Tuesday, February 6, 2018

“New Plan,” “New Deal” – But No New Competitive Bid?

From the outset of the proposed Willet Point development, it has been understood that a developer would be selected via a competitive sealed proposal process.

The City’s selection in 2012 of Queens Development Group (QDG) to develop phase one of Willets Point – to the exclusion of all other firms that submitted proposals – was predicated on QDG’s unique proposal that expanded the project to include a mega-mall on public parkland (leveraging a lease already held for said parkland by the Mets’ owners, who comprise half of QDG).

In the aftermath of the Court of Appeals decision which prevents QDG from implementing its proposal, Mayor de Blasio should have immediately availed himself of the opportunity afforded by the contract between QDG and the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), to rescind the sale of Willets Point property to QDG and cancel the contract award. Then, the City would have been free to issue a new request for proposals (RFP) to the entire present-day development community, for the “new” six-acre project which apparently is now the priority.

Instead, there has never been a competitive sealed proposal process for development of six acres of Willets Point property stemming from the intersection of Willets Point Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue. Think of it: A reasonably-sized, six-acre project would likely attract a larger pool of developer proposals than did the 2012 RFP which encompassed the enormity of the Willet Point phase one site. There is absolutely no basis to think that QDG is the “best” developer for this six-acre site and configuration, because the de Blasio administration did not implement any competitive sealed proposal process (although it should have done so).

In its article published on February 6, 2018, the New York Times repeatedly refers to the six-acre project as a “new plan” and “new deal.” We agree, but wonder why there was also not a “new” RFP and “new” competitive sealed proposal process to determine it.

Beyond the 2012 selection of QDG as developer, the subsequent decisions by the Deputy Mayor, EDC, the New York City Land Development Corporation and the Queens Borough Board to dispose of hundreds of millions’ worth of City-owned property to QDG, were all predicated upon QDG’s prior, now-defunct proposal which expanded the project to include a mega-mall on public parkland.

We encourage investigations by the public, the press, the Comptroller and enforcement agencies, regarding whether or not it is consistent with City policies and procedures for the City to designate QDG to implement a “new plan” without issuing any new RFP, and for the City to dispose of valuable public property to QDG pursuant to decisions that were wholly based upon a different, defunct plan.

We also recommend that the press ask these questions:

•   What price is the de Blasio administration establishing, for the sale of Willets Point property to QDG? $1 (one dollar) per the Bloomberg administration, or a legitimate price that recoups the taxpayers’ cost of acquiring the property?

•   The New York Times mentions that QDG will remediate Willets Point property by a certain date. Does that remediation refer to the six-acre section of Phase One, or to the entire 23 acres of Phase One? If the latter, why would QDG remediate that land, prior to any decision about what will be built there?

•   Given that the Queens Borough Board is to evaluate and vote on the “business terms” of an award of development rights for the Willets Point project, and thus far the Borough Board has only voted on QDG’s prior development proposal which featured the mega-mall (which has been eliminated from the “new plan”), will the City seek a new approval of the Queens Borough Board for the changed iteration of the project?

•   During the January update meeting between Queens Community Board 7 (CB7), QDG, EDC and Mayor’s Office representatives, CB7 repeatedly lamented being excluded from ongoing discussions between the QDG, QDG and the Mayor’s Office about new plans for Willets Point. Thereafter, was CB7 involved in any such discussions, prior to the New York Times publishing the new Willets Point plan on February 6, 2018? Or, was CB7 still excluded by QDG, EDC and the Mayor’s Office?

•   Where is there an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) document that analyzes impacts of a six-acre development stemming from the intersection of Willets Point Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue, with no new Van Wyck access ramps present? The 2013 Supplemental EIS analyzed a project configuration that included the mega-mall, with no new Van Wyck access ramps present during the initial phase.