Point of View: Renovations under way for Flushing Expo project

By George H. Tsai

The Flushing Expo is apparently an off-again, on-again project. It has been dormant for almost a year because of financial problems.

The project, which will be housed in the long-vacant Caldor department store on Roosevelt Avenue, has been revived after a Taiwanese conglomerate secured a $15 million loan from Citibank a couple of months ago, according to the World Journal.

The Expo is expected to create more than 300 jobs, and its grand opening is scheduled for September, the Journal said. The interior renovation is presumably under way.

Congratulations. Indeed, this is good news for Queens consumers.

This gigantic emporium covers three floors with a total space of 43,000 square feet, in addition to a basement and a 340-car underground garage. The Expo promises a combination of entertainment, leisure and arts facilities. Food stands and a ballroom will occupy a major portion of the basement. Expo officials also plan to build a passageway leading to Macy’s department store.

Company officials are optimistic about the Expo’s future, thanks to its excellent location; however, its potential success may deal a blow to its competition. It’s likely the Expo could take business away from the depressed Flushing Mall and other stores in town.

Last year a clothing store owner at the mall said he was closing his business and planning to move it to the Expo, where he had leased a spot. Sadly, several stores at the mall either followed suit or closed their doors for lack of business.

The Oriental eateries on the mall’s first floor also are likely to lose their attractiveness to the diners at the Expo. It’s only a matter of time. Few would like to see the mall, which opened with great hopes two years ago, turn out to be in name only. Mall officials must take drastic action or offer incentives to halt business flight.

It’s unlikely businesses in that area of town would thrive without a bigger parking lot; therefore, I don’t think the Expo’s emergence signals a significant growth in the business circle here.

Flushing is unquestionably a dynamic metropolis with an unstoppable influx of immigrants; however, these new arrivals’ priority is to make money, not to squander.

My observation is that only two types of businesses can survive and prosper in Flushing — supermarkets and restaurants. In fact, several diners recently closed their doors amid cutthroat competition. An eatery inside an Oriental supermarket offers a three-dish meal at $2.95, which is less than the price of a Big Mac. Obviously, it’s catering to new immigrants.

In the meantime, the swanky Prince Center, next to the Sheraton Hotel and within a stone’s throw from the mall, remains vacant. I drive through Prince Street every morning and wonder why this award-winning, glassy architecture fails to attract tenants or buyers.

It’s a supply-and-demand problem. High rent is another. The developers certainly have overestimated the purchasing power of Queens merchants and residents, many of whom are new immigrants.

The skyrocketing rent in downtown Flushing surely has scared away a lot of business-minded people.

A Korean businesswoman told me last summer that she paid about $3,000 each month for a mattress-sized storefront on Main Street near Franklin Avenue, in which she was selling Korean delicacies. I believed what she said. A few weeks later when I revisited the area, she and her small food counter had disappeared.

And apartment rent in this part of Queens has hit the ceiling. We are in dire need of regulations to curb the rising tide.

In a related matter, the city has recently renewed its talks about the expansion of Flushing. This time city officials are serious about the project that will center on Willets Point. Cooper Carry Inc. has been chosen to do the job, and I hope the city and the company will put their talks into action.

Bear in mind that multicultural characteristics should be featured in its design, making Flushing a unique tourist attraction. It will take years to reach that goal, though.

There is little room for development on Main Street and Northern Boulevard; local politicians should direct their attention to traffic congestion.

Before the proposed expansion, we must first solve the bottleneck problem. The latest data show that about 600 to 700 vehicles drive through Main Street every hour. Besides, almost every side street is jammed with vehicles looking for parking during the weekend.

Reach columnist George H. Tsai by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, ext. 140.

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