Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bloomberg's Black Eye

There can be  no doubt about it, the Bloomberg administration's capitulation on Willets Point is another black mark on a third term that the mayor would, in hindsight, probably wished he had avoided, Crain's has the story: "The city on Wednesday withdrew its bid to condemn land in Willets Point to clear way for development. Eminent domain is still possible, but the city will restart the process after the new plan is officially announced. A group of Willets Point landowners that has fought the city's efforts called the delay a "victory" in a post on its blog, declaring, “Mike Bloomberg's grandiose plans have gone up in smoke.”

Crain's then goes to the heart of the upcoming difficulty that Bloomberg faces-time is not on his side: "“There was always reason to be concerned whether Willets Point would get done in our lifetime,” said one business executive. “Now the question is whether it will get done in our kids' lifetime.”

As the magazine goes on to point out: "The proposal by Related and Sterling Equities for a retail and residential development in the shadow of Citi Field involves zoning changes that require a new environmental impact study and City Council approval. The study will take about a year to complete, making it likely that one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's signature projects will not get off the ground before he leaves office in 20 months."

And the small ball that the administration is playing with its new 12 acre site is no slam dunk:

         "The city's goal is to get the environmental study and zoning amendment done before the mayor leaves office, an official said. That could prove challenging...It will also likely lead to a battle in the City Council, which would have to approve the zoning amendment even though a second land-use review will not be needed. Related has been in discussions about leasing space at a Brooklyn development to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for several years, angering council members who oppose the retail giant's potential entry into the city and feel they were misled about whether a Walmart store would be built there. Regaining control over the Willets Point approval could give the council leverage to pressure Related to drop its dalliance with Wal-Mart. The council has rejected two Related projects—a mall at the Kingsbridge Armory and a BJ's Wholesale Club, mostly over concerns about workers' wages."

Crain's gets to the crux of the mayor's problems at Willets Point-grandiosity: "The challenges of Willets Point—a rundown, 61-acre swath of land in northeast Queens—have for decades bedeviled officials, including Robert Moses and Mayors Robert Wagner, Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani. In 2007, Mr. Bloomberg appeared to be on his way to a solution, calling the future of the area “very bright indeed.” But the city's ambitious plan was based largely on the hubris of the mid-decade boom, and the path to that future quickly developed Willets Point-size potholes."

But as challenging as the environment was, Crain's also recognizes the role played by WPU's band of irregulars: "Moreover, a gritty group of area business owners used legal maneuvers to throw the project off course. City officials found themselves without full control of the site, challenged in their quest for highway-ramp approvals and staring down a brutal financing environment. They divided the project into three stages to help it get started faster.

So what everyone said couldn't be done has been done-and once again, as with the Kingsbridge Armory, the Bloomberg attempt to mall New York City has been thwarted. Kudos to WPU and those elected officials like State Senator Avella and CM Halloran who stood up for the community-and for what is right.