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Chamber submits Willets Point redevelopment plan

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The 48-acre plot of land surrounded by the Van Wyck Expressway, Long Island Expressway, Grand Central Parkway, Northern Boulevard, and with stops on the Long Island Railroad and the No. 7 Train, is "one of the last and largest parcels of underutilized, strategically situated land in Queens," a chamber statement said about the proposed redevelopment.At the heart of the plan lies a 300,000-square-foot exhibition/conference center, a 400-room hotel flanked by a new Mets stadium, 5,000 new parking spaces, and eventual mixed zoning uses for commercial retail. Known to residents as the "Iron Triangle" because of its seemingly endless supply of rundown auto-parts stores, salvage and junkyards, Willets Point has been scrutinized for years by eager developers hoping to turn it into an area worthy of its first-rate location next to Shea Stadium.Charles Lauster, architect and member of the project team from the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute at Baruch College in Manhattan, said the site will extend from the east side of Flushing Creek to Corona, from Flushing Bay to the southern end of Flushing Meadows/Corona Park. "Instead of Willets Point being a barrier, it should connect Flushing and Corona," he said. "It should be bridged for pedestrian access."Pedestrian bridges, combined with the location's easy access, and 9,000 pre-existing parking spaces, which are unused whenever Shea Stadium is empty, all amount to what Lauster describes as a situation that "makes most developers of the world drool."It is a dream landscape in a dream location, he said, yet year after year, proposals for Willets Point redevelopment are hung out to dry.The reason for the foot dragging, he explained, involves a number of factors ranging from terrible drainage problems to existing contaminated soils. "It's virtually at sea level, so there's serious water and drainage problems," he said. "And it used to be used for dumping."In the early days of New York City's construction, the entire site was used as a garbage and coal dust dump. Inevitably, the area is now dirty, littered and covered with brownfields or contaminated earth. Any redevelopment of Willets Point will require extensive, and expensive, purifying.Then there's the question of money. The whole point of the chamber's redevelopment proposal, Lauster said, is for the city to consider raising the bar on what could be done with Willets Point. "We haven't put a price on it yet because we haven't designed any buildings," he said. "The chamber is really stressing that the development follows the market forces. Five million square-feet is a lot of square feet. I think the chamber is hoping that the expo center and the hotel will be the first phase, but something like this can take 20 years."The chamber's proposal was submitted to the New York City Economic Development Corporation in reply to a request issued in January by the EDC for development ideas linking Flushing and Corona and utilizing the point's sprawling park space.Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 136.

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