Plans for Queens’ northern waterfront are taking shape down at the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC offices with a proposal aiming to literally bridge the communities of Downtown Flushing and Willets Point.
If the Flushing Riverfront Project gets the go-ahead, redevelopment will take place on the other side of the creek from the proposed site of a contentious multi-phase redevelopment of Willets Point.
Both projects have a “strong likelihood” of coming to fruition, according the riverfront’s project manager Nick Roberts. With this in mind, the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC is working on incorporating a relationship between these two new communities into their plans.
Yet, as has been the norm, not everyone sees the big-ticket redevelopment around the Flushing River as a saving grace.
The neighborhoods on either side of the river — Willets Point and Flushing — are disparate.
Willets Point has endured years of upheaval over a plan that would remake the Iron Triangle entirely to include a mall, convention center and a residential neighborhood with affordable housing.
Currently though, the area is filled with auto shops, scrap yards, and waste processing sites. It has just one resident. Supporters of its redevelopment often argue it would bring the area more in line with Downtown Flushing, with its nearly 100,000 residents and development boom, while ridding the city of a blighted area.
Opponents of the plan depict the city’s tactics, particularly the use of eminent domain, as a blatant land grab and handover to developers. The plans across the river only serve as a greater finger-in-the-eye, they claim.
Nine decades ago in “The Great Gatsby,” writer F. Scott Fitzgerald called the Flushing River “foul” and the area around it “dismal.” The waterfront area is the only underdeveloped site in Flushing, and has been abandoned for at least two decades. For this reason, the LDC was awarded a $1.5 million grant in 2009 to map out its redevelopment.
The Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC hopes the bridge between the two will be more than just literal. A pedestrian bridge onto the 40-foot-wide Flushing promenade would run from the redeveloped Willets Point.
“One of the key components of our plan is using the new waterfront area as a means of connecting with its surrounding areas,” Roberts said. “Redeveloping the waterfront will make its surrounding areas — Downtown Flushing, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the new Willets Point development, the new waterfront development — one integrated community.”
The promenade would run adjacent to a large park area, which in turn would lead into an urban pathway to Downtown Flushing. At the end of the promenade, pedestrians would reach Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
Developers and planners hope both projects approach completion within fifteen years.
“We want to make sure that what’s happening with the waterfront is compatible with what’s happening at Willets Point,” Roberts said.
The Willets Point proposal, if successful, would bring more than 19,000 jobs and 2,500 housing units, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation. The quasi-agency claims it will become “New York’s next great neighborhood.” Its second phase calls for 4.23 million square feet of residential, retail and parking properties.
These residents would, in accordance with these new plans, have easy access to the renovated waterfront, Downtown Flushing, and the 1,255-acre Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The new Flushing waterfront residents occupying its 1,600 housing units would also, in turn, have easy pedestrian access to the new entertainment, retail and park features in Willets Point.
The park facilities both communities would have access to are particularly important. The MinKwon Center’s Community Study Survey in 2011 found that 71 percent of Flushing’s residents desired the creation of an open space or park on the site.
“Compare what will happen [to these neighborhoods] with what’s happened with Battery Park City,” said Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman. “Like that neighborhood, they’ll become very congested.”
For this reason, Roberts is particularly firm about the necessity of open space on the site.
“Downtown Flushing has no space at this point in time — no parks, no green spaces, nothing,” he said. “We think that by redeveloping the area and providing that space, it’ll produce an enormous community asset.”
The 60-acre Flushing Riverfront Project would encompass just over a million square feet of land. Projections include a promenade that would run along what is to become the cleaned-up Flushing Bay and a large park alongside smaller green spaces, which will lead into an urbanized area. A third of its housing units would be affordable.
Going hand-in-hand with this projected increase in the area is a necessity for better transit options. Taking its cue from the Williamsburg and East Village waterfronts, the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC is examining the possibility of ferry service. Though still in its very early stages, Roberts is hoping that this “water taxi” will eventually take passengers from Flushing Bay to Manhattan.
Willets Point United, which is currently locked in a battle with the city over the Willets Point redevelopment, criticized the Flushing project, calling it a “thinly-disguised land grab” in a statement.
“We want to know how the redevelopment can stand when it was built on unapproved illegal activity,” said Jake Bono of Willets Point United, referring to the illegal lobbying of the City Council by city development agencies for the Willets Point project.
“This is not a good example to the public, that something built on illegal activity can be approved,” he added. “If they can do it to us, it’s us today and someone else tomorrow. Everyone out there should be up in arms at the fact that they’re abusing our rights.”