In today's NY Times the paper takes a look at some of the unique businesses located on the Willets Point site that the city has slated for an eminent domain-drive redevelopment. In some ways, the article creates an impression of a bunch of fly-by-night businesses whose disappearance would create few tears for anyone. Clearly, this is not an accurate picture of the level of economic activity-some of it quite unique-that goes on in this area.
As we have pointed out, and as Tom Angotti's study underscores, there are 225 different businesses at the Point employing around 2,000 workers. A high percentage of the firms are owned by immigrant entrepreneurs, and they in turn service the immigrant communities of Queens. In addition, the area has been pointedly neglected by the city government, to the extent that the businesses would be justified to sue for theft of services-given the fact that the "blight" that is clearly evident is directly attributable to the failure of the city to maintain the neighborhood.
What Willets Point represents, much as the Bronx Terminal Market did, is the vibrancy of minority entrepreneurs. It's too bad that the mayor, who so often praises the contribution of immigrants to New York, can't walk the walk when it comes to immigrant businesses. Instead, he is quick to give them the hook when he friends in the real estate community come salivating.
The fact remains that the displacement of all of these workers and businesses will not be compensated by the building of a retail mall, luxury housing and a hotel-all in an area where transportation infrastructure is weak (so much for congestion pricing). What's fascinating here is that the Bloombergistas want to ULURP the area before there is a developer selected, which if done, would mean that the City Council would be handing the mayor a carte blanche ticket to ride that would denude the body of its Charter-driven oversight role. It will be fascinating to see how this eminent domain battle will play out as the council term winds down.