Details revealed on Willets Pt. plan1

Unpaved streets, no sidewalks and lack of sewers has kept Willets Point in the dark ages. Now the city wants to let the Mets put parking and a hotel there.

Plans to move Citi Field parking across the street to Willets Point and other details of the city’s redevelopment project were leaked to news sources last week.

Two weeks ago, the city announced it would no longer use eminent domain to remove businesses in the area, also known as the Iron Triangle. At the same time, published reports indicated the city was expected to announce later this month that the Related Companies and Sterling Equities will develop Phase 1, which has been reduced to 12 acres.

Sterling Equities is the real estate firm controlled by the owners of the Mets.

Although nothing has been officially confirmed, more information on the plans has surfaced. Published reports say that the developers will first clean up about 20 acres and then build parking lots, a retail strip and a 200-room, 10-story hotel on 126th Street.

Once that is completed, a one-million-square-foot retail and entertainment complex would be built on the existing Citi Field parking lots. Only then would the developers go back to the city’s original plan and build housing in Willets Point.

The starting date for the residential area would be 2025. The original plan called for 400 units, but no updated details have been revealed.

Once the plan is formally announced, the overall project has lots of hurdles to overcome. It will require a new environmental review, public hearings and approval by the City Council.

It’s been estimated the cost of cleaning the blighted area is $40 million or more. Then, the developer has to add seven feet of landfill. The original plan, announced five years ago, was controversial and opposition is expected throughout the new public review process.

One group leading the attack is Willets Point United, made up of businesses that don’t want to move. They have successfully fought eminent domain and continue to oppose the city’s plan to add new entrance and exit ramps on the Van Wyck Expressway.

WPU attorney Michael Rikon doesn’t think the city will try using eminent domain again for the project, however, his members are not resting on their laurels. But they have earned some breathing space. Rikon estimates the new review process could take up to three years.

One of the businesses determined to stay is Bono Sawdust Supply Co. located on 127th Place, just a block from 126th Street. It’s headed by Jack Bono and his son, Jake, who said in 2008 that they were certain a portion of Willets Point would eventually be used by the Mets for parking. Their prediction proved to be true.

The city owns about 90 percent of the property needed to begin work on the 62-acre site. Mayor Bloomberg announced in 2007 plans to convert the neglected area filled with auto repair shops and parts stores into a mixed-use development including housing, a school, a hotel, a small convention center and retail space.

The plan was approved by the City Council in 2008, but the downturn in the economy and opposition from WPU led to little progress on the project. Last year, the city divided the plan into three phases to make it more palatable to potential developers.

The city never put in sewers, sidewalks or made improvements to the streets. Ironically, the city called the area blighted in announcing plans for the redevelopment and Bloomberg said the new Willets Point would be “the next great neighborhood” in New York.