The city’s newly announced plans for Willets Point are an outrage — and should be seen as such by every City Council member who voted in favor of the plan that was originally proposed, and by all New York City taxpayers who are being stuck with the bill for what will forever be known as Bloomberg’s Folly.
What’s wrong with the plan?
• It gives Willets Point property to the developers, free of charge — property which $410 million taxpayer dollars have been budgeted to acquire, and which is actually worth hundreds of millions of dollars. This giveaway to developers is contrary to what the City Council was told during 2008.
• It purports to delay the affordable housing component of the development until 2025, with a penalty imposed if the housing is not built — however, other developers have completely evaded similar penalties in the past. Thus, the present proposal amounts only to building a gigantic, 1,000,000-square-foot mall.
• It aggrandizes the owners of the New York Mets, who schemed for 20 years to get the property adjacent to their stadium for development.
• The award of development rights to Sterling Equities and Related is based upon a 2011 request for proposals that conveniently omitted the required “living wage” for retail and other workers — a provision labor unions promoted in 2008 as both “historic” and essential to unions’ support for the project, and which then-Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber promised, in writing, to include in the RFP. As concerns the overstated claim that a Willets Point project will result in good jobs for Queens residents, just recall that the $36 million contract for Willets Point sewers was awarded to a firm in Holmdel, NJ.
• Per the text of a June 27, 2008 letter from Lieber to Queens Community Board 7, the board was to “participate in developer selection.” However, to the best of our knowledge and contrary to the written promise, CB7 did not participate.
• The project expands the scope of development by including the mall on the site of the Citi Field parking lot — without any environmental analysis of how surrounding roadways and traffic would be impacted.
• It relies on the threat of eminent domain to coerce owners to relinquish their properties— precisely the use of eminent domain which the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation to punish and curtail, and which 44 states other than New York already prohibit.
• There has never been any disclosure of the actual costs to taxpayers of the entire project
The new Willets Point plan will eventually go to the City Council, whose members should remember the old adage: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.