Monday, July 26, 2010

Hundreds Turn Out in the Heat to Protest Flushing Commons

Hundreds of local small business owners and residents turned out in the 100+ heat on Saturday to voice their opposition to the Flushing Commons development. Keynoted by former council member and state senate candidate Tony Avella-and ably organized by Jo-Ann Yoo of AAFE-the rally featured an appearance by Yonhgwa Ha, president of the Korean-American Association of Greater New York. Speaker after speaker drove home the point that the development, as presently configured, poses a clear and present danger to the thousands of Asian-owned small businesses in downtown Flushing.

As usual, SJ Jung of the Minkwon Center energized the crowd with his exhortations about how the muni lot belongs to the people-and how the Korean shop keepers and revitalized Flushing when it threatened to be turned into a ghost town 25 years ago-a point that was reiterated by a representative of the Mitchel-Linden Civic Association. The Coalition's two leaders, Ikwan Rim and Jim Gerson, blasted the project for its fatal flaws in regards to traffic, parking, and adverse economic impact.

NY1 has a good story on Saturday's rally: "Nearly a hundred small business owners marched on downtown Flushing's largest municipal parking lot Sunday. A proposal to sell the land to a private developer could be approved by the City Council in a few days. The plan is to transform the lot into an $850 million mixed-use development with residential and retail space. But merchants say losing the parking spaces will cripple their businesses."

As the Flushing Commons project goes down to the land use wire at the city council, it is believed that Council member Margaret Chin has been designated to help negotiate a compromise that will help to preserve the vital small business niche-particularly the 200+ stores on Union Street, directly opposite to the site. As usual, the ULURP clock is not hospitable to the kind of negotiations that, if EDC were doing a proper due diligence, should have taken place prior to the project's certification.

Still, there has been a great deal of behind the sc enes negotiations over the size, scope, and composition of the project-underscoring just how successful the Flushing Coalition has been at dramatizing the flaws in the development. So, while NY1 reports that, "Sources say the proposal will likely pass with an overwhelming margin," the exact nature of what the council will be voting on this week remains unclear.
But what is clear is that the turnout on Saturday underscores the depth of local concern. The Queens Chronicle captured some of this last week:"Jim Gerson, who owns a building in the affected area, spoke as a member of the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development. Many in the group are Korean merchants with businesses along Union Street. Gerson thinks the project “will devastate our community, create unmitigated gridlock” and cause businesses to fail. One of those shops is owned by Ikwan Rim, a jeweler. He believes new parking the city will provide is at least a 20-minute walk and will discourage shoppers from doing business along Union Street. Rim noted there are 300 small businesses in the area and fears for his and their survival. Gerson criticized the planned parking, saying 2,000 spaces should be included, and believes the plan should have less retail and commercial space and less density."

Offering a contrarian point of view to the Chronicle was one Terence Park, an erstwhile candidate for public office who is running for district leader from the 22 AD, part b. Park, whose website claims that he, "knows Flushing, its people, its infinite variety—the work we need to do to strengthen and polish our community," told the paper: "90 percent of Koreans favor the Flushing Commons development. “Store owners on Union Street are looking after their interest,” Park said. “We are working with them.”

It will be interesting to see how well Mr. Park does with attracting that 90% he claims supports Flushing Commons-and we will soon see how well he really knows Flushing. But it is now up to the Council, as the final vote approaches, to try to make a silk's purse facsimile out of the Flushing Commons sow's ear. There are, however so many problems with the development, that the council's task may be insurmountable. We'll soon see.