Katz starts Flushing task force

By Alex Robinson

The first meeting of a task force on the Flushing Commons development left some business leaders with lingering questions.

Borough President Melinda Katz launched the task force in March to create a dialogue between the Flushing Commons developers and community business leaders worried the impending construction might have a negative effect on their stores.

“It’s great that Melinda Katz put together a special task force so we could have communication with the developers. We didn’t know when it was going to happen or how it was going to happen,” said Ikhwan Rim, president of the Union Street Merchants Association. “But we still have a lot of questions.”

The $850 million development was originally proposed eight years ago and passed by the City Council in 2010, but faced years of delays as the project ran into financial trouble.

The multi-use complex will have residential, retail and commercial space. It will also house a 62,000-square-foot YMCA and 1,600 parking spaces.

The developers’ construction plan calls for the complex to be built in two phases in order to preserve the existing 1,144 parking spaces on Municipal Lot 1, at the corner of 39th Avenue and Union Street.

A four-level underground parking structure will be built in the first phase to allow for the bulk of the above-ground construction to take part in the second phase without disrupting available parking.

Construction was set to begin in March after the project’s developers, Rockefeller and TDC Development, closed on a deal with the city to buy the property Dec. 30, 2013.

A spokesman for the developers said preliminary work on the first phase of the development started in mid-March. This included electrical work, changes to ramps and other internal updates necessary for excavation, he said.

The developers expect construction to start in late May or early June and predicted Phase 1 would be finished in early 2017.

“We will update local stakeholders and the community once a more definitive construction timetable is set,” he said.

Adjacent business owners have worried that construction on the development will deter people from their businesses.

“Once the construction starts, there is going to be a lot of dust and we’re going to have problems with transportation. Everybody is worried,” Rim said.

The Economic Development Corp. said the city is funding a $2.25 million program called the Flushing Small Business Assistance Program, which is to be administered by Asian Americans for Equality. An EDC spokesman said the program is designed to help area small businesses during construction by providing business planning and other technical assistance.

Rim said he was not satisfied with the answers he got in response to questions about the $2.25 million fund. He said not enough details were provided at the meeting as to how exactly these monies would be spent.

Although he still had concerns about the development, Rim heralded Katz’s attempt to bring the developers and community leaders together to create a place for discussion between the two.

Attendees said the meeting was cordial and that the developers presented their updated plan to the meeting.

“I thought it was helpful that the developers and the city understand the concerns of the local business people because we certainly want to limit the damage to their businesses as small business is the essence of Flushing,” said state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) who attended the March 14 meeting.

The task force will hold its next meeting in May.

“Our Flushing Commons Task Force is intended to bring all of the stakeholders in this project together in one room so the impacts of project-related construction can be brought to everyone’s immediate attention and addressed in real time,” Katz said. “I and all the other stakeholders represented on the task force are committed to making sure any construction-related problems experienced by Flushing residents and business owners are solved very quickly.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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