Civics say future of Flushing Airport in dark

By Brian Lockhart

A group of northeast Queens activists has accused a city development agency and the borough president of holding closed-door meetings on the fate of Flushing Airport.

Civic leaders from College Point and Bay Terrace said Tuesday the city Economic Development Corporation and Claire Shulman want to bring light industry to the abandoned airport in College Point instead of developing a proposed blimp port.

The accusations, however, could be the result of miscommunication.

A spokeswoman for the EDC, the agency that manages the airport, could not immediately confirm what, if any, talks have been held about the property.

She noted that the EDC meets regularly with developers, but that does not mean plans have been approved.

“We talk to developers, that's what we do,” Janelle Paderson, the EDC spokeswoman, said.

Seth Bornstein, Shulman's director for economic development, said he has asked blimp port supporters to “show us a real proposal with financial backing” but has yet to see it.

“No one's stonewalling anybody,” Bornstein said.

He also said the borough president has met with developers interested in the airport but no decisions have ever been made.

“Anybody who wants to discuss any proposal can set up an appointment,” Bornstein said. “She never said you're the one' because she can't do that.”

Flushing Airport, located west of the Whitestone Expressway along 20th Avenue, closed in the 1980s. Its wetlands have been the subject of an ongoing state Department of Environmental Protection study that Paderson said has kept the area from being developed.

Last year, Alan Gross, a blimp enthusiast who lives near the airport, resurrected a proposal he had made in the 1980s to establish a blimp port and related tourist attractions at the site after seeing the success of commercial development along 20th Avenue. Those properties are also managed by the EDC.

Gross's partner in the blimp port venture is John Taylor, owner of a Maryland-based airship consulting and brokerage company. Their proposal has been the subject of articles in the Times/Ledger and, most recently a segment on the Channel 4 evening news.

However, the pair have yet to raise funds for a feasibility study or to make a formal proposal to EDC and blame their slow progress on a lack of guidance and interest from the agency.

They believe the EDC has been stonewalling them even as it negotiates with light industry companies interested in the airport site.

Last July, in an effort to get the ball rolling, Gross and Taylor met with representatives from Community Board 7, Bornstein and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights).

“It was to find who's in charge of what and where do we go to get the information we need to make the formal request to use the land,” Gross said following the meeting.

However, as of Tuesday, Taylor said he and Gross were still unclear exactly what the EDC required of proposals and had not received pertinent site information on which to base their plans.

Once it identifies developable property, the EDC issues an RFP – Request for Proposals – to find out what qualified developers are interested in the site and what they would like to build.

The EDC can also “sole source” the site, meaning approve a developer without seeking other proposals if he or she has a unique project only they are capable of doing or the project is deemed to benefit the public or the developer owns property adjacent to the site.

But Paderson said “even when we select a developer, that designation still has to go through all sorts of approvals and process, including review by City Hall, community boards, the borough board and environmental reviews.”

She noted the wetlands studies have kept an RFP from being issued for the airport. Bornstein said the wetlands and the site's soil conditions will limit the kinds of developments that can be built there.

As for Gross and Taylor, Paderson said the EDC has supplied them with everything they have asked for.

“We're still waiting to see a proposal,” Paderson said.

Taylor, however, said the EDC has not been helpful.

“They're looking for us to go away,” said Taylor. “Nobody at EDC will talk to us.”

On Tuesday, amid the rumors surrounding the airport, area civic leaders who support the blimp port said they were determined to keep light industry out.

“I am saying there will be no manufacturing for that property,” said Bay Terrace activist Joyce Shepard. “College Point deserves to have something for the community.”

“I know the people cannot have any other trucks and manufacturing in that area,” said Sabina Cardali, a College Point civic leader and Times/Ledger columnist. “We just can't take it.”

Cardali said the traffic that a blimp port might bring would not be as bad as the congestion generated by industry and such a development would also keep more aircraft out of College Point's airspace.

Asked to comment on the future of the airport, Crowley's spokesman, Josh Straka, said the congressman's primary concern was that the project be environmentally sound and have minimal impact on the local community.