Mega Mall Gets Final Approval From City Council

BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
Staff Writer

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s development plan to build a mega mall at Willets Point was approved by the City Council on Oct. 9.

The $3 billion development project, spearheaded by the Queens Development Group, a joint venture with Related Companies and Sterling Equities, made several concessions to garner the support from City Council members. 4 Willets

The joint venture has agreed to give $15.5 million to the newly-created Flushing Meadows Corona Park Alliance and an additional $2.68 million toward a rooftop farm/greenhouse at the mega mall. Despite the assurances of concessions, not everyone was completely on board with the plan.

“We remain skeptical that a 1.4 million square foot mall on public parkland is the kind of economic development our community needs,” Rev. George Anastasiou from Faith in New York said in a statement.

He went on to say that they are grateful for Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who has worked hard to improve the conditions of the proposed development by including benefits for the local community, such as good jobs for local residents, affordable housing, improvements to Flushing Meadow Park, partnerships with local businesses and steps to reduce the burden of increased traffic.

The joint venture is slated to clean the 23 acres of land currently occupied by the auto shop owners by 2015.
After the clean-up, the development of 126th Street will start, which includes retail, restaurants and a hotel to the east of Citi Field; west of the stadium will see an entertainment and retail center. The east side of the project will be completed by 2016 and the west side will be completed by 2018.

The construction of the total housing units, another major part of the redevelopment project, is contingent upon building new ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway, which the City is slated to begin in 2021 and complete by 2024. The city has agreed to allocate $66 million in the budget for design and construction of new ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway leading to Willets Point, Ferreras said.

The total number of housing units for the entire build-out is 5,850, according to City officials. Since the number of affordable housing units is 35 percent of the total number of housing units, more than 2,000 affordable housing units will be built between the two phases of the project. Phase 1b of the project consists of the construction of 871 affordable housing units, which will begin by 2024. The rest of the affordable housing units, approximately 1,200, will be built during Phase two of the project.

According to City officials, if the joint venture does not follow through on their commitments at Willets Point, they will be penalized with a $35 million fine and the City has the right to replace them with another developer.

“This historic project will lead to the remediation of nearly one hundred years of environmental contamination, create a completely new infrastructure system, develop a major new mixed-income neighborhood with abundant community and commercial amenities, infuse $3 billion of private investment into the local economy, and create nearly 20,000 jobs which will benefit residents for generations,” Kate Blumm, assistant vice president of public affairs at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, said.

Approximately 110 auto shop owners at the Iron Triangle are working on a site soon to be displaced by a parking lot. However, Cornerstone, a relocating expert hired by EDC, has identified approximately 150 sites.

Officials say some auto shop owners are leaving in groups or individually. So far, approximately 18 shops have agreed to relocate.

The relocation firm has engaged with existing businesses for over a year, while the City has allocated $15.5 million in funds to pay for the auto shop owners technical assistance, relocation costs and supplement benefits of up to a year’s rent. Cornerstone has cost the City $700,000 over the past five years, according to City officials.

Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, tsakhuja@queenstribune.com, or @Tsakhuja13.