City solicits developers for Willets plan

The city Economic Development Corp. has taken the next step toward making the first phase of its Willets Point redevelopment project a reality by issuing a request for proposals to contractors interested in completing the work.
By Connor Adams Sheets

The city Economic Development Corp., emboldened by the news last week that it had received key state and federal go-aheads for its $3 billion Willets Point redevelopment project, issued Monday a request for proposals to complete the 12.7-acre first phase of construction there after years of obstacles and stalling.

The RFP comes two years after the EDC received 29 responses from developers after issuing a request for qualifications, the first step toward choosing a bidding contractor for a project. The RFP was sent to respondents identified during the RFQ process, and their responses are due Aug. 12.

“Selecting a developer will put us one step closer to … making Willets Point New York City’s next great neighborhood,” EDC President Seth Pinsky said in a statement. “The redevelopment of Willets Point continues to move forward with the issuance of this RFP and other hurdles successfully mounted.”

Phase 1 is slated to include 680,000 feet of retail space, up to 400 housing units — 35 percent of which will be affordable — a hotel, 2 acres of open space and parking. Contractors who respond to the RFP must also provide a “concept plan” for all 62 acres of the Iron Triangle, according to the EDC.

The Federal Highway Administration and state Department of Transportation announced last week that they had approved the city’s environmental assessment of access ramps the city will build onto the Van Wyck Expressway to accommodate the added traffic the project will create.

But before the city can bank on that authorization, it must first undergo a rigorous public review process and has scheduled a hearing on the ramps for June 8.

“Receiving this approval allows us to overcome a number of procedural hurdles that have threatened to delay this important, job-creating project,” EDC spokeswoman Julie Wood said via e-mail. “Willets Point is now one step closer to becoming a center of economic growth and the site of an historic environmental cleanup.”

The announcements by the state and federal agencies put a wrench in the case that Willets Point United — a group of Willets business and property owners — is trying to build against the city’s plans. The organization has an open lawsuit against the city, arguing that approval for the Willets Point project should be revoked because of inconsistencies in the city’s statements about the ramps. Oral arguments in that case are slated for July 20.

But the group is not relenting and plans to continue to press the case that the project should not move forward as planned.

“With respect to the action on the ramps, they did not approve the ramps — they just approved the environmental assessment for public review, which is an early step. That doesn’t mean they agree with everything that’s in it, but they’re opening it up for public comment,” Michael Gerrard, an attorney for the group, said. “They’re trying to create an appearance of momentum. I think the RFP was greatly premature because the project is still in legal limbo.”

The EDC — which says it owns 90 percent of Phase 1 property, leaving nine “hold-out” private property owners in the area — announced last week it plans to begin relocation discussions with Phase 1 tenants at the end of this year and to actually go about relocating businesses six months later.

The city also issued its “determinations and findings” May 4, a required step in the eminent domain process. Project opponents have 30 days from that date to file a lawsuit against the city.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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