Thursday, February 21, 2013

WPU requests road repairs at Queens Borough President's budget hearing

Budget Hearing Testimony 2/20/2013 by

WPU member Joseph Ardizzone read the attached statement at the Queens Borough President's annual budget hearing. When the following passage was read, CB7 Chair Gene Kelty went ballistic, stating that it was inappropriate to bring up his board's role in the neglect of Willets Point over the years:
WPU is appalled that Queens Community Board 7 ("CB7") has not included any funding request for the repair of Willets Point roadways within its formal Budget Priorities and Requests for 2014 – despite CB7 having been clearly informed multiple times of the very obvious and dire need for roadway repairs via oral and written presentations by WPU during every CB7 meeting held between May, 2012 and February, 2013, inclusive. Instead, CB7 chose to prioritize such items as a "Horticultural Design Study" for some historic sites in downtown Flushing. With all due respect to horticultural designers, there should have been a place for desperately needed Willets Point improvements within CB7's 2014 budget priorities.
Perhaps next year, Mr. Kelty and his board will see fit to include new streets for Willets Point among their list of 25 priorities for the following fiscal year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

City likely owes us more than $1M

From today's Daily News:
Lawyers representing more than a dozen business owners of the gritty Iron Triangle are awaiting a judge’s decision on whether the city will be required to pay their legal expenses, which have surpassed more than $1 million.

Michael Rikon and Michael Gerrard both told the Daily News on Monday that once the city dropped its eminent domain bid last May in favor of a different development, it became obligated to reimburse their fees.

“The statute is very clear,” said Gerrard, who is seeking over $609,000 for work that his firm Arnold & Porter performed. “If the city abandons the condemnation, the parties whose lands were being condemned are entitled to their legal fees.”

The city decided to not proceed with its eminent domain bid. Instead, it announced in June a 23-acre development to be built by the Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and the Related Cos.

The statute that Rikon and Gerrard are basing their case on is Section 702 of New York State’s eminent domain law, which states if the “procedure to acquire such property is abandoned by the condemnor ... the condemnor shall be obligated to reimburse the condemnee.”

The EDC was well aware that supplemental environmental reviews would be needed for the project, so they dropped their bid in May, court documents show.
When you play around with taxpayer money, it's taxpayers that get burned.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Further statement of Willets Point United concerning casino proposal of Sterling/Related


Last year, the New York State Attorney General determined that Claire Shulman's local development corporation – substantially financed and supported by the New York Mets, whose owners also own developer Sterling Equities, Inc. – illegally lobbied for approval of the proposed Willets Point development. Despite the clear findings of illegality, neither Shulman's group nor the Mets nor any other financier was ever prosecuted or held to account in any way. They all got off, scot-free. And the development they said they wanted, was approved by the City Council.

Now we finally see what their objective was: NOT any affordable housing or remediation of Willets Point property, which were supposed to be the main "benefits" of the proposed development – but instead, a monumental land grab to facilitate the construction of a 450,000 square foot gaming floor/casino on 30+ acres of public parkland property that is adjacent to Citi Field.

There should be red flags and sirens blaring, when the same people involved with illegal activity to gain approval of the project not only attempt to convert the project into a casino, but then are awarded the contract for the project.

Sterling/Related and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) have exploited the classic formula used time and time again by seasoned developers to obtain project approvals: Present a project that appears to benefit the public, and that decision-makers will approve.

The supposed "benefits" of the Willets Point development – affordable housing, cleanup of property, job creation – were actually just window-dressing to fool the public into believing that the project is for them, while masking the real motive: The extraordinary waterfall of money that a full casino will put into the developers' pockets, as proven by the $630 million that the Aqueduct casino – without any table games – earned in just its first year of operation.

There is no greater cash cow than to be the sole full casino in New York City, and Sterling/Related know it. After their involvement in the Bernard Madoff ponzi scheme, developers Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz sought to rake in cash for themselves, and the public be damned.

A benefit to Sterling/Related of proposing to include a casino within the Willets Point development which they are already designated to implement, may be that Sterling/Related would somehow circumvent the bidding process which all other prospective casino operators will be obligated to undergo, in the event that the state government decides to authorize downstate casino sites. Neither Sterling nor Related apparently has any experience operating a casino, and therefore they could be at a disadvantage if required to bid against other firms that specialize in casino operations.

The Sterling/Related casino proposal is a supreme example of "bait-and-switch" and "smoke-and-mirrors". Would anyone have deemed it a good idea, to displace over 250 functioning Willets Point businesses off of private property owned by roughly 90 owners, and to use eminent domain to forcibly do so, so that their property could become a parking lot for customers of a Mets casino?

As outrageous as that sounds, that is exactly what Sterling/Related had in mind, as the City actually invoked eminent domain at Willets Point during 2011 for different stated reasons and imposed a black cloud of condemnation to intimidate land and business owners there.

No high echelon developer that is able to set the City's wheels of power in motion to take peoples' property, is entitled to finance illegal activity, fool the public and gain approvals of a project whose stated public benefits the developer has no intention to implement. Something is very wrong with our system, when a developer can get away with doing that.

This is exactly the type of victimization of the weak by influential parties that U.S. Supreme Court justices warned against, in their dissenting opinions in the infamous Kelo eminent domain case. The property owners of Willets Point United Inc. are prepared to challenge and prevent this wrongful preying of the powerful upon the weak. We have long said that the City's proposed Willets Point development is actually a swindle. We remain absolutely committed to keep our rightful ownership of our land, and we will fight in every possible way to prevent the abuse of eminent domain and the resulting discriminatory exploitation of the weak and minorities.

Sterling/Related gambled on a casino at Flushing Meadows

Gambling on Park Land.  Related Companies, Sterling Equities and Triple M Development's Willets Point original proposal included building a massive 3.2 million sq. ft casino and entertainment complex adjacent to Citi-Field in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  (Click on images to enlarge) Photos By Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates
Quite a shocking story in today's NY Post:
The Mets’ owners want to roll the dice on building a Las Vegas-style casino next to Citi Field to recoup some of the $162 million for which team brass are still on the hook following the Bernie Madoff Ponzi-scheme debacle, plans obtained by The Post reveal.

While team owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz are still having trouble opening their tight pockets for high-priced free agents, that didn’t stop their development arm, Sterling Equities, from betting on a proposal that called for bringing a massive casino with gaming tables and slots, a 500-room, full-service hotel, 1.8 million square feet of retail and other amenities to the Willets Point development site in Queens.

The Southampton-based Shinnecock Indian Nation signed on to operate the casino, and the Wilpons and partners even offered the city $100 million for the 62-acre site, according to the development team’s proposal, which was first obtained by project opponents Willets Point United and NYC Park Advocates.
It's amazing what you can learn from a FOIL!
City officials pulled the casino from the Willets Point plan partly because they thought the government-approval process would take too long, sources said. However, a city spokesman declined to comment when asked if the city would push for a casino there if the state Legislature eventually backs it.

The Mets declined to comment, but a spokesman for Sterling-Related said it’s “focused” on the project the mayor endorsed.

Although Sterling Equities wouldn’t directly operate or build the casino, any investment by the Mets’ owners in such a venture would raise eyebrows, considering Major League Baseball’s tough antigambling policies.
The casino proposal of Sterling/Related makes an absolute mockery of the entire public review process for the proposed Willets Point development, and proves where these developers' real priorities are.

It's outrageous, that the joint venture of Sterling/Related responded to the City's Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking a Willets Point developer, with a proposal that would construct NO housing whatsoever (affordable or otherwise), and that deliberately minimizes remediation of Willets Point property to the greatest possible extent – thus failing to deliver the two key 'benefits' that were said to justify the project's approval during 2008. But most disturbingly, Sterling/Related instead proposed to construct a 450,000 square foot gaming facility/casino – and to do so on 30+ acres of parkland property that is beyond the bounds of Willets Point and that was mentioned nowhere within the RFP. The Willets Point development was never envisioned or presented to decision-makers as a casino-centric project. That the Sterling/Related joint venture proposed to convert it into one, and to expand the project's boundaries to encompass nearly all property surrounding Citi Field (whose New York Mets' owners also own Sterling Equities, Inc.), underscores that the Willets Point development is merely a pretext for the owners of the Mets to consolidate property surrounding the stadium, and exploit it for their maximum profit.

Anyone who questions why prospective developers would have resorted to illegal lobbying, need only consider the tremendous and extraordinary financial gains to be generated by a casino. That the proposals of all other developers, which adhered to the RFP specifications, were rejected in favor of designating Sterling/Related, betrays the cronyism that must be at work here.

More on this story at A Walk in the Park.