Hunter’s Point South. The Jamaica transit hub. Willet’s Point. Queens Plaza.
Those are just a few of the city’s 21 capital projects in the borough. In the coming years, Queens is slated for new skyscrapers, parkland and a conference center. Tens of thousands of apartments and offices are to be created. Buildings will be demolished to make way for new facilities. Intersections are being redesigned.
Some of the development projects have been applauded; others have sparked concern among residents and small business owners who fear massive construction jeopardizes their way of life.
The developments are all being overseen by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the agency tasked with fueling economic growth and improving quality of life. This week, EDC President Seth Pinsky visited the borough to provide an update on the city’s efforts.
“We want to make sure that the city remains the economic capital of the twenty-first century,” Pinsky said. “It’s very important for the future of the city that we are not just focused on developing Manhattan.” He added that the EDC’s goal is to encourage entrepeneurship and provide infrastructural advancements that will help businesses succeed.
Pinsky’s press tour began in Jamaica, where the city is sinking $100 million into projects in and around one of Queens’ largest mass transit hubs. The goal is to make the area around the subway, Air Train and Long Island Rail Road stations safer and more pedestrian friendly, and to better connect the various modes of transport.
An underpass through which travelers must walk to get from the subway to the Air Train will gain 5,000 square feet of retail space by the end of 2010, and the intersection of Sutphin Boulevard and Archer Avenue, which Pinsky described as one of the most dangerous crossings in Queens, is slated to be remade. The city is seeking to acquire nine properties clustered around “Station Plaza,” as the intersection is dubbed, with the intention of demolishing the buildings to make way for public open space.
A bus layover lane will also be put in, and subway entrances will be redone. EDC predicts the project, which is set to begin in 2011, will ease congestion and make the area pleasanter and easier for pedestrians to navigate.
Also in downtown Jamaica, the EDC spearheaded a $190 million renovation of the former Queens Family Courthouse. The original facade will be retained, but the building is being reworked to make space for about 350 apartments and 50,000 square feet of retail space. A supermarket will move in, and Pinsky said the Queens Library may also open a branch there.
Farther north in Queens, Flushing is apt to see major changes in a few years. The city hopes to create new stores and apartments where the municipal parking lot is located. The $800 million Flushing Commons project, which would include 38,000 square feet of commercial space, 500 apartments, 1,600 parking spaces, a YMCA and an acre and a half of open space, will go through the city’s approval process next year.
Moving west, the EDC is touting its upcoming development at Willet’s Point as a necessary improvement, despite the controversy the project has spawned. The plan is to do away with the scrap yards and industrial sites which populate the 62-acre site and replace them with office space, 5,500 units of housing, a hotel and convention center, a school and various parks and playgrounds.
The project has attracted intense criticism, in part because the city may use eminent domain to acquire properties which owners are unwilling to sell.
EDC recently put out a request for qualifications and received responses from 29 companies interested in undertaking the development. A company will likely be chosen next year, and the city plans to begin running electrical and sewer lines to the area in 2011.
Long Island City is EDC’s final big target neighborhood. The 30-acre Hunter’s Point South development, which will include 5,000 units of housing, plus shops, a school and an 11-acre waterfront park, is getting underway at the southern tip of L.I.C. Farther north, a former parking garage on Jackson Avenue is being converted to a set of office towers, each 20 to 30 stories tall. And Queens Plaza, the jumble of streets at the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge, will be reworked to include a more easily navigable roadway, as well as a bike path and park.
Smaller streetscaping projects are also underway in the area. Trees are being planted in the median on Jackson Avenue, and various small green spaces have recently been completed near the Citigroup building.
Pinsky says the EDC operates under the notion that residential development is the first step to growth in a community.
“Retail will follow residences,” he said, adding that the new Queens West apartment buildings are paving the way for more stores and offices in L.I.C.
Some residents deem it imprudent for the city to spend millions on development while tightening budgets elsewhere to make ends meet. Pinsky doesn’t see it that way, though.
“The best time to be making investments is really during a downturn,” he said, explaining that once the economy recovers and people are interested in new projects, the infrastructure should be there to support the initiatives.
He added that Queens is well positioned for success. “The diversity of the workforce here is unrivaled, probably anywhere in the world,” Pinsky said. “Queens has the potential to be the center of the future economy that we think will define New York.”