Saturday, October 5, 2013

Malling Crain's

In this week’s Queens Tribune, Len Maniace, First Vice President, Jackson Heights Beautification Group, deconstructs the Willets West development-just another one of those disgruntled and isolated gadflies who happens, unlike the editorialists at Crain’s, to truly understand what the city is trying to do over at the Iron Triangle:
A s we approach a City Council vote expected for October, give the developers of a massive shopping mall project called Willets Point West credit for this: together they possess a fabulous imagination. They predict their project will lead to a revitalization reminiscent of 42nd Street. The mall proposed for the Citi Field parking lot will transform Willets Point into a destination, a magnet for shoppers who then will provide spillover benefits when they dine at the restaurants of Corona and Jackson Heights.
But how likely is that vision? Not very on either point. That’s because the scheme presented by the developers is an anti-city plan that would result in more cars, congestion, air pollution, and wasted energy.
Maniace understands just how grotesque a contradiction this development is to the Bloomberg sustainability vision:
While Brooklyn, other parts of New York City, and indeed cities around the world look to sustainable, smart, transit-oriented growth, Queens is being served up a leftover dish of 1960s auto-dependent development. If a 1.4 million square foot shopping and entertainment center is going to be successful, it’s going to need a lot of people coming and going. That’s truckers transporting goods to be sold, sales people selling them and shoppers buying them – lots of shoppers.
How do the builders plan to move all these people – along with residents of the already approved 5,500 housing unit, also by Sterling Equities and Related Companies?”
As Clark Gable might have said, “Frankly, they don’t give a damn.” Certainly it will not be by mass transit: 
“The nearby No. 7 train that stops at Citi Field is already overcrowded. At a City Hall public hearing earlier this month, the developers didn’t spend much time on transit improvements. Even minor improvements such as additional exits from the elevated station didn’t seem likely. “The Willets Point station is not a priority for the MTA,” one official told members of the City Council.”
And where will all of these shoppers come? We must by now be running out of those shoppers that EDC always claims are going to be diverted from leaving town to shop: “The developers should know better. Malls suck business out of nearby commercial areas, such as downtown Flushing. And it’s highly unlikely that mall shoppers would bypass the food court, cross over the Grand Central Parkway and search out restaurants in Corona and Jackson Heights. This is nothing like patrons at Lincoln Center strolling across Broadway to dine at Upper West Side eateries.”

In other words-much like everything that this administration has done over the past twelve years-this is a neighborhood small business disaster. A disaster that will bring Queens traffic to a gigantic stop: 
“Instead, the developers are counting on road improvements, including new and hugely expensive highway ramps. That means more cars, congestion, air pollution, and wasted energy, not just in the immediate area, but also along nearby highways, which are also overcrowded.”
But Mr. Maniace is wrong here since there are no plans to build these ramps-and there may never be any. So the congestion he foresees is without any ramp mitigation and will be an unholy mess for local roads and highways.

If, as Crain’s alleges, this mall is a genuine linchpin for the future housing and other amenities, how is this future being monetized and assured? Why hasn’t the city forced the developers to put, let’s say, $200 million in escrow-a sum they will forfeit if the ramps and housing don’t get built. Why are all of the risks being borne by the tax payers? Haven’t we seen what has transpired already over at Hudson Yards?

In short, this development does little more than reward the Wilpons for engaging in an illegal lobbying scheme-a multi-billion dollar reward that should have been obviated by an indictment.