Welcome to the Home Page for
Willets Point Industry and Realty Association
Our Mission -
Willets Point Industry and Realty Association (WPIRA) is dedicated to Owner Development of the Willets Point area. In addition to opposing Eminent Domain now being threatened by the City of New York, WPIRA is demanding the services it has been denied for over 50 years; Sanitary and Storm Sewers Paved Streets and basic municipal services that every tax paying business has a right to expect from the City.
Willets Point Industry and Realty Association Position Paper
As property owners who control approximately 50% of the property within Willets Point and who have been operating various family owned businesses within Willets Point for 30-70 years, WPIRA objects to the rezoning and subsequent redevelopment plans now proposed by the NYCEDC. In addition to the obvious impact of losing businesses that have existed for two and three generations, WPIRA has serious concerns over the feasibility of this project. The EDC has eagerly anticipated the benefits with little or no regard to the cost or even the need for this project. As an example, the EDC proposes a conference center but yet only began a feasibility study last month (see attachment A). Even the benefits being touted by the EDC ($5 billion over 30 years or only $166 million per year) do not consider the inevitable tax breaks that will be granted to a developer.
The EDC is moving to rezone our property without having a final development plan, without a having a developer chosen, without a final cost analysis, without a final EIS and without a plan for moving existing businesses. Before proceeding with rezoning, these issues must be addressed. There is no need to rush in without a carefully thought out plan. Such was the case at the Flushing Commons, the first stage of EDC’s overall plan to redevelop Flushing. The property was sold to a developer for a fraction of its worth and now the final plans are too grandiose to be completed within budget. The entire project is stalled and rezoning has not even been completed.
WPIRA is not against development in Willets Point, we object to the means and methods being imposed on our long neglected area by the EDC. Without sanitary sewers and without paved streets, it is impossible to develop Willets Point and yet the City has ignored its own studies that recommended installation of sanitary sewers. (see attachment B). With the proper support from the City in the form of basic community services, Sewers and streets, Willets Point will begin to change overnight with the strong prevailing market forces already at work in Flushing. The City’s only concern here should be how to provide these services and let the market forces determine the best use.
The purpose of this document is to outline and hopefully clarify the position of WPIRA and its objections to the rezoning and redevelopment of Willets Point; our land.
Willets Point has been Neglected by the City
WPIRA consists of businesses that are owned and operated in Willets Point. Most of our members have been in Willets Point for over 30 years and are now 2nd and 3rd generation owners. Through most of their existence in Willets Point, the ownership has asked the City to have sanitary sewers installed so that the land could be more fully developed. In 1987, the Association met with Borough President Claire Shulman to demand sewers. A subsequent study was conducted by the EDC in 1991. A summary of the study can be found in attachment C and the complete study is available online at www.wpira.com. The basic summary of the study was that Willets Point would flourish as a much needed industrial area once sewers and basic services were provided. Claire Shulman chose to ignore this study since it did not favor her vision of the area. The result was the continued decline of Willets Point. The tin buildings and illegal operations have continued to thrive because the City has purposely chosen to neglect the property owners and allowed the area to fall into its current state. In the meantime, the legitimate businesses have stayed and made the best of these conditions because there were no other options. Fed Ex wanted to construct a massive terminal for distribution from LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. Once it was discovered there were no sewers, the project was moved to the Bronx and is now under construction. Those jobs would have produced a considerably higher scale than retail or hotel jobs now being proposed by EDC.
The EDC now proposes to install sewers and hand the property off to a private developer after removing the businesses that have struggled for their entire existence.
Willets Point is neglected not blighted. Willets Point is the only area in North Queens with no sanitary sewers.
The EDC has not communicated properly with Businesses in Willets Point.
In virtually every article for the past two years, the EDC has made a claim that is has been working with the Willets area businesses and that they are going to relocate the businesses. This has been a totally false claim. Despite attempts to have discussions with the EDC, the business owners have been put on the back burner while the EDC proceeded with its plans. Only after a major protest and pressure was brought to bear, did the EDC begin to have any meaningful discussions with WPIRA. We have been very disappointed by the lack of information the EDC has on area businesses and the misinformation it has been spreading in its power point presentations regarding the state of businesses in Willets Point. Willets Point is not a depressed or blighted area due to the job market here. Many of the jobs in Willets are not only good middle income jobs, but Union jobs with good benefits for those employees. For its part, the EDC has not even commenced the process of attempting to relocate businesses and has no idea where it will relocate.
Eminent Domain should not be allowed in Willets Point
The EDC and the Mayor have been very forthcoming with their ideas for Willets Point but very sketchy with any ideas as to how, where or when it will relocate the existing businesses. Willets Point is a highly desirable area with one of the few remaining M-3 zones in the City and the businesses that have been here for generations recognized that long before the City. Since the 60’s Willets has been the target of various redevelopment schemes from Robert Moses and Donald Trump to now the EDC and Mayor Bloomberg. With this sword hanging over our heads, it has been impossible to get the attention of City officials to seriously consider putting any tax dollars back into Willets Point. Claire Shulman flat out refused.
The City claims it will be fair with area businesses but will not rule our Eminent Domain. As long as the City realizes that it can invoke its powers of eminent domain, it will have no pressure to negotiate in good faith with businesses that have nowhere else to go. Much like the façade that has been placed up in lieu of hard research, the concern of our businesses is that the City will merely say it tried.
The City Council should eliminate the ability of the EDC to invoke eminent domain unless there are specific criteria placed on its use. The members of the WPIRA do not expect the City to meet unreasonable demands in an effort to derail this project. But the City’s lack of effort to meet with our businesses and others is a portent of its intentions down the road. WPIRA is prepared to battle Eminent Domain if it is used to unfairly displace area businesses.
There are still many unanswered questions regarding the redevelopment.
WPIRA has requested and been promised complete data relating to the infrastructure improvements, traffic studies and remediation plans for Willets Point. Although this information was promised weeks ago, there has been no information forthcoming. WPIRA is concerned that the City will move forward with rezoning the area and evict the current business owners only to find that there is no feasible way to complete the project as it is currently envisioned. This is a very real scenario due to the location of Willets Point and the potential environmental clean up. Willets Point is within a 100 year flood zone. The EDC proposes to raise the entire area by filling it with at least 4’ of fill. What they have not studied is the impact this fill will have on the surrounding areas. The weight of the fill will have the potential to surcharge the soft ground under it forcing it horizontally and having an impact on adjacent land and waterways. This plan will not remove contamination, just bury it and possibly spread it.
The plan calls for 14 story buildings at the north end of the site, directly beneath the main approach for LaGuardia airport. Is this really where people want to live?
Has Con Edison been consulted to determine the impact such a large scale project will have on electrical demands? Con Edison has a backlog of substations that must be built to even maintain current demands. The residents and businesses of Astoria lost power for weeks last summer. What impact will this development, combined with the other projects now underway in Flushing and Corona, have on this demand?
The transportation to and from the area is already taxed to the limits. The Port Washington line of the LIRR is one of the heaviest traveled. The 7 Line subway is operating at capacity. Every morning and evening, the area highways and roadways are overflowing with traffic. In its May issue, US News and World Report ranked Queens County as the second worst traffic county in the United States (Attachment D) The EDC wants to bring in 5500 more residential units in addition to all of the purported jobs. This project will only exacerbate the transportation issues now facing Flushing and Corona.
As previously stated, the center piece of this project is a convention center. The EDC claims that it has performed in depth market research to determine the viability of this project and yet has not even had the study completed. On page 3 of the RFP to determine feasibility (released in April 2007, attachment A) the EDC requests the Consultant to determine if the City will have to subsidize the Convention Center. In fact, Convention Centers are traditionally losing propositions for the host City and are loss leaders.
The EDC has claimed it has the answers to all of these questions, but has failed to produce any hard documentation to back it up. To date, most of the market studies rely on conjecture, not fact.
What are developers bidding on?
The EDC is proud of the response it received to its RFP in 2006. There were 5 “strong” proposals submitted by noteworthy developers. However, the details of the RFP were very sketchy. The respondents were basically asked to assume there was no contamination and all utilities were provided. Basically, the Developers were starting with a fresh slate. There has been no disclosure as to any conditions precedent the developers included with their proposals, what tax breaks might be expected or even the exact project that any of the developers proposed. The City has now stated that it will develop a new RFP with the “City Plan”.
If the City Council proceeds with the rezoning prior to selecting a developer, it will loose considerable leverage and control over the final project. Other than the potential legacy Mayor Bloomberg will achieve, there is no reason to race forward with an ill conceived plan that has many unanswered questions.
Take A Stepped Approach (The KISS Theory – Keep It Simple)
The 1991 EDC study (Conducted by Urbitran Associates) recommended a stepped approach to the development of Willets Point. The study concludes that the best way to begin development is with the simplest plan. “The degree of a project’s complexity can affect its likelihood of being implemented. It is therefore desirable to keep the development schemes as simple as possible” “None of the three development schemes (outlined in the study) anticipate direct development on the part of the city.” (Page 58) Quite simply, the study correctly concludes such massive redevelopment has too many special interests at odds with each other to ever be realized. The study concluded that the existing owners were the best to develop the property and only needed the City to supply the basic services and “any business should expect”.
Hunts Point is a perfect example of the changes that can be accomplished when the City works with a community to effect positive change. Through joint efforts to enforce building codes, repave streets and create a desirable environment for businesses, Hunts Point has transformed itself from a derelict area to one of the more prominent business hubs in NYC. Willets Point is no different.
16 years ago, Claire Shulman could have chosen to follow the advice of the experts and install sanitary sewers to help the businesses of Willets Point and begin to change the area. By now, Willets would be a vastly different place. Yet, she refused because she thought she had a grander plan. There was never any more thought given to her plan and today the area still is in desperate need of services. The EDC has not shown it has the answers to many of the current issues in Willets Point. One fact remains, there needs to be sewers installed and the streets need to be paved for the first time in 30 years. It will not be a waste of City dollars to provide these improvements. It will be an investment in the future of the area regardless of the final development.
In its haste to move the redevelopment of Willets Point forward, the City has only completed a very shallow feasibility study and presents this limited data as years of in-depth research. The EDC now looks to the City Council to bless the rezoning of this area without a final development plan, with feasibility studies not yet begun, without selecting a developer and with no knowledge of the final cost. What is the rush?
There are no current plans to relocate any of the area businesses, only the threat of Eminent Domain from the Mayor. The City Council should place limits on the EDC as to when and how eminent domain may be used. It cannot be a strong arm tactic at the EDC’s disposal to remove legitimate businesses unfairly.
We as property owners have waited for over 30 years for the City to help us and provide the basic services any business should expect. Now that the real estate market is hot and the Mayor wants to leave a legacy for himself and a plum for his developer friends, it has become an emergency. We ask that the City Council put the brakes on this train before it runs away from us all. There is no need to push this development until all of the questions are answered and the City Council should demand these answers.
Willets Point Industry and Realty Association