In last week's WSJ, the paper covered the city council vote on Flushing Commons and got the following interesting quote from an ebullient Mike Myer: "In Flushing, the council approved rezoning for Flushing Commons. The $850 million project includes 600 residential units, 185,000 square feet of offices, 235,000 square feet of retail space, 1,600 underground parking spots and a 1.5-acre public green space. In 2005, co-developers Rockefeller Group Development Corp. and TDC Development Corp. won the bid to build on the city-owned site, and have worked since on rezoning and a plan to compensate businesses that will be affected by construction. "It was a Herculean effort," said TDC President Michael Meyer before the vote. "We've gone through two real-estate cycles…Starting tomorrow, we'll go out and look for financing."
So, let's get this straight. The developer was awarded this bid and got city council approval without any guarantee that the project is financible in this current economic climate-and what happens in case of a default? Has EDC built into the disposition any fail/safe provisions that will allow the city to reclaim the property should TDC be unable to fulfill its obligations in a timely manner? But perhaps, the city planning to convey the property to the developer without any strings attached?
Now Mr. Myer, as clever and slippery a character as we have seen-full of false bonhomie- was asked repeatedly during the ULURP process about his organization's fiscal capabilities. And, according to those at the various hearings on the land use application, the ever shifty realtor did what he does best-he shucked and ducked. But that was land use-and now we are going to have to determine the procedures for disposing of the muni lot property-and questions of financial viability should be front and center.
In addition, there is the further potential that the developer will have its funding stream collapse in the middle of construction-after the parking structure is demolished-leaving only a Robert Moses style hole in the ground. Is the city protected in case of this eventuality? Even more so, are the Union Street and other Flushing merchants going to be indemnified-not by the city-but by the developer should this kind of parking disaster occur?
And in this regard, there is no provision for a timetable in the EDC agreements with the developer, making the community vulnerable to delays or an outright default that could leave the lot abandoned for needed parking utilization. We believe that the City should have repossession remedies or escrow money to insure timely completion of the project according to agreed plans
And what ever happened to the 17 stipulations that CB #7-and the Queens BP promulgated? Well, one thing we know for sure is that they have been disappeared in the course of the land use review. How do these entities feel about being totally ignored-after being used as "supporters" of Flushing Commons?" And, since they will be central to the borough board process, will they be looking to amend the disposition agreement to incorporate some of the stips that were agreed to?
Then there's the question of the acquisition cost-and the issue of what role IDA will be playing in subsidizing this project. Will EDC insist on a specific time table with penalties inhering to the inability of the developer to meet agreed upon goals/ Will the Borough Board want to craft its own time tables for the developer? And will the Board insist that the project be downscaled if the funding sources prove inadequate to achieving the developer's vision?
One final point, one that is a bit tangential to the disposition issue. In the ULURP process Flushing Coalition-along with the Straphangers Campaign-made a credible case the the assumptions of the developer that half of the folks from its project would be diverted to mass transit, were simply untenable because the system is currently over capacity. Can the Borough Board concern itself with the issue of mass transit overcapacity? And could it also seek from the EDC/developer an indemnification for the mass transit improvements that its project will necessitate?
We know that this is often the case in Manhattan-as the amenities provision of the Trump/Board of Estimate approval for its development on the West Side makes abundantly clear: “In 1982, the NYC Board of Estimate approved a plan for 7.3 million square feet of development - including 4,300 apartments on the old Penn Yards site (59th-72nd Street, Hudson River to West End Avenue). “In return for the approval of the new zoning, the developer was obligated to pay $100 million in amenity commitments to the city - which included $31 million for the 72nd Street subway and $2 million for the 66th Street subway, it was tied to the cost of inflation. The money was to be given before the project started."
If, as TDC claims, its project will divert thousands of daily riders to the 7 Line and local bus routes, shouldn't it be made responsible for assuring that these alternatives can accommodate the excess ridership-just as Donald Trump was forced to do as a condition of the approval of his massive West Side development. Too often in this city, developers are allowed to make huge profits while, at the same time, forcing the community to incur millions of dollars in economic and social costs that, but for the development in question, it would not have been forced to absorb.
Such is the case with Flushing Commons-and this underscores further our argument that collateral benefits have been allowed to drown out the even greater collateral costs of this massive Flushing project. So, the issue of Flushing Commons is, in our view, far from resolved. At the city council meeting last week, the hale fellow Myer came up to us and sarcastically let us know that, "I liked what you wrote about me."
Myer should take heed of the wise admonition that former St. John's basketball coach Lou Carneseca used to tell his ballplayers when they got overly enthusiastic from winning one game: "Remember fellas, peacock today, feather duster tomorrow."