Officials broke ground for the first time yesterday, Dec. 1, on the controversial Willets Point redevelopment project, in which the city is buying up the land of private businesses in an area it never provided with the normal infrastructure the rest of New York enjoys, like sidewalks and sewers, so it can be turned over to a developer and become home to new housing, stores and a convention center.
The $3 billion redevelopment plan is Mayor Bloomberg's signature proposal for Queens, and has been on the table for years. It is opposed by many businesses in the area, who contend that seizing their properties and turning them over to another private business is illegal, though the practice was given the green light by the U.S. Supreme Court several years ago, in a case that originated in Connecticut.
Yesterday the mayor and other public officials broke ground for a $50 million sewer project that will be the first step in finally bringing 20th century infrastructure to the area, also known as the Iron Triangle. The officials touted the project as necessary for the creation of thousands of jobs at the site.
“This major investment in infrastructure will create jobs, catalyze private sector investment, and lay the groundwork for New York City’s next great neighborhood,” Bloomberg said. “These investments mark the first physical steps – after years of planning and working together with local leaders – in reimagining Willets Point as a vibrant commercial and residential community.”
Seth Pinsky, president of the city's Economic Development Corporation, elaborated on the mayor's comments.
“The offsite infrastructure work at Willets Point is a critical component of the Bloomberg Administration’s ambitious plan to turn this neighborhood from a contaminated area lacking in basic infrastructure into a model, mixed-use community,” Pinsky said. “With this step, we are yet another step closer to turning this plan into reality – a dream shared by city leaders and residents for decades. By cleaning the environment and creating jobs, services and housing for the people of Queens, this project represents a real win for everyone.”
But Willets Point United, the group of business owners and other stakeholders opposed to the project, blasted the city in statements issued by members Friday, saying that the optimism voiced by officials at the groundbreaking was premature.
“The city is trying to create an impression of a fait accompli when there are serious legal and financial issues unresolved,” said Joe Ardizzone, 78, the lone resident of Willets Point.
Jerry Antonacci, whose family has run a carting company in the Iron Triangle for 35 years, said it is not the business owners' fault that the area lacks basic infrastructure, despite their having paid taxes all along.
"It's gotta be over a million dollars over 30 years in taxes, and what do we get for it?" Antonacci said. "We're getting kicked out. I mean, we didn't get no streets, we didn't get no sewers, we didn't get no sidewalks, no street signs, no stop signs, no snow plowing, nothing."
Opponents, who say the project epitomizes the mayor's favoritism of big business interests over the common man, especially in Queens, also contend that the traffic that will be drawn by the new community envisioned by the city will utterly overwhelm the area's streets and highways.
The 62-acre Iron Triangle is bounded by 126th Street, Roosevelt Avenue, Northern Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway. Since some of the businesses do not want to leave, the city may use eminent domain proceedings to get them out, as the Supreme Court determined is legal, by a 5-4 vote, in its 2005 decision on Kelo v. City of New London.
The Willets Point redevelopment is scheduled to be carried out in three phases. Phase 1 involves 20 acres across from Citi Field on 126th Street and calls for building 5,500 apartments, retail space and a hotel, leaving two acres of open space. A developer has not yet been selected.
The entire project is expected to take 10 years at least to complete.