Monday, May 21, 2012

Ledger Doesn't Add Up

In this past week's Times Ledger the paper editorializes that-after WPU's great victory over the forces of condemnation-the property owners should simply take the best deal the city has to offer and get out of town:

"The city’s decision to drop its bid to use eminent domain in Willets Point to force property owners to sell brings the fight to develop this underused property back to Square 1...Why the city changed its mind is not clear. Perhaps the city attorneys believed they stood a good chance of losing in court.Michael Rikon, a lawyer representing the remaining property owners, argued in court that the $3 billion development planned by the city was not “public use.” He was elated when he heard the news. Hopefully, now he will work on getting his clients to negotiate with the city. If the city walks away from the redevelopment, everyone loses."

This is so wrong we don't know where to begin. In the first place there is no reason why redevelopment must occur over the dead bodies of the property owners. Why can't the public sector partner with the owners in a joint venture that doesn't involve taking private property and handing it over to another private interest?

In the second instance it is by no means clear that the city can be trusted to do any economic development properly-with Willets Point being the foremost case study of the limitations of the public imagination. The past ten years have demonstrated that the city's primary understanding of development revolves around throwing tax dollars at companies like Related to build retail malls that drain business from existing retailers.

Just look at the city's back up plan for Willets Point-two malls with a combined retail space of over one and a half million square feet of development! As the Observer points out graphically: "An 800,000 square-foot mall will be built on the Citi Field parking lot (right), followed by a 680,000 square-foot mall on the edge of Willets Point (left). Because who doesn’t want to go shopping after the Mets lose? " (

Additionally, when the Ledger calls for the owners to sell their property it fails to consider whether any large scale development of the area is feasible given the environmental challenges and the city's own fiscal condition. It might make more sense to think about ways to maximize the economic impact of making the area a better place for the existing businesses to grow and prosper-after all, there's a lot of economic activity in this one run down site.

Finally, the Ledger should consider attempting to become a bit more skeptical of the economic development fancies of the NYC EDC-and not print unchallenged the mendacious pronouncements emanating from City Hall. This last remark was a real side slapper: "We’re very close to having a deal in place that will transform Willets Point into New York City’s next great neighborhood and continue the historic progress we’ve already made there,” a spokeswoman for the mayor said."