Bloomy shines light on Willets Point revamp plans

Bloomy shines light on Willets Point revamp plans
By Joe Anuta

The mayor ended weeks of speculation about the city’s plans for Willets Point last Thursday by unveiling a tweaked vision of the development in which Citi Field would be flanked on both sides by retail and housing, but opponents derided the announcement as a land grab by the owners of the New York Mets.

“It includes everything we were looking for in the first phase, exactly as envisioned and approved by the community and City Council back in 2008,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the Queens Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

After sending out a request for proposals, the city decided on the plan submitted by a partnership between Related Cos., a Manhattan development firm, and Sterling Equities, which happens to be owned by Saul Katz and Fred Wilpon, who also own the Amazin’s.

The plan for Phase 1 includes a familiar proposal of transforming the auto body shops along 126th Street to the east of the stadium into a 30,000-square-foot shopping center and 200-room hotel.

But the proposal also now calls for Willets West, a 1-million-square-foot retail and entertainment center that will take the place of a parking lot the city currently leases to the Mets.

“Does it include everything on everyone’s wishlist and on the timeline they were hoping for? No,” Bloomberg said, alluding to criticism from the Council that the affordable housing component of the project has been pushed back to around 2025, behind retail and hotel components.

The city Economic Development Corp. countered that making the area enticing through retail and entertainment developments will pave the way for housing and could eventually catch the eye of a developer looking to put a convention center or casino in the Iron Triangle.

But members of Willets Point United, a group of property and business owners opposed to the redevelopment project, blasted the city for giving away the land to the developers.

“It gives Willets Point property to the developers, free of charge — property which 410 million taxpayer dollars have been budgeted to acquire, and which is actually worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Willets Point United members in an open letter.

The group contends that the giveaway is contrary to what was told to the Council in 2008.

The fate of the project was up in the air for weeks after the city abruptly announced in May it would drop its bid to condemn property through eminent domain. Reports leaked out to the media, but the city remained mum until Bloomberg’s early morning announcement.

The EDC has not ruled out using eminent domain for the project and said it has acquired 95 percent of the property through negotiations.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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