Friday, July 30, 2010

Flushing as Poland: Party Like It's 1939

The full city council voted to approve the Flushing Commons project yesterday, with Gail Brewer and Brad Lander in the negative because of the project's lack of any affordable housing. The NY Times has the story: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg won a victory for his development agenda on Thursday when the City Council approved a plan to build hundreds of apartments and thousands of square feet of office and retail space in the heart of Flushing, Queens, one of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods...The Queens project, called Flushing Commons, faced hardly any questions from council members, in large part because the councilman who represents the area supported the plan."

And therein lies the real story of Flushing Commons-the existence of a Quisling leader in the heart of  the community. As we have said numerous times, we have waited thirty years to see a small business owner elected to the city council, only to have someone get elected who was unwilling to stand for the community that he comes from; and owes his success in this country to. The sad irony is further compounded by the fact that the member in question was such a willing front for a large retail and mixed use project that will do considerable damage to the small business owners who have brought Flushing back from its economic devastation of the 1970s.

Making matters even worse, is the fact that it was left to others on the council to try to pry some additional compensation funds out of the cold dead hands of the Bloombergistas-while, at the same time the member was trying to posture to the press that it was he who was standing up for the small business interests. As he said straight-faced to the NY Daily News yesterday: "Koo, who owns a pharmacy in downtown Flushing, said he walked out on negotiations with the city at one point on Monday when officials would not budge from the original $2 million pricetag for the assistance program. "I'm a small businessman," he said at yesterday's hearing. "I will not do anything to hurt small businesses in the area."

This is breathtaking in its dishonesty-and comes from an elected representative who refused to meet with the store owners for the past three months; and walked out of the land use hearing before opponents of the project had a chance to speak their piece. And his concerns aren't sitting well with those he purports to heart with great feeling. As the Times points out: "But Flushing’s Korean merchants, who opposed the project as a threat to their survival because of its scope and the disruption that construction would cause, condemned the vote. The project would include about 600 apartments, 420,000 square feet of commercial space, a hotel and a Y on a site where a municipal parking lot has stood for decades. The lot occupies five acres and is surrounded primarily by small businesses owned by Koreans, who, along with Chinese immigrants, rescued the neighborhood’s commercial center after the city’s financial crisis in the 1970s. The Korean business owners fear that the temporary loss of parking will lead many of their customers to shop elsewhere. “We are collateral damage to the mayor’s big development,” said Ikhwan Rim, co-president of the Union Street Small Business Association, which counts among its members most of the merchants around the site."

The anger is so intense that merchants don't want the member involved in the assistance discussion: "The Bloomberg administration has set aside $2.25 million to assist business owners affected by construction. The total was increased by $250,000 after a Council subcommittee delayed its vote on the proposal on Tuesday, hinting that some members were inclined to reject it. The money will pay for a marketing campaign to promote the business district and a program that would offer free or discounted parking to people who shop there. The city says it has also arranged for parking to replace spaces lost to construction. Some of the replacement spaces are close by, and others are about a 10-minute walk away."

Symbolizing the sell out-and adding the greatest insult to injury-was the Molotov-Ribbentrop style meeting that was held last night in Flushing-reminiscent of the 1939 deal between Germany and the Soviet Union to carve up Poland: "Mr. Koo and Mr. Bloomberg met Thursday night for a celebratory dinner at Ah Ree Soo, a Korean restaurant on Flushing’s Main Street. The gathering underscores the importance of the project, which the mayor characterized as “a major milestone in our efforts to position Flushing for long-term economic growth.”

Just as the German pursuit of lebensraum was in the best interests of Poland and Czechoslovakia. And as far as the long term growth of Flushing is concerned, the Flushing Commons project will position the real economic engine of the community-its vibrant Asian local business-for its demise; as the local road and transit infrastructure is challenged beyond its capacity: "Still, questions remain about the impact that Flushing Commons and a similar development proposed for Willets Point would have on the No. 7 subway line, which is stretched to near capacity during peak hours. There are no plans for improvements on the Queens end of the line, and there likely will be none for a while."

Since we've been dealing with sad ironies, we'll give the Quisling the last word: "The local councilman, Peter Koo, a Chinese immigrant who owns six drugstores in the area, said the goal was to “protect local merchants, who are so important to the community.”