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Periscope: Grand plans afoot for downtown Flushing

There is an entity called the F&T Group, which, judging from its ambitions, wants to turn Flushing into a company town. And its ambitions are on clear display on the firm’s website at e888online.com. At least they were at the time this column was written.

If the F&T Group has its way, its subsidiary TDC (short for Total Development Concept) will control real estate development on both sides of Flushing River. It will build malls, convention centers, luxury high rises, promenades and college annexes. Oh, yes, and rock-climbing facilities, without which no town is truly complete.

In short, if the good citizens of Flushing let the company decide what is best for them, Flushing as we know it will cease to exist.

Gone will be the chaos of Main Street, the ugliness of College Point Boulevard and the dreariness of Prince Street. Instead, if we are to believe the images on the company’s website (and why shouldn’t we?), we shall have a town not unlike a waterfront European town, say, Amsterdam.

On its website, the company beseeches the community of Flushing to support its grand vision. “Implementation of this visionary project can only be accomplished with the support of the community,” it says.

So it comes as a surprise that the company has neglected to tell the community of its plans. It comes as a shock that the website has made misleading claims regarding its development strategies.

The man who has been the public face of TDC, Wellington Chen, did not return calls for comment. Chen, it should be noted, is formerly of the city’s all-powerful Board of Standards and Appeals, which grants variances for development projects. Without the BSA’s implicit support his company would be hard put to realize its dream.

Early last week there was a startling piece of information on the company’s website.

The firm had plans to develop the municipal parking lot between 37th Avenue and 39th Avenue. The F&T Plaza on the lot would have a shopping mall and a hotel.

By the way, the group’s Fultonex subsidiary has already acquired the former Queens County Savings bank adjacent to the parking lot. The way it was phrased on the web site — “Total development potential is 1,250,000 sq. ft. Including the municipal parking lot” — led one to believe the municipal parking lot had been earmarked for development. Except no one but the developers knew about it.

Not the local community board, not the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is the body that invites development proposals on city-owned land, and not the office of Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing).

If the municipal parking lot — the largest in Flushing with a capacity to hold some 1,100 cars — is closed down and developed, the impact on the residents of Flushing would be severe. Parking, as the residents of this town know well, is at a premium. It is enough of a headache that Flushing residents routinely shop in Long Island.

By last Thursday, following a meeting between Chen, Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman and Board Chairman Eugene Kelty, the mention of the parking lot had been deleted from the website. However, there was no indication that the designs for the F&T Plaza were being altered.

Chen, as noted earlier, has not returned calls, but Bitterman, who has known Chen for close to 25 years, said following her meeting with Chen, “Wellington was not aware of the municipal parking lot.” That claim, in any context, is hard to swallow.

Bitterman is a supporter of Chen and his good intentioned plans for Flushing. She believes the company's plans will bring into Flushing sorely needed facilities like nightclubs, bookstores and the like. Perhaps.

Yet, one is hard-pressed to believe that TDC is anything but a business designed to attract investors to downtown Flushing. Among the services it offers are strategies for foreign investors to set up shop in the area.

The question that immediately comes to mind is, will these investors give a hoot about the community of Flushing?

As it is, there is no sense of community along Main Street similar to the feeling along Bell Boulevard, for instance. Over the years Flushing has become a transportation hub, a stopping-off point for immigrants before they scrimp and scrounge enough to move east to Long Island or go across the river to New Jersey.

Flushing today is a fractured society made up of Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Pakistanis and the rapidly diminishing and fearful white community. It is not a melting pot.

We live uneasily with each other because of the civilizing effect of tolerance. If a company like TDC wants to make good on its claims that it is acting on behalf of the greater good of the entire community, then it must invite the community to the table and bring candor to the discussion.

Sajan P. Kuriakos can be reached at skuriakos@aol.com

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