By Mark Hallum
Borough President Melinda Katz outlined the accomplishments of the past year and the direction the borough is heading in her 2017 State of the Borough address last Friday.
Katz said Queens is becoming the borough of “growth” and “families” by experiencing the highest tourism increase citywide, while school overcrowding has been reduced.
The borough president said she is setting her sights on giving the long-overlooked Willets Point area a face-lift with a proposed soccer and hockey stadium. Immigrant support will be a high priority in 2017.
Since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Long Island City shut its doors due to flooding two years ago, residents have been forced to go to Lower Manhattan or Holtsville, L.I. about citizenship, green card and other services.
Katz and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) are proposing to reopen the Queens office in the vacant space available in the Addabbo Federal Building in Jamaica, which is easily accessible by public transportation.
Katz said in an earlier briefing that her intent is to address the uncertainty felt by immigrants in light of the new administration in the White House, with 49 percent of Queens residents having been born abroad.
“With all the political stuff that’s been happening nationwide, we wanted to send the message that in Queens we all stand together and work together. We’re not going to tolerate hate crimes,” Katz said at the briefing earlier that week. “But we’re also going to create effective ways for people to get the services they need.”
The city has allocated about $400 million to the derelict Willets Point area over the course of a decade and spent $300 million demolishing and moving businesses in an attempt to clean up the spot, which is part of the stalled $3 billion development plan drawn up by the Bloomberg administration, according to Katz.
“Yet to this day, it’s still a blight. When we hosted the World Series at Citi Field, that’s the Queens that folks saw from all over the country,” Katz said. “How about a hockey and soccer stadium? Just imagine if we, the World’s Borough, hosted the World Cup or the Stanley Cup. Willets Point is 62 acres. The market and constituencies are here, we have needs, and there is inherent demand.”
Classrooms have grown while classroom trailers have been scrapped. Enrollment in schools in Queens went from 273,000 in 2013 to the current estimate of 285,000.
Pre-K seats saw a 461 percent increase since 2013 from 3,600 to 20,000. There were 152 classroom trailers in 2013, a number which has decreased to 109.
The city has built 11 new schools and expanded six existing to alleviate overcrowding and improve conditions in the classroom.
“We removed 43 [trailers] in the last three years, which means 2,600 kids are now learning inside their school’s buildings. And another 46 trailers are already scheduled to be removed.”
Tourism in Queens is booming with 18 new hotels, and 30 more on the way. Occupancy rates in these hotels are outpacing Manhattan, Katz said.
A new hotel at JFK called the TWA will be reminiscent of the days when Howard Hughes was dominant in the airline industry.
The Queens Museum has doubled in size, according to Katz, and renovations to the New York State Pavilion are well underway with the former World’s Fair site being restored to its original color, known as “American Cheese” yellow.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall