Thursday, February 9, 2012

Unconventional Wisdom

The NY Times focuses today on the fact that we now have two areas of Queens-Willets Point and Aqueduct-looking at a possible convention center when experts believe we really don't even need one. This is what passes for economic development wisdom from the governor and the mayor-dumb and dumber:

"Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio who is writing a book on convention centers, said attendance had been declining for more than a decade, and started to drop even before the current economic downturn. He said the trend was a result of tighter spending by businesses and the Internet’s ability to let clients examine new products and communicate with far-flung peers."

So, how about two centers? "Thus, building two centers in Queens, or even one, “makes no sense whatsoever,” Professor Sanders said. “You’re talking about building more space in a market that’s oversupplied,” he continued." That brings us to the original convention idea at Willets Point-the so-called linchpin of the redevelopment of that area:

"In December, when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg broke ground for sewer mains and storm drains for Willets Point to open the way for the neighborhood’s transformation, the city’s Web site trumpeted a convention center, citing it as helping to create “New York’s next great neighborhood.”

Oh well, never mind the experts are at work so let's not disturb them. But WPU's Jake Bono is disturbed by all of this sleight of hand:

"Jake Bono of Bono Sawdust Supply, which for almost 80 years has sold sawdust to circuses and horse farms, said that if the Aqueduct convention center was built, “that point-blank means there’s not even a need for a convention center at Willets Point.” As Mr. Bono sees it, local politicians have been staging a “charade,” wielding a convention center at Willets Point as a politically palatable enticement to justify the destruction of what is, to some eyes, an unsightly warren of car-repair shops that now greets fans patronizing the nearby Citi Field."

Now remember that the entire basis for the use of eminent domain is that there be a sensible economic development plan in place-but it seems that as far as Willets Point plan is concerned there is only this: get these little guys out of there because they're stinking up the joint. Jack Friedman represents this view-after all, it's not his property the city is looking to take: "Willets Point right now looks like something in a third-world nation, and if we’re going to be able to maximize economic opportunities it’s going to require full redevelopment,” said Jack Friedman, the chamber’s executive director." Which makes him something of a chamber pot, no?

Folks there is no economic plan for Willets Point apart from the land grab-the city will figure out what to do with the area when it gets around to giving Related or Vornado the keys to the abandoned property. What the Bloomberg administration has been doing for ten years is little more than crony capitalism-and his friends in the real estate industry are really proud of their billionaire brother for sticking up for them in these hard times.

Will Helen Marshal voice an objection-after all, the convention center was the rationale for her support? Don't hold your breathe: "Queens officials have also regarded the city’s redevelopment plan as intimately intertwined with a convention center. Helen M. Marshall, the borough president, was reportedly taken aback when she heard of the governor’s Aqueduct proposal. “What happened to Willets Point?” was the way Dan Andrews, her spokesman, described her reaction. “Oh my God, there’s going to be two!”

The BP Is, however, like Gumby-flexible to the extreme:

"...Ms. Marshall had since embraced the idea that there could indeed be two convention centers, the one at Aqueduct and a smaller space of fewer than 400,000 square feet at Willets Point for smaller trade shows and for local and regional conferences of, say, the Queens medical and dental societies. Events at such a center may be too big to fit into a hotel ballroom but not big enough for the proposed Aqueduct center. And the Queens Chamber of Commerce emphasizes that “an exhibition hall or conference center” was only a single feature in the overall plan."

Marshall, who hasn't taken a courageous stand in a thirty year political career would have accepted a partridge in a pear tree-the quintessential go along to get along kinda gal. But this mess simply highlights what we at WPU have said all along. The Willets Point development is a charade and there is nothing worthwhile going on here aside from the taking of property for its own sake-and for whoever the rich player to be named later the mayor designates.