to eight minutes for one block.” He added, “We’re going to miss the parking spaces.”

The irony here is that in the middle of all of this mess, and promising that she will have some remedies for the community, is our dear buddy Claire Shulman. Claire's LDC, which in a fair and equitable world would have been disbanded for illegal lobbying, is now looking for more things to do. But the real irony is that her signature effort in Willets Point will destroy any mitigation that Shulman finds public money to pay for.

The sad fact here is that Willets Point and Flushing are being developed without any commensurate master plan that deal honestly with the environmental and infrastructure issues. The fact that EDC is trying to create a partial Phase I on Willets Point only exacerbates the overall problem. At the end of the day, whenever that day comes, there will be too much traffic and too many people for the current road and rail network-and it will cost billions more to fix the problem.