By Alex Robinson
Developers have requested $42.6 million in tax breaks from the city for the redevelopment of Willets Point into residential, commercial and retail space.
The New York City Industrial Development Agency held a hearing Thursday morning to listen to arguments for and against tax relief for the site’s developers, the Queens Development Group. The Queens Borough Board approved the city’s sale of the 23-acre area to the developers for $1 in November.
“These provisions are a small part of the overall $3 billion private investment QDG is making in Willets Point which will reverse decades of contamination and create thousands of new jobs, affordable housing, retail and open space,” a QDG spokesman said in a statement.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) contended the developers already received a great deal in their acquisition of the property and did not deserve additional breaks.
“I find it fascinating that we’re selling this property to these developers for a dollar and yet they want more in tax relief. It’s ridiculous,” he said. “I think it’s a disgrace. If you’re selling the property to them for a dollar, they’ve already got a huge subsidy.”
Supporters of the development trumpeted the creation of thousands of construction jobs and economic benefit the development could bring to the surrounding area.
“Willets Point redevelopment promises to transform one of the city’s most blighted and underutilized areas with significant benefits for northern Queens and the entire city,” said Jessica Walker, vice president of the Partnership of NYC. “This is a great example of the appropriate use of IDA subsidies to create good jobs and stimulate economic activity.”
The completion of the first phase of the plan is expected to create 2,600 retail, entertainment and hospitality permanent jobs, according to QDG.
Opponents, however, questioned the quality of these jobs.
“The jobs they talk about are not good jobs. They are part time at best and not permanent jobs with a living wage. We tried to get living wage on the negotiation. They said no,” said Ed Westley, a Community Board 3 member and vice president of the Queens Civic Congress.
Others voiced concerns over the displacement of auto repair shops, junkyards and wholesalers that occupied the area for years.
“We also need to acknowledge that this huge project didn’t take into account the local residents and local businesses that were already there,” said Bettina Damiani, project director for Good Jobs New York.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation’s original 2008 development plan for Willets Point estimated there were 260 businesses in Willets Point that employed approximately 1,711 workers at the time.
Willets Point business owners faced their first relocation deadline Nov. 30. If they signed an agreement to relocate by that date, they would receive a payment worth 12 months rent from the city. They will receive six months rent if they leave by Jan. 31 and nothing if the leave after.
“If you’re going to give them financial consideration for this project, we need you to hold them accountable to the promises they’ve made to this community,” Westley told the IDA board, which will make a decision concerning the tax breaks Tuesday.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.