Flushing Commons to start rising soon 1

Large cranes are in place at the Flushing Commons construction site. They will be used to help erect the steel beams of the building.

By next week the outline of Flushing Commons will start to be seen as workers begin erecting the steel superstructure of Phase 1 buildings.

The $1 billion mixed-use project on the former Municipal Parking Lot 1 in Downtown Flushing began a little over a year ago and work is actually slightly ahead of schedule, according to Michael Meyer, president of F&T Group, which is developing the project with the Rockefeller Group and AECOM Capital.

Phase 1 work calls for 219,000 square feet of office and retail space, 148 units of housing and 982 underground parking spots. It is scheduled for completion at the end of 2016 or early 2017.

Phase 2 work will follow with two residential and commercial buildings, a YMCA, a 1.5-acre open space area and another underground parking garage. It is set for completion in 2021.

Speaking from his office that overlooks the project which borders Union and 138th streets and 37th and 39th avenues, Meyer said despite the bad winter weather and two small fires, construction has not slowed.

“The winter was atrocious but we made up for it in the spring,” he said. “A spark from welding caught the waterproofing material on fire twice. It was kind of a fluke, but was put out quickly.”

The developer said the foundation is in and two giant cranes are in place to erect the superstructure. The ramps are also going in for the underground parking garage and the flooring is half in.

“In a week we’ll start erecting the steel. It’s very exciting,” Meyer said.

During its early stages, the project was plagued with traffic issues, but he said the Department of Transportation has made some turning and lane changes and removed some of the bus backups.

“We’ve made real progress,” Meyer said. “We have added a traffic enforcement agent and the DOT has done the same. We are hoping for more improvements soon.”

During construction, parking is being maintained on the site for 1,144 cars and it is being heavily used, Meyer indicated.

Prior to the start of construction, Korean merchants on Union Street were concerned that their businesses would be greatly affected by the project, but Meyer said that has not happened.

He noted that there is just as much parking at the site as there was in the municipal parking lot and the disruption was less than anticipated by the merchants.

But Ikhwan Rim, president of the Union Street Small Business Association, said Tuesday that businesses are not doing well in his area and he estimates 30 percent have closed. “Customers don’t want to come because of traffic and no street parking,” Rim said. “Older businesses have closed and new ones come in but can’t make it after two months.”

Even his jewelry store, which has been in business since 1929, has been affected and he said the city is not doing enough to help merchants. The city had set aside $2.5 million in a small business assistance fund, which is being administered by Asian Americans for Equality.

“It is working very slowly,” Rim said, “and is only good for certain things, not marketing. The streets need cleaning and we could use banners and signs.”

He indicated that any improvements so far are being paid for by the merchants. “We need to talk to the city but they are not meeting with us,” Rim added.