Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mayor de Blasio: Think Beyond Sterling and Related

The New York Times and Crain's New York Business are reporting that the de Blasio administration has refused to join the court appeal of developer QDG (a joint venture of Sterling Equities and Related) concerning the "Willets West" mega-mall on parkland west of Citi Field, which the Appellate Division First Department unanimously ruled illegal on July 2, 2015.

While Willets Point United is pleased that the City did not join QDG’s appeal, we find it disturbing that the de Blasio administration is still attempting to salvage any deal with Sterling and Related for affordable housing. Everyone should recall that when Sterling and Related first responded to the City's 2011 Request for Proposals for Willets Point, their plan included NO housing whatsoever. In fact, of all the developers that responded to that RFP, Sterling and Related displayed the least interest in constructing any housing.

By contrast, two other developers that responded would have constructed the housing – in one case, 100 percent of it affordable. Another developer featured a convention center.

Silverstein Properties, Inc. and Taubman Centers, Inc.
(proposal dated September 9, 2011)
100 percent affordable housing (400 units)
“A Model Sustainable Community”
Restaurant Row
“Entertainment Corridor & Urban Room”
126th Street Retail
Neighborhood Retail Street

(proposal dated September 9, 2011)
“A Model Green Community”
Public Open Space
Food & Beverage
“A True Retail Destination”

TDC Development and Construction Corp.
(proposal dated September 9, 2011)
“World Trade Center Queens”
Trade Mart
Convention Center
Retail Complex
Entertainment District
Office Building
Neighborhood Park

We think the de Blasio administration must not consider itself beholden in any way to the prior selection of QDG, Sterling and Related as developers here – especially when, unlike other developers, affordable housing was not a priority at all for them. If Mayor de Blasio insists on pursuing affordable housing at WIllets Point, then his administration should issue a new Request for Proposals, for exactly that. Let's see what all of the developers in the world are capable of proposing, now in the year 2015. There should be no presumption in favor of QDG, Sterling and Related.

But as Willets Point United sees it, there is no financially viable way to construct the affordable housing that was touted as the centerpiece of this project. Setting aside all of the cheerleading that took place in 2008, when it came time to actually present financially viable plans to develop Willets Point within the boundaries envisioned in 2008 featuring affordable housing, no developer could do so. The City has admitted this. That being the case, we recommend that the City:

(1)  Rescind the deal with QDG, Sterling and Related, and 'claw back' the 2 acres of Willets Point property already sold to QDG, as the city’s contract with QDG allows. There is no valid reason for QDG to own a tiny area within the Willets Point Phase One property, and QDG doing so only obstructs making the property available to others.

(2)  Use the $99 million that has already been allocated as a grant to QDG to cover the cost of remediating Willets Point property, for the City to instead directly hire a firm to remediate Willets Point Phase One property, thereby accomplishing a major objective of the project and increasing the value of that property.

(3)  Complete the installation of sewer lines throughout Willets Point, and begin providing the municipal services that have been denied to Willets Point for decades but which are routinely available everywhere else.

(4)  Sell the Willets Point Phase One property – valued at more than $400 million – on the open market for commercial and industrial use, which was the original intent for the Willets Point area. Restore the zoning for those purposes. This would fully recoup the taxpayer funds already unwisely spent, and even provide a profit for the City.

It is time to recognize the past 8 or so years as a very unproductive detour – a grand failed attempt to steer Willets Point away from the commercial and industrial use that it has always supported.