By Benjamin M. Haber
The Wilpons and their Related Companies never had any intention of completing the Willets Point Redevelopment Plan adopted in 2008.
They were given the contract by the Bloomberg mayoral administration without any input from Community Board 7, which had jurisdiction over Willets Point. What the Wilpons really had in mind was a gambling casino and when it became clear that would never come to fruition, the matter remained dormant.
Thereafter, they came up with a plan that was equally absurd. They claimed they needed to convert the parking lot adjacent to Citi Field into a 1.4 million-square-foot mega shopping mall. The goal was to earn enough money with which to complete the 2008 Willets Point Plan.
Apart from the fact all malls do not succeed, the Wilpons and the Related Companies are multibillionaire real estate developers and if they were sincere about Willets Point, they did not need so-called mega-mall monies in order to complete the job.
The dishonesty of the claim became clear when all was said and done and a deal was worked with the Bloomberg Administration, The City Planning Commission and the New York City Council — a deal that was such an outrageous raid on the New York City Treasury, that if it had occurred during the Old West, they’d all have been tarred and feathered and run out of town, and justifiably so.
The Wilpons were given the Willet Point property, acquired by the city for hundreds of millions of dollars, for $1. They benefitted from subsidies and tax breaks for well over $100 million, and most egregious of all, the right to postpone the Willets Point plan until 2025 some 17 years after the plan was initially approved. By forfeiting $35 million, a pittance to these multi-billionaires, they were able to walk away from any affordable housing responsibilities, and walk away they would. The end result would be a mega mall, no Willets Point development. In its place, instead? Most likely professional hockey and soccer stadiums, as well as parkland. The little people be damned.
Notwithstanding the New York State Court of Appeals rejecting the right to build a mega-mall on land that was a part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, if there is any basis to reports the Wilpons may seek permission from the Albany legislators to alienate parkland, the issues may not be over.
If that is their intention, it will be opposed with as much vigor as the original opposition. It will also be insisted there must be a replacement for the 23 acres reserved for a mega-mall. It will also be fought on the local Uniform Land Use Review Procedure level. This would occur in front of every community board in Queens County, not just the six community boards that have jurisdiction over any zoning changes to FMCP land.
If Wilpon and the Related Companies, and their hack political minions, think their intentions are a shoo-in, they are mistaken.
In the July 7 edition, the Flushing Times reported on how CB7 feels aggrieved over the lack of transparency by the city and the Economic Development Corporation with reference to Willets Point, and justifiably so.
It must be noted, however, that such lack of transparency is nothing new.
It should be recalled that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised CB7 it would have input in the selection of a developer for the Willets Point 2008 plan. He reneged and selected the Wilpons and their Related Companies without any CB7 input. More egregious, however, was the misrepresentations from the developers, without any city interference, about their Willets Point intentions.
Community Board 7 should be aware that even if the city and the EDC state their intentions with regard to Willets Point, their credibility is not worth a bucket of warm spit. They joined with the developers in an unsuccessful attempt to have the New York State Court of Appeals reverse the Appellate Division’s decision, holding that a mega-mall on parkland property violated the law.
The current admin-istration never criticized the outrageous raid on the city’s treasury by the developers, nor the postponement of Willets Point until 2025, if indeed it will ever come to pass. It ignored the claim the billionaire developers needed revenue from a mall in order to implement the 2008 plan.
Community Board 7 has ULURP jurisdiction over Willets Point. It should insist the developers be removed, and new developers be given the job.
As repayment for the dismal treatment CB7 received from the developers and the city, CB7 should note that, with regard to the Citi Field parking lot which is on FMCP land, there are six Community Boards that have jurisdiction. I have no doubt the majority will oppose the mall, and CB7 should join in.
Benjamin M. Haber