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Periscope: Flushing revival plans disappear from website

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Two weeks ago this column questioned the motives of a company called the F&T Group. According to the group’s website at e888online.com, one of its companies was considering developing land on both banks of Flushing River, including the municipal parking lot between 37th Avenue and 39th Avenue.

On paper the project would have changed the face of Flushing, which now looks like a bag lady. Hotels, malls and night clubs would abound. The only problem was that the community hadn’t the slightest idea of the gifts that waited it.

Indeed, the entire plan looked as if Flushing was intended to be an outpost for international business, especially Asian business, and not a neighborhood of diverse groups, which it is now.

This week we are flabbergasted to report that the F&T Group does not, in fact, exist.

“The F&T Group does not exist,” said Wellington Chen, senior vice president for TDC (short for Total Development Concept), the F&T Group company that would have undertaken the development project. “There is no such entity called the F&T Group, there never was.”

Shortly after the March 29 column appeared in the TimesLedger, the pages on e888online.com that had detailed the F&T Group’s plans for Flushing went offline.

According to Chen, the now defunct pages on the website were the brainchild of a maverick but obviously powerful investor in the F&T Group. “He’s got some sort of hang-up with this name (F&T Group), but the website has nothing to do with us,” he said. Chen declined to name the investor.

If anything, the entire matter of the F&T Group, TDC and Fultonex — all owned by the same group of investors — is far murkier than it was two weeks ago.

Despite Chen’s insistence that F&T Group does not exist, city Department of Buildings and Department of Finances records show that F&T International purchased the former Queens County Savings Bank on Main Street, a property that TDC intends to develop. F&T International is based at 133-32 41st Rd. in Flushing, the address of Chen’s office.

He said the Fultonex part of the group was only supposed to handle the “soft side” of the business, such as travel and cruises. TDC would handle the development of real estate. But these lines of demarcation are not all that clear.

As the point man for TDC, Chen, who has lived in New York for the past 30 years, is well connected. An architect by training, he was the first Chinese American appointed to Flushing’s Community Board 7 in 1977. He was also a member of the city’s powerful Board of Standards and Appeals, which grants variances to developers.

To hear Chen tell it, TDC has nothing but the best interests of the community at heart. As far as Chen is concerned he’s “the last of the Mohicans.” He is also “the last man standing” from CB 7’s 1970s group, who wanted to rebuild Flushing and make it livable.

Indeed, Flushing needs redevelopment. And one thing is plain: Because of his training, Chen, more than just about anyone in Flushing, has a clear vision of how to remedy the clash of horizontal and vertical building lines in downtown Flushing. This hodgepodge construction with the psychedelic array of shop signs is an offense to the eye. The sidewalks along Main Street are cracked and uneven and garbage overflows unlined wire baskets.

Flushing today resembles a shanty town that was thrown up around the railroad tracks. Yes, there is the pastoral island of St. George’s Episcopal Church, and some might even bow in the direction of the new library on Kissena Boulevard and Main Street, but Flushing is anything but graceful.

Listening to Chen’s presentation of TDC’s vision for Flushing, however, is just as confusing as the explanation that the F&T Group, which to the eyes of the layman appears to be the parent company of TDC, does not exist.

Chen is a fiery ball of energy. One is forced to keep track of his segues in which he can compare Flushing to a devastated Sarajevo, a work-force-depleted Germany and Spain, and still have room to evoke the memories of a slain John Lennon and the dead John F. Kennedy Jr. And all roads lead to the idea of redeveloping Flushing.

Chen sees TDC making Flushing over if only given the chance. Designs of proposed buildings, which adorn his office, show graceful lines, which even to the untrained eye exhibit unity of form.

Chen also sees TDC developing the downtown area and luring big name retailers like Barnes and Nobles and Century 21 into the downtown area. Old Navy is due to open in the old Woolworth’s site at Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street in June, but so far there has not been a rush by other well-known chains.

Unfortunately, questions persist about the real intentions of TDC. Chen’s explanation that the F&T Group’s website, which was once in the public domain, had nothing to do with his operation, is also difficult to believe.

If this is so, then Chen should be careful in his role as point man for TDC. And if Chen is right, then there are investors in his company who because of their unorthodox ways could derail his ambitious game plan for Flushing.

Sajan P. Kuriakos can be reached at skuriakos@earthlink.net

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