Wednesday, August 24, 2011

EDC's Animal Farm at the iron Triangle

Crain's Insider ran an interesting item yesterday about how EDC is stymieing our attempt to get information about its purchase of properties belonging to House of Spice and Fodera Foods:

"The city's Economic Development Corp. has shot down repeated requests for information by opponents of the Willets Point redevelopment plan, who want to review information exchanged between the city and two of the area's largest property owners. Willets Point United, the opposition group, suspects that Fodera Foods and House of Spice have struck sweetheart deals with the EDC to remain in the area after the city exercises eminent domain. In a recent letter, the EDC said that revealing correspondence between the city and other parties would undermine negotiations between the city and other Willets Point property owners. A spokesman for Willets Point United said the EDC “continues to act in a nontransparent and inequitable manner.”

This is not new but it's typical of how EDC treats property owners at Willets Point-denying the smaller owners the same equity it has apparently bestowed on the larger ones. Remember that these bigger deals were all mostly cut at the eleventh hour right before the city council's vote on the EDC ULURP application. As the NY Post reported at the time:

“The city bought itself a half-acre of land at Willets Point for $3.5 million - snapping up three parcels in Queens' redeveloping "Iron Triangle" at nearly 10 times their assessed value. The financials of the Oct. 2 deal with real-estate company BRD Corp. provide the first glimpse into the cost of clearing the 62-acre complex to make way for a multibillion-dollar residential and commercial development. Twelve landowners have reached agreements in the last few months with the city, which is to announce today the two latest deals, for a combined 4.1 acres. About 60 landowners have yet to sign on."

Keep in mind that this was prior to the final city council disposition of the land use application and by paying through the nose EDC was trying to effectively create a bum’s rush-and it was working because it gave the legislature the impression that the eminent domain issue would not be problematic as property owners continued to rush to sell.

As City Room also reported: “On Thursday morning, the city’s Economic Development Corporation reached an agreement to acquire the largest of the businesses there, Tully Construction, which, along with a partner company, Tully Environmental, occupies 10 acres of land at the site. The city also agreed to authorize two other businesses, Fodera Foods and House of Spices, to stay in Willets Point even as construction progresses and later sell their land to a developer.“

Ah yes, there it is. What kind of poison pill is this for the supposed future developer? Giving these two businesses a gun to put to the head of the selected developer makes no sense. Why did the city do this and what does it mean for the tax payers-not to mention the smaller property owners? If this doesn't stimulate some thought at the city council then its more brain dead than we had first believed.

Than there's the matter of the $400 million that the city has allocated for the land purchases.What we know is that NYCEDC's written responses to questions posed by prospective Phase 1 developers includes the statement that no City capital funds are available to acquire Willets Point property beyond Phase 1 (other than the properties already acquired).

We don't know whether that means that the full $410 million will be consumed by Phase 1 acquisitions, or whether a decision was made to scale back the $410 million to a lower number sufficient only for Phase 1 (and if a decision was made, by whom). Inquiring minds want to know

So we understand why EDC will not reveal this information but why should the tax payer be allowed to foot the bill for behind closed doors sweetheart deals that give privileged property owners great financial leverage to hold up future development? When all is said and done on Willets Point it will go down in the city's history as a scandalous shame and perversion of basic democratic principles.

And with all that said, the ramps still don't work!