Friday, June 15, 2012

Play Mall: The Mets Steal Home!

The city finally awarded the rights to the new Willets Point development-as expected to Sterling Equities and Related. The NY Post captures this essence of the charade in its lede: "Play mall." As the paper says: " Mayor Bloomberg made a pitch yesterday to develop the run-down Willets Point section of Queens with a 200-room hotel, retail and restaurant space, an interim 20-acre recreational field and a huge shopping center right next to the Mets’ ballpark."

Make no mistake about it, this is a radically different vision from the one the city presented to the city council-who approved after much acrimony because of the public benefits-like affordable housing and living wage provisions-that the plan contained. In Crain's WPU's Jake Bono lays out the breathtaking bait and switch:

"After all of the controversy, after all of the anxiety and after all of the effort to remove people from their property, for a project that was supposed to be for all kinds of public benefits, all we are left with is a mall—a $3 billion mall that the city is giving as a gift to two developers," said Jake Bono, a property owner and spokesman for Willets Point United. "We fully expect and hope that the City Council will send this newly conceived Willets Point project into the wastebasket, where it properly belongs."

Gift indeed-all for the purchase price of $0! This theft is in fact the culmination of over twenty years of scheming by Sterling Equities to get control over its stadium and the land across from it-property that inconveniently belonged to other folks. A big part of the scheme-to get the tax payers to fund a big part of the takeover-was realized with the city's giveaway yesterday.

Juan Gonzales captures the brazen essence of this conspiracy to defraud the citizens:

"ONLY in Michael Bloomberg’s New York are we asked to believe that giving away huge swaths of city-owned land to millionaires is a wonderful deal...The Wilpon-Ross partnership, Queens Development Group, will be handed this land completely free of charge, so it can build its own new retail, entertainment and hotel complex adjacent to the Mets’ Citi Field."

As Gonzales goes on to point out, this was not what the city had promised when it asked the city council to approve the original deal-now discarded:

"Back then, Bloomberg’s aides assured the Council that any taxpayer money spent on Willets Point would be recouped when the city sold the land to a developer that would be chosen later.

Council was understandably skeptical. For one thing, all previous development projects always had a developer’s name attached to them when they came up for vote. This one didn’t.

Then there was the big city money upfront for acquiring private land.

On Oct. 17, 2008, for instance, then-Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber was grilled by former City Councilman Hiram Monserrate about the land sales.

“Our goal would be to get the city taxpayer money back out of this,” Lieber said

“In the sale of the properties?” Monserrate asked.

“That’s correct,” Lieber said.

Lieber conceded that if potential developers claimed the cost of cleaning up the polluted land was too high, the city might agree to “get less for land.” He never said anything about free land.”

WPU's Jerry Antonacci lays out just how this is the realization of the Wilpons' dreams: How do you give away 23 acres of land for nothing?” Jerry Antonacci wants to know. He has run Crown Container, a waste hauling and recycling plant in Willets Point for nearly 40 years and has been battling the city’s efforts to move him out. “This is like the biggest heist ever,” Antonacci said, “We all knew the Wilpons wanted our land for themselves all along, and now they got it.”

Indeed they did and what's remarkable is how this new plan resembles the one that the Wilpon's consultant envisioned 20 years ago:

“Shea Stadium Development Feasibility Study” produced for New York Mets by Jack L. Gordon Architects in 1993; depicts a new stadium on Willets Point property and describes “developing the existing Shea Stadium site, the adjacent Willets Point Business District (junk yards), and the LIRR and New York City properties into a unique 110 acre Sports, Entertainment and Business Complex”. (Emphasis added)

And pursue this they did through the years-eventually collaborating with the former borough president of Queens to set up an LDC to illegally lobby and to do so-you guessed it-with tax payers' money. Using this phony charitable front the Wilpons were able to sell the city council on a beautiful vision of the city's next "green" neighborhood-replete with thousands of units of housing and a convention center.

By doing so, the Wilpons were able to sucker the city council into approving what has turned out to be a gigantic scam. Instead of that beautiful fantasy vision we get a road choking, auto dependent 1 million plus square feet of shopping mall-all for the aggrandizement of Sterling Equities. There outta be a law!

Now it's up to the city council to send this offensive plan back to EDC-"return to sender", as the song goes, "address unknown." This is a sad culmination to over ten years of crony capitalism under the current billionaire mayor-an unseemly series of giveaways whose only product has been the malling of the city and the destruction of its neighborhood businesses. This process should be forcefully ended right now.