Editorial: Recreating Willets Point

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Ten years ago, almost no one believed that Times Square could be transformed from sleazy hangout for pimps and drug dealers to a pulsating tourist Mecca. They were wrong. Thanks to Mayor Giuliani, 42nd Street has been reborn. Once again all New Yorkers can be proud to take visitors to the crossroads of the world.

Could the same dogged determination transform Willets Point from a junkyard to a bustling sports and entertainment complex? It won't be easy. Even the city has competing interests in the land that surrounds Shea Stadium and the Arthur Ashe tennis stadium. Sanitation wants to use part of the land for a waste transfer site to be used for shipping garbage and trash out of Queens. But city planners, including Borough President Claire Shulman have a bigger vision. They want to see the Iron Triangle turned into an urban revitalization project the likes of which would rival what has already happened in Times Square.

This would mean condemning the property of dozens of auto salvage yards. This is not something that should be done without considerable study. The owners of these salvage yards have worked long and hard to build businesses that provide a genuine service to the people of Queens. They should be relocated at the city's cost and must be fairly compensated for lost business.

Fair enough. But the reality is that Willets Point is underutilized. The city could make millions of dollars and create hundreds of new jobs if the planned revitalization ever happens.

It remains to be seen whether something this big and this difficult can be achieved without the drive of a man like Rudy Giuliani and a woman like Claire Shulman. Hopefully all the mayoral candidates will see the wisdom in this planned urban revitalization.

To see what might be accomplished, the candidates should visit the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. Like Willets Point, this too was once an industrial wasteland. Baltimore transformed the waterfront area into a shopping and tourism center that today is enjoyed each year by millions of visitors and local residents. Like Times Square, this too is an urban miracle that many thought was impossible.

Our fear is that this plan may die with the current city and Queens administrations. The next mayor may not share the same vision. A shortsighted executive might worry about the costs of this revitalization without seeing the billions of dollars it could generate in the long-term future.

If the visionaries have their way, Willets Point will connect with downtown Flushing to create a tourist destination compete with a new Shea Stadium, hotels, stores, restaurants and entertainment centers. All New Yorkers will benefit from both the tax revenues and the increased entertainment opportunities. Seems to us this is an idea to good to ignore.

Break the board

Last week Borough President Shulman called on Terri Thomson, the Queens representative at the Board of Education, to resign. Shulman is angry with Thomson for abstaining on the vote for Board of Ed President. Thomson was expected to be the swing vote, guaranteeing the election of Ninfa Segarra, who eventually won.

Who cares? The problem is not the board members or their president. The problem is a massive public education system that is totally unresponsive to the city it serves. Sadly, New York City cannot get rid of the board. Only the state Legislature can do this. The time has come to give the mayor control of the school system. Then if the system continues to fail, at least we will know who to blame.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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