By Joe Anuta
Civic leaders reacted with skepticism after the city announced Tuesday that Flushing Commons will be built in two phases beginning this fall.
Developers of the long-stalled, mixed-use development are expected to break ground on the project in November, according to the city Economic Development Corp.
A special permit for the $850 million project set for Municipal Lot 1 was approved in 2010. But the major players — EDC, TDC Development and Construction Corp. and Rockefeller Development Group — left the parking lot untouched for several years with virtually no explanation until this week.
“Today’s announcement that construction on this transformative project is expected to begin this year is fantastic news for Flushing, Queens and the City,” said Seth Pinsky, President of EDC.
The first phase of the project will include the two community benefits outlined in the original proposal: a 1.5-acre public open space and a 62,000-square-foot YMCA. It will also feature most of the total proposed commercial space, about 350,000 square feet, and about one-third of the total housing, or 160 units.
Michael Meyer, president of TDC, said there is no projected date to begin Phase 2, but it will include 450 residential units and 150,000 square feet of commercial space.
An underground parking garage will be built first. During its construction, the developers will operate the parking lot with a valet in order to keep the total spaces hovering around 1,100, according to Meyer. As soon as the 1,000 capacity garage is complete and the buildings above it are built up enough to safely allow cars to park, which may take about two years, the developers will begin the rest of the first phase.
EDC hoped that this would assuage fears that the lack of a parking lot would disrupt downtown businesses.
But Ikhwan Rim, president of the Union Street Merchants Association, said he was still concerned that construction would hurt the entrepreneurs on his street and planned to express his opposition to the project, which TDC had been hoping to begin several times since its 2010 approval.
The idea of phasing is not new.
Meyer had told TimesLedger Newspapers in 2011 that TDC was contemplating splitting the project, but had not figured out the logistics of how to do so. Dividing the development would allow TDC to break ground without all of the financing in place, he said. And that financing was not easy to come by.
A global financial meltdown and a dismal housing market sent Meyer around the world to look for money, according to e-mails obtained through a Freedom of Information Law last year.
Pinsky touted years spent trying to find a solution to please the community.
“The new plan, which will maintain all existing parking spaces during construction, is the culmination of years of work to address community concerns,” he said, although EDC acknowledged that, as with every project, money was a factor as well.
Community Board 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said he would not judge the project until he sees exactly which stores will go in the commercial space and what type of housing will be built. He said he hoped EDC and the developers would give the board a briefing.
“They are going to have to show me something on paper,” he said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.