Thursday, December 16, 2010

Deconstructing Willets Point

As we have been suggesting, the city's fiscal crisis-along with planned layoffs-should mean that pie in the sky legacy projects can, and should, be shelved until perhaps the 12th of Never. The NY Daily News has the bad news: "That new school, playground or bridge that was planned for your neighborhood may now be doomed. Mayor Bloomberg's budget boss shredded the city's 10-year construction plan yesterday, ordering a 20% reduction in planned spending. It's not clear which projects will get the ax, but budget director Mark Page asked the heads of city departments to identify work that can be postponed or canceled because of the dire economy."

Which brings us, of course, to Willets Point-and we're told that the city council's economic development committee may just take this up soon after the New Year. Given the difficulties that EDC has confronted over the feasability of building ramps off of the Van Wyck-the linchpin of the project's viability-it would make sense to put the entire thing on the back burner, to be taken up again when the city's finances improve.

After all, as Professor Tom Angotti has pointed out, "Here come the marshals again! After evicting 23 businesses in the Bronx Terminal Market to make way for a development deal with the Related Company, City Hall now wants to get rid of ten times that number in a Queens district. The city plans to use its power of eminent domain to foster what it calls economic development in the area around Willets Point. But it could instead mean economic disaster to the long-established business community that would be broken up and scattered. And while it proposes a multi-billion dollar project that would make Willets Point a “regional destination,” possibly with a hotel, convention center and retail space, the city’s planners appear to have little appreciation for businesses that already draw customers from all over the region."

And, at a time when the city needs revenue, Willets Point is still an economic engine-as well as employer for hundreds of immigrant workers: "While the Economic Development Corporation claims there are 80 businesses in this 48-acre area, a recent survey I conducted through the Hunter College Center for Community Planning & Development instead found 225 businesses that provide an estimated 1,300 jobs."

Prudence should dictate caution at Willets Point-and such caution may help the city avoid untoward behavior to state transportation officials who have viewed the city's ramp plans with a degree of skepticism. In its zeal to put the mayor's legacy stamp on Willets Point, commissioners and consultants alike are ignoring the flashing yellow warning signs-like the ones that Juan Gonzales and Comptroller John Liu issued for City Time.

It's time to give Mike Bloomberg a Time Out!