By Alexander Dworkowitz
Talking of convention centers, bus depots and dreams of clean, traffic-free streets, community leaders descended on the Flushing Town Hall last week to discuss a plan for the future of downtown Flushing and Willets Point.
The two-day workshop was run by the Atlanta-based consulting firm, Cooper Carry, Inc. The city has charged Cooper Carry with producing a plan to link and further develop downtown Flushing and Willets Point. Last week’s event was part of the public input phase of Cooper Carry’s work.
A plan has been produced for downtown Flushing before. In 1993, a group of architects came up with the “Flushing Town Center Urban Design Master Plan.” which among other recommendations suggested changing the large municipal parking lot off Union Street into a town square similar to an Italian piazza. The plan was never implemented.
“This has been studied to death,” said state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing). “And it’s time now we did something about it.”
Cooper Carry administrators said their work differed from the 1993 plan in that it includes an “implementation process.”
Jim Lima, senior vice president of the city Economic Development Corporation, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg was supportive of Flushing’s development.
“This event today and tomorrow is really at the core of what this administration is trying to do,” he said.
At the start of the workshop, former Flushing City Councilwoman Harrison challenged the very idea of the forum. She questioned the need for Cooper Carry’s work, saying the proposal made under her administration still could be adopted.
Harrison attacked the decision to include Willets Point in the study area.
She noted that large development firms had bought land along the Flushing River, which separates downtown Flushing from Willets Point, with the intent of building hotels and wanted to see the auto shops, junkyards, factories and waste-transfer station across the water disappear.
“The problem is that they didn’t want their guests … to look out the window and see a garbage dump,” she said.
Harrison also worried about displacing the people who work in Willets Point, saying in tough economic times the city could not afford to remove jobs.
But most community leaders disagreed with Harrison. Stavisky described Willets Point as “Flushing’s Left Bank” and called it “ripe for development.”
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall sounded a similar note.
“We’ve got to do something with Willets Point,” she said. “The [Flushing] river is very important.”
Those gathered at the conference tossed around a variety of ideas, both old and new. Marshall said bus stops needed to be taken off Main Street in order to reduce the congestion that plagues the area and a bus terminal was also proposed. Stavisky suggested adding another deck to the large municipal parking lot. State Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik (D-Flushing) recommended a convention center for Willets Point.
“It should be a billion-dollar-plus development,” Grodenchik said. “It has to be something bold. I can’t be a nickel here and a nickel there.”
Grodenchik also cautioned that plans for developing Flushing and Willets Point should not depend on the city’s 2012 Olympic proposal, which envisions major changes for Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The Cooper Carry consultants will not produce their plan for several months. They told those gathered at the workshop that they were open to all ideas. Ben Wauford, the company’s principal, responded to Harrison’s criticism by saying its plan could very well include many aspects of the 1993 version.
“It is not going to be about what Flushing was but what Flushing can be,” Wauford said.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718 229-0300, Ext. 141.