Tuesday, July 16, 2013

NY Times Weighs in on City’s Willets Point Bait and Switch

Charles Bagli over at the NY Times takes a sharp look at the city’s reconfigured Willets Point plan and notices some real big missing pieces:
Last year, the city suddenly revised the four-year-old plan for Willets Point. It selected a joint venture of the Related Companies and the owners of the Mets — Fred Wilpon and Saul B. Katz — to clean toxic substances from a portion of the land and to build a hotel and some shops on 126th Street and a giant retail and entertainment mall on the other side of the stadium.
Some community and church groups that once supported the project now feel betrayed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, contending that the project is designed to benefit the Mets’ owners and Related more than the surrounding immigrant communities.”
Gee, we wonder why? Could it be that all of the promises used to entice council members have been discarded? The community sure notices bad faith when it sees it:
Msgr. Thomas Healy, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows, a thriving church near the stadium, complained that the 1,900 units of affordable housing that were once the centerpiece of the proposed redevelopment are now an afterthought. Many of his Mexican, Ecuadorean and Dominican parishioners are living, he said, in overcrowded and substandard apartments. 
“Bloomberg promised that the big thing in the project would be housing,” Monsignor Healy said. “Now it’s a grandiose mall, and in 20 years, maybe, we’ll get some housing. He doesn’t care about the poor.”
And then there is the gigantic mall on the CitiField parking lot-a piece of land zoned as parkland. Parks advocates-already upset by the city’s neglect of parks in the outer boroughs-has threatened to take the administration to court over the taking of parkland without going through alienation-a failure that allows the city to not be forced to find any replacement land for the property taken:
Despite the criticisms, the local community narrowly approved the revisions to the project plan, and the Bloomberg administration hopes to get formal approval from the City Council by the end of the year. Opponents, including NYC Park Advocates, plan to file a lawsuit challenging the city’s decision to give the developers 30 acres of parkland to build the mall.
The city, however, never runs out of its plentiful supply of bad faith. Asked to explain its bait and switch, it does what it does best-lies through its teeth: “The Bloomberg administration said the plans needed to be adjusted to meet market demand, with a spokesman calling the most recent incarnation “the only way forward.”

Let’s get this straight. This plan was originally approved in the teeth of the worst economic downturn since the great Depression. If the city could promise 5500 units of housing and all of the other ancillary benefits then, it can’t now say, “never mind,” when the economy is showing some signs of life. This kind of duplicity should be slapped down by a shamed fool me once city council.

The Times lays out the terms of the original deal-and demonstrates why the current incarnation doesn’t resemble the original proposal. In doing so, however, the paper points out that, “…over time it became clear, city officials and real estate executives said, that not one developer could or would meet the city’s original requirements.”

If that’s true, and we have our doubts, it means that the original plan was too ambitious and should have been shelved. To replace it with a mall and a parking lot when, “In 2007, Mr. Bloomberg announced plans for New York’s “next great neighborhood,” a $3 billion development at Willets Point, with 5,500 apartments, a convention center and office space,” is bad faith squared.

To do it by gifting the property to two rich developers who have no obligation to ever build a single unit of affordable housing is shameful-if the administration were actually capable of that human emotion.

The Times goes on to capture why we call this a “Wimpy” deal-after the Popeye character who used to say, “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” The tax payers pay through the nose up front-to the tune of over $400 million-and the public benefits are pushed way back until we believe, The Twelfth of Never:

First, however, the developer would be required to remediate a 23-acre portion of Willets Point. The plans for affordable housing — now 2,500 units, 875 affordable — have been pushed back until after 2025. But housing advocates fear it may never get built.”
The fear is not groundless given the fact that the city has already reneged on its commitment and has also treated the existing property owners and tenant businesses like skels. The Times tells us that the Bloomberg administration sees Willets Point as one of its major legacy projects. And we couldn’t agree more.

Nothing symbolizes the mayor’s bad faith and hypocrisy, his corporate welfare, his lack of concern for the poor, and his disdain for the property rights of his lessers, than this bait and switch development. It is a monument to arrogance and corporate greed and the mall should be named after the mayor so that if and when it is built and the area around the stadium is gridlocked for hours, the people will know who to credit.