Friday, May 21, 2010

Flushing Merchants Really Turn Out Against Development

The Flushing Times covers last week’s City Planning Commission hearing on the Flushing Commons development-and highlights the turnout of Korean small business owners who are fearful that the project will simply wipe them out: "More than 100 people packed the city Planning Commission’s Manhattan hearing chamber and adjacent rooms last week in order to speak their minds about Flushing Commons, a more than $800 million, mixed-use development project proposed for downtown Flushing...Several Korean merchants and residents, many of whom rode together into Manhattan on a bus from Flushing, were brought to tears during the proceedings, warning that the project and what they describe as its insufficient parking would crush their small businesses. “There are so many places to develop, but this place is already booming. Why did you choose this place to develop?” asked Park Soon, who owns a business near the municipal lot and is concerned about parking but was dry-eyed during his testimony, which was translated from Korean. “We are paying enough taxes. Please don’t destroy our businesses.”

This project has so many deleterious impacts that it is a wonder that its supporters have yet to see just what a danger it poses to, not only down town Flushing and its retailers, but to the already gridlocked surrounding neighborhoods. Make no mistake about it, the developer's traffic study itself predicts that Flushing will have unmitigatible traffic conditions-and that's with a study that underestimates the number of car and truck trips, while predicating needed mitigation on one way Main Street and Union Street changes that have been taken off of the drawing board by DOT.

In the three to five years that the project will ultimately take to be built, the local businesses will essentially be suffocated by the absence of any parking for their businesses-and the alternate sites offered are either full, or are too far away to provide any relief. In the current economic downturn, even a six month period without any customer parking could prove to be fatal. And then there's the EDC underhanded sabotaging of the original parking deal crafted between then Deputy Mayor Doctoroff and John Liu. The deal called for 2,000 parking spaces and an, "in perpetuity," cap on the rates-after all, Muni Lot 1 is a public parking facility.

Now, however, demonstrating that a deal with the city isn't worth the paper it's printed on, parking has been reduced to 1,600 spaces; and rates will rise precipitously shortly after construction is completed. But the 1600 is itself insufficient to accommodate all of the residents from the condos on the drawing board, let alone for the customers of the 250,000 square feet of retail space designed for, "destination retailers"-a woefully inadequate number that will prompt disgruntled shoppers to meander endlessly around downtown in search of parking.

And as far as these so-called national retailers are concerned, the developer hasn't offered a clue as to the potential tenants. And it is our suspicion that national chains will be reluctant to go to this crowded and inaccessible site-owing to the traffic gridlock. If this happens, then the tenanting of the site will be by stores owned by direct competitors of the existing firms-cannibalizing the Flushing businesses and not offering any value added.

EDC has not-as is par for its course-either examined the collateral damages that the project will generate; or offered any real compensation for merchants that will be devastated during the construction phase. And, as far as we know, the agency hasn't negotiated any contractual guarantees that will insure that developer TDC will actually live up to its promises. Minimally, there needs to be an agreement that protects the city from the bait and switch tactics of the real estate giant; one that allows the city to take back the property should the developer fail to live up to the terms.

It goes without saying, though, that should there be national chain stores in the mix, that they should be mandated to pay a living wage. In our view, the city is selling a public use facility for a low balled price-and the development will cause severe hardship to small businesses and the neighborhoods. Given these impacts, if the jobs created are poverty level wage ones, EDC will have added injury to insult to injury.

Flushing Commons is one gigantic mess-and its supporters have been deluded to believe that the economic benefits outweigh the damages. But without any adequate independent review of the traffic, and the absence of an economic impact study, means that supporters are simply operating on blind faith-with the fate of 400 struggling businesses, and an already car choked community hanging in the balance.