Thursday, May 18, 2006

Willets Point Showdown

In yesterday's NY Times, old friend Terry Pristin focused on the controversial plans to redevelop Willets Point. As we have said in the past we believe that this will be a major battleground over the use of eminent domain. The city's position is that the Point is the ideal area to use ED. Deputy Dan told the Times, "In some ways, this is the most compelling case for eminent domain...It has nothing to do with uses. It has to do with intolerable conditions."

Clearly, however, the local businesses disagree and have hired Peter Vallone to defend their interests. Just how the former speaker is going to do this remains a mystery to us. Peter is the consummate deal maker and is no street fighter. In addition, his perceived closeness to the mayor doesn't seem to be the kind of weapon that would be suitable to the stand and fight crowd.

Nevertheless the city has issued its RFP and has given eight firms the right to respond. Most of the heavy hitters are involved and the city sees the area as ripe for a hotel and convention center as well as major retailers. Housing is considered optional but area officials like Councilman Monseratte are going to insist on an affordable housing component.

The real controversy will revolve over what to do about the existing businesses. As the recently release Hunter College report done by Professor Tom Angotti underscores, "these businesses form a cluster that would be hard to duplicate elsewhere." Where have we heard this argument before? The BTM merchants made the same case but it fell on deaf ears.

What's different at the Point is the sheer volume of existing business and the aggressive leadership of Monseratte. The city and EDC would be wise to consult here and not try to dictate. Knowing the councilman as well as we do we're sure that he is going to insist on a balance of equities. This is particularly true since the Angotti study estimates that roughly 80% of the work force is Hispanic.

Willets Point should provide for the proper opportunity to debate the issue of ED and the resolution of the controversy should be done in the context of crafting a more nuanced ED policy. What this means is that a balance needs to be reached, one that acknowledges and preserves much of the neighborhood economy while looking forward to developing new economic opportunities as well.