Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Flushing New York

The old question that used to be asked was, "What's harder, Wheeling, West Virginia, or Flushing New York?" Given the efforts of EDC on the Flushing Commons project, however, the question finally has a clear cut answer. That's because, if EDC has its way-and the city council allows the project to go forward as is-than the city will be flushing the essence of that historic community, and its immigrant small business entrepreneurs, right down the drain.

Two weeks ago, the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development held a press conference with Tony Avella, Good Jobs New York, the Small Business Congress, and Redo-a coalition itself of local civic organizations. Watch this U-Tube video for a full flavor of the diversity represented in the opposition; an indication that the level of political support for the project-beginning with Council member Peter Koo-is inversely proportional to the community opposition. And with good reason.

The more we examine the hastily prepared EIS, the more we find out how slipshod and inaccurate the document is-and nothing more underscores its inadequacy than the fact that the EDC consultants couldn't even accurately count the number of threatened small businesses in the area. As Brian Paul, Research & Policy Fellow for the Hunter College Center for Community Planning & Development told us in his first day at at Flushing us: "am writing you from the 7 train so we have not computed the full; data yet, but I thought you would like to know that we found 436 businesses surveying just 6 blocks near the center of Downtown. This number includes service providers like doctors offices, lawyers, driving schools, accountants etc. because EDC included such neighborhood services' and 'medical offices' in their count as well. Full breakdown of categories will come after the data is imputed into Excel but needless to say this is an exciting result because it suggests that EDC's figure of 970 local businesses in the area is a massive undercount."

As indeed it was, since the final count was way over 2,000 impacted businesses-leading us to observe that, if the consultants couldn't even count the local businesses with any degree of near accuracy, what else did they get wrong? That gets us to the "analysis" of the impact of the Flushing Commons mall.

As Paul indicates: "EDC's quantitative analysis of the local economy--required by the CEQR to determine "no adverse impact" to existing businesses--is based on a 3-mile radial area rather than the Downtown Flushing core because they believe that the proposed retail at Flushing Commons will compete only with other regional chain retail centers. The EDC presents no evidence whatsoever to support this assumption. The shopping centers at Rego Park and College Point already have all of the chain stores that will likely locate at Flushing Commons, in higher concentrations and with easier automobile access to the majority of Queens households who drive. If regional consumers are seeking chain retail or big box shopping, better choices than the proposed project already exist. The reality is that new chain retail at Flushing Commons will compete primarily with existing small businesses within Downtown Flushing. The EDC correctly invalidates its own argument based on the “3 mile primary trade area” when it asserts in the EIS that “the proposed project would draw a large portion of its repeat business from residents who live within the smaller, approximately ½ mile study area as a result of more convenient access” (3-17)."

Assuming that this mall will only compete against other malls in the area, is reminiscent of the EDC supposition in all of its projects that the national chain stores won't hurt the local shops because they will only be capturing the efflux of shoppers to the burbs-ignoring the more likely scenario that those leaving will continue to do so, for a variety of reasons, making the local mall a zero-sum game with small neighborhood stores.

And this doesn't even include the reconstructed "New World Mall" at the site of the old Caldor's on Main Street-with 165,000 square feet of retail and an additional 500 car trips at peak hours that the EIS has totally ignored. Brian Paul again weighs in: "It is also notable that while the EIS attempts to account for the impact of the developing SkyView Parc complex on College Point Boulevard, no mention is made of the in-progress conversion of the old Caldor site into a three-story mall with national retailers. This is yet another example of the inadequacy of EDC’s analysis of the Downtown Flushing business community."

What we are left with, after all of the EDC spinning is eliminated, is the harsh reality that, once again, the city's legacy projects are unhealthy for the prosperity and the survival of neighborhood business. All of this underscores just how much the Bloombergistas undervalue the economic contribution of small firms-something we have constantly harped on in our references to the work of Stacy Mitchell.

We'll give Brian Paul the last word on this issue: "NYC's small business community has been devastated by Bloomberg--EDC's policy of subsidizing the entry of national chain retail into our neighborhoods through developments like Flushing Commons. Commercial evictions are at an all-time high and since Bloomberg took office, more than 150,000 small businesses have been forced to go out of business (see )"