City closes deal on 4 acres of Willets Pt.

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As the City Council’s pivotal vote on the redevelopment of Willets Point looms, the city completed its most substantial land acquisition deal at Willets Point to date this week while Mayor Michael Bloomberg personally inserted himself into the fray.

Indian food distributor House of Spices, which own four acres of land at Willets Point, announced Monday it would sell its property to the city if its vision for revamping the industrial community is approved by the City Council Nov. 12.

Bloomberg, meanwhile, held closed−door meetings with the Brooklyn and Queens delegations of the City Council Friday, lobbying hard for the project, which would transform the hardscrabble neighborhood of about 250 businesses into a sprawling residential and commercial community.

The House of Spices deal is the largest land acquisition the city has made thus far and brings city ownership of the privately owned land at Willets Point to just over 20 percent.

House of Spices owners Neil Soni and G.L. Soni could not be reached for comment.

The business is among the largest private land owners at Willets Point. Tully Construction and Tully Environmental , for example, control nearly a quarter of the land in the area.

The city also announced a deal with auto−salvage company Prevete Brothers, which owns 12,000 square feet of land in the industrial business community.

With the two deals, the city now owns about 39 percent of the 62−acre site when taking into account property the city already controls, such as the roadways. New York City Economic Development President Seth Pinksy called the deals a major step forward in the city’s bid to redevelop the area.

“These agreements with House of Spices and Prevete Brothers, on the heels of our agreements with three additional Willets Point businesses last month and several before that, are a significant step toward attaining our goal of transforming the area into an engine of economic growth and the first ‘green neighborhood’ in New York City,” said EDC President Seth W. Pinsky. “The city now controls almost 24 acres of land in Willets Point. We remain committed to working with the remaining land owners and businesses to reach as many negotiated acquisitions as possible as the project moves through the public review process.”

As one of the largest land owners in the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association — a coalition of business owners who have campaigned against the project — the House of Spices sale may be a major blow to the property owners’ efforts to halt the city’s redevelopment plans for the business community.

Several members of the City Council have been reluctant to support the project because of the potential use of eminent domain, and the number of deals the city strikes with property owners prior to the scheduled Nov. 12 vote probably will play a large role in how the legislative body votes on the project.

Bloomberg, who initially proposed the plan in 2007, pleaded his case to the Queens City Council delegation Friday,

“There’s no doubting it— the full−court press is on now,” said one City Council member who attended the meeting.

Although the meeting wasn’t initially intended to be dedicated to Willets Point, City Council members who attended the Friday afternoon session with the mayor said the city’s redevelopment vision for the Iron Triangle dominated the conversation. Sources said Bloomberg spent much of the time talking up the potential economic boon the city could reap if the project is completed and urged the Council to support the proposal when it comes to a vote later this month.

Avella, whose chief of staff attended the meeting for him, said the conversation among his colleagues has shifted in recent days from the controversy surrounding the project to “how do we circumvent the process to create as little opposition as possible.”

He blamed this on the political weight of Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D−Manhattan).

“This is how they operate, the two of them. Since they’ve been operating in concert on so many things, for a lot of people there’s no breathing room. They just start pressuring people,” Avella said. “The mayor wouldn’t have started the ULURP clock [on Willets Point] if he didn’t know Quinn would have backed him up and gotten the votes he needs.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, ext. 138.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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