The Next Neighborhood

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The New York Sun

Yesterday, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the redevelopment of Willets Point, Queens. At such a critical time for our city, one project that will help keep our economy moving is the development of New York City’s next great neighborhood — Willets Point. By September 24, the City Planning Commission will make their recommendation as to whether or not to proceed with the redevelopment plan.

In decades past, the boroughs outside of Manhattan have been hit hardest during times of fiscal crisis. But now, thanks to many years of hard work, Queens stands ready to serve as a catalyst for job growth and urban renewal not just for our borough but also for all of New York.

Willets Point is at the heart of many of the best destinations in Queens — Shea Stadium, the U.S. National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and a number of cultural institutions and recreational facilities. Unfortunately, Willets Point currently is a blighted and environmentally contaminated eyesore that is stifling the growth of Corona and downtown Flushing, vibrant communities that are otherwise thriving.

The close proximity of Willets Point to New York City’s airports and its accessibility to mass transit make it one of the most underutilized areas in the region. Redevelopment of the area will unlock this vast potential, providing an opportunity to revitalize this section of Northern Queens and create a thriving center of commerce that will serve as an economic engine for years to come.

The development project will support 18,000 construction jobs and create more than 5,300 permanent jobs. A redeveloped Willets Point is projected to generate $25 billion in economic activity over the next 30 years. In addition, more than 5,500 units of housing will be created — many of which will be affordable. A new hotel and convention center also will be built that will make Queens a destination for major business events.

In addition to the economic benefit, the development of Willets Point represents an unprecedented opportunity to clean up one of the most polluted areas of the city and create an environmentally sustainable neighborhood in its place. The contamination of the area, which was used for much of the 20th century as a coal ash dump, has increased through the years due to illegal dumping and poor housekeeping — with contaminants such as motor oil, antifreeze, and transmission fluid leaking into the ground water and Flushing River. Redevelopment will turn this polluted area into New York City’s first green neighborhood, creating an open space connection to Flushing Bay and improving air quality.

The environmental impact of cleaning up Willets Point is about more than buzzwords — it’s about people’s quality of life in the nearby area. Cleaning up the site will link the neighborhoods of Corona and Downtown Flushing to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The project will create open space, parks, trees, and a new bicycle and pedestrian connection to a revitalized Flushing Waterfront. The plan also calls for community space, new playgrounds, as well as a school. This will be a model neighborhood that Queens and New York City will be proud of.

To address some of the concerns raised about the project, I am working with the city to ensure that the Economic Development Corporation deals with the current property owners equitably and that every means of negotiation is exhausted before the use of eminent domain is considered. Already, EDC has reached agreements with four businesses on the site. The city also has retained LaGuardia Community College to develop a $2.5 million Workforce Training and Assistance Program to benefit any impacted employees.

While there is no doubt that the existing businesses and people who work there provide valuable services and goods, these activities are no longer compatible or appropriate for the progress of the communities and institutions that have grown around Willets Point. By helping to relocate businesses, and offering training to displaced workers, we can protect the interests of the existing businesses without sacrificing a project that benefits so many and is vital to our future.

During times of economic uncertainty, it is critical that we exhibit bold and decisive leadership. The benefits of this development are simply too great to sit on and do nothing about it. That is why I call on our leaders in Queens and throughout New York City to join me in supporting the redevelopment of Willets Point and the creation of our next great neighborhood.

Ms. Shulman is the president of the Flushing, Willets Point, Corona Local Development Corporation.

The New York Sun

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