Development projects thrive on paper only

RKO Keith in Flushing
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta

It has been a year of striking deals and submitting plans for development projects in Queens, but the borough has seen little physical progress and sometimes fierce opposition to ambitious proposals as 2011 draws to a close.

Some huge deals were made by the city for housing and commercial projects that could change the face of Queens.

In February, the mayor’s office took a step forward in the Hunters Point South project, which the city hopes will eventually bring thousands of affordable housing units to a brand new, 30-acre, mixed-use development project on the Queens waterfront.

Phipps Houses, Related Cos. and Monadnock Construction have been selected to complete the first phase of the project, according to the city Economic Development Corp. Phase I is made up of two mixed-use buildings which will contain more than 900 housing units and roughly 20,000 square feet of retail space. The project is slated for completion in 2014 on its footprint.

In Flushing, a hub of new construction for the city, a new developer got the green light to build over the landmarked lobby of the RKO Keith’s theater on Main Street.

Manhattan developer Patrick Thompson, who bought the dilapidated theater after another project went bust in 2005, received an approval in July from the city Board of Standards and Appeals, an agency that grants exceptions and variances to construction projects, to go ahead with his plans to build a 17-story mixed-use building on the site.

But the next month the building’s height and proximity to LaGuardia Airport prompted questions about its future, much to the chagrin of many in the community who wanted to see the long-neglected theater be reborn.

A spokesman for Thompson said he believed the project will still break ground early in 2012.

The once-grand theater was not the only project to run into hurdles this year.

Flushing Commons, an $880 million proposed mixed-use development in downtown Flushing, still has not received adequate funding to break ground. And to the east, the city’s $3 billion Willets Point redevelopment project has been running into opposition from a group of property and business owners who have launched two lawsuits against the EDC.

The city hopes the Iron Triangle will one day be home to a 63-acre, mixed-use residential and retail complex.

But in the spring, the state Department of Transportation denied an application to build ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway to serve the project, and the city broke it up into phases instead.

The EDC recently awarded a sewer contract that it hopes will pave the way for the development, but Willets Point United, a property and business owners group, begs to differ. It has filed both of the suits against the city for what it calls unfair use of eminent domain and illegally breaking the project into phases without conducting separate studies.

In the middle of Queens, a huge shopping center was pulled out of foreclosure by a national developer hoping to turn the tables on the long-troubled Shops at Atlas Park.

The property was previously owned by Damon Hemmerdinger, but did not turn a profit and went bust in 2009.

Macerich has been reluctant to talk about the changes it plans on implementing at the mall, but the Shops were dealt a further blow in July when Borders, the mall’s anchor store, went bankrupt.

Nearby in Maspeth, a developer has nearly completed a series of warehouses where residents had hoped to see a park on the site of the old St. Saviour’s Church.

Ozone Park was home to one of the only large-scale construction projects that was completed. Crews at the Aqueduct racino took less than a year to build Resorts World New York, the only video lottery terminal casino in the city, which is set to create 2,800 jobs.

On opening day, the casino had to turn away gambling hopefuls as thousands of people flooded the building.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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