Op-Ed: An Ambitious Plan for Willets Point

By Borough President Helen Marshall

It’s time to move from discussion to development at Willets Point project.

While Queens was strongly impacted by the global recession, it has been able to weather the downturn by capitalizing on its unique strengths — a multi-faceted economy of small to international businesses and a resilient workforce and a diverse community that supports one another.

Our progress on rezoning has unleashed the potential to build a better future for Queens, creating a new wave of interest in our borough’s commercial hubs including downtown Flushing, downtown Jamaica and Long Island City.

Despite our best efforts, Willets Point has remained a blighted and neglected area, in desperate need of a total overhaul with new infrastructure and remediation. For too long, its revitalization has been the subject of empty and futile discussion – and failed development efforts.

This June, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious proposal that aimed at facilitating a complete transformation of Willets Point into a thriving and dynamic mixed-use neighborhood and destination for visitors. While the historic realization of this community-driven vision was approved by the New York City Council in 2008, the promise of its fruition has not been realistic. Until now.

The Willets Point Development Plan is at a critical nexus – the stage of the review process that will put into action a comprehensive construction plan that facilitates development pursuant to the originally envisioned Special Willets Point Zoning District and Urban Renewal Plan along with additional development beyond the Special Willets Point District.

The project will not only link Willets Point to basic infrastructure, but also establish a major new mixed-income neighborhood with commercial destination facilities creating jobs and recapturing billions in spending that is now lost to the suburbs.

The first phase of the project will include the acquisition of 23 acres of land to the east of Citi Field by the Queens Development Group. They will initially build retail and a hotel on this land, as well parking for Citi Field and recreational uses in the baseball off-season. West of Citi Field — on the current Citi Field parking lot — they will build an entertainment and retail attraction resulting in more comprehensive and continuous transit-oriented development linking Flushing to Corona.

Ultimately, the new plan will develop into a thriving residential community of 2,500 units, 35 percent of which will be designated affordable housing, as well as additional hotels, offices, commercial space, a school and open space, with the eventual plan to develop over 5 million-square-feet in a unified neighborhood, transforming a contaminated wasteland into a model community for the future, with up to 5,850 units of housing, a convention center and a central eight-acre park.

The expanded vision will infuse $3 billion of private investment into the local economy and create 7,100 permanent jobs, 12,000 direct construction jobs with MWBE and local hiring of 25 percent. During construction, the project will generate over $310 million in new tax revenue, and once operational, will account for over $150 million in new annual tax revenue.

Yes, the goals of this new plan are ambitious, but so are the people of Queens. Perhaps something less would suffice in meeting some of the community’s desire for clean-up and business development. But after years of deliberation and delay, we now have a plan for Willets Point that can truly transform the area into an economic epicenter for Queens. Not just remove an eye-sore, but create something that has positive impacts for the community and throughout the entire borough. We need to move beyond past roadblocks to create a true center of New York City’s and Queens’ future – standing for economic growth and a better life for ourselves and our neighbors.

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