With one major mixed-use building project underway in Flushing and another to start next year, developer Michael Meyer sees more than bricks and mortar. He envisions major improvements that will allow the city to provide needed services to the community.
Meyer, president of TDC Development, sat in his 12th floor office overlooking Municipal Parking Lot 1 that will become his firm’s Flushing Commons project next year, and discussed future plans with the Queens Chronicle last week.
TDC Development is part of the F & T Group, founded by Michael Lee and Sunny Chiu, who moved here from Taiwan in the 1980s and have been instrumental in changing the downtown landscape of Flushing. The company occupies the entire 12th floor of Queens Crossing, a building the firm constructed four years ago on Main Street and 138th Street.
Meyer is now overseeing One Fulton Square, a mixed-use project that will add another hotel to the downtown area, and Flushing Commons, the $850 million plan to replace the muni lot with 620 condos, retail and commercial space, a YMCA, a public green and 1,600 underground parking spaces.
Construction is already underway for the $125 million One Fulton Square that will have three entrances: one on Prince Street, one on 39th Avenue and one on Roosevelt Avenue. There will be two main towers, one a nine-story Hyatt Place hotel with 168 rooms and shops, and the other a 12-story building that will have 43 furnished condos, shops and underground parking for 299 cars.
The project is expected to take three years to complete and is being built on the site of a former parking lot owned by TDC.
Start-up on Flushing Commons is more problematic. Although the city gave TDC the go-ahead last July to redevelop the parking lot site, Meyer said the firm is looking to have all the necessary financing in place first. “The market is weak now,” he said. “We are focusing on bringing capital from China.”
He hopes work can begin in a year. About six months to a year after that, TDC will raze its Flushing Mall on 39th Avenue to make way for interim parking during construction of Flushing Commons. The developer said it’s too early to know how the mall site will be used following completion of Flushing Commons.
TDC was also one of two finalists in the city’s plan to redevelop the 60-acre Willets Point area several years ago, but now the city is dividing the project into three phases and is again seeking requests for proposals from developers, which are due in August.
“It’s not fair,” Meyer said. “We spent $500,000 on the first proposal, but we have to start again.”
However, since his firm is so familiar with the site, Meyer believes TDC is ready for the challenge. “There may be a lot of interest and submissions, but I question whether there’ll be many teams capable of pulling off such a challenging large-scale project with a plan that can be truly feasible in the marketplace,” he said.
The developer understands the city’s lack of speed in proceeding with the controversial project, with some Willets Point business owners opposing the use of eminent domain. “It’s understandable why it’s taking so long with the environmental remediation, not having full control of the land, huge infrastructure costs and a collapsed real estate market,” Meyer said. “The city is in a tough situation.”
Despite possible lawsuits by those opposing the project, Meyer believes the project will move ahead. “It will ultimately be done,” he said. “Look how long it took to get the Flushing Commons project approved — six years.”
The developer acknowledged that Willets Point is a more difficult site. “The city will prevail, but it will take time and money,” Meyer said.
He noted the city has announced that it will begin infrastructure improvements after the baseball season is over. Phase 1 of the project is located off 126th Street, across from Citi Field.
A developer for Willets Point will be selected in early 2012 and by 2013 the city expects to have approval for site work and for construction to begin in 2014.
Meyer believes Willets Point is valuable land and that there are more beneficial uses for the community than what is located there now, which is primarily car parts stores and junkyards. “It’s part of the evolution of cities,” he said. “It’s how cities grow.”
Projects like Willets Point and Flushing Commons “are major improvements to the area,” Meyer said. “They increase land values and bring in taxes for the city to provide services.”
He said such developments act as economic catalysts by increasing jobs and creating wealth.
Meyer added that Flushing is tied to the global economy. “In the past, we didn’t have to worry about the economy. But today we have to compete. The city can’t slip behind,” he said.
Meyer has headed TDC for almost six years and lives in Westchester, but that may change when Flushing Commons is completed. “The condos are going to be so beautiful, I’m thinking of moving there,” he said.