The Industrial Development Agency, a branch of the Economic Development Corp., approved a proposal Tuesday that will grant Willets Point developers $43 million in tax breaks to raze the “Valley of Ashes” and put a mega-mall and more in its place.
The $3 billion project, spearheaded by the Queens Development Group, recently bought the 23-acre site near Flushing Meadows Corona Park from the city for a dollar.
The purchase was supposed to guarantee that taxpayers wouldn’t feel the brunt of the costs but with the recent allocation of tax breaks, there are fears that the burden will fall on Queens residents to pay.
New York City Comptroller and Flushing resident John Liu is not impressed with the developer’s proposal and was in the minority when he voted against the tax breaks.
Liu is one of 15 members of the IDA; nine of the members are appointed by Mayor Bloomberg and each borough president appoints one representative.
“The EDC’s projected benefits of new jobs and tax benefits from the Willets Point retail development seem to ignore the negative impact on jobs and tax revenue from the surrounding retail areas in downtown Flushing and Corona, and the 20th Avenue retail complex in College Point,” Liu told the Chronicle during an interview Monday at the newspaper’s office.
Since the beginning, developers have claimed the project is expected to create thousands of new jobs and affordable housing.
Liu said he worries that a possible bait and switch may happen and that instead of stimulating economic growth in the Flushing area, the mega-complex will only cause more competition for existing businesses that will not have the resources to keep up with the big chain stores expected to be in the mall.
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who has spent many hours negotiating with developers, still stands by the plan.
“While I remain confident that this development, as a whole, will greatly enhance the quality of life for my constituents, I will respect whatever decision the IDA deems appropriate for this application,” she said in a written statement.
Ferreras has no say in the decision made by the IDA.
This is not the first time the plan has come under fire since the City Council approved it several weeks ago.
Recently, business owners complained that they weren’t being given enough time and resources to relocate their auto body shops.
The developers claim that the expected monetary gain from the project — estimated at $211 million over a 25-year period — will greatly outweigh the amount the IDA will give them in tax breaks, but Liu said that is beside the point.
“We are also concerned that huge tax breaks are being doled out for retail development when plans for affordable housing, the linchpin of what was supposed to be a great new neighborhood, have been shoved to the back burner,” he said. “Furthermore, the EDC defends these tax breaks and other subsidies as producing a net gain, using calculations that do not account for the hundreds of millions city taxpayers have spent on purchasing the land, building a sewer system under it, and access ramps to get to it. In fact, when the real math is done, it’s clear the costs outweigh the benefits, leaving taxpayers empty-handed and in the red.”