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Rethinking Willets Point

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The city says it is making progress at Willets Point, but the area’s redevelopment is moving slowly. It appears the recession has put the city Economic Development Corp.’s grand vision for the area out of reach. Even if the city can succeed in persuading the remaining businesses to move out, it will not be easy to find companies that want to invest in shopping centers and hotels.

The city now controls about 40 acres of the 62−acre site. After five months, during which nothing happened, the city succeeded in getting companies to agree to the acquisition. The city said it is proof it is committed to the redevelopment. But EDC President Seth Pinsky sounded less than convincing when he defended the project’s pace.

“It’s not a phased approach,” he said, “but it’s a roll−out approach. What we want to see happen is we’ll have a developer start with one portion of the site, likely the southwestern portion, and then as that’s finished we’ll be working on starting the next segment.”

It is time to take a second look at Willets Point’s future. The area as it exists now is unacceptable. This is due in part to businesses that turned Willets Point into a junk yard. It is also the result of decades of city neglect. Poor drainage and the failure to resurface the damaged roadways made the area look like a third−world slum.

The best plan for Willets Point may be a combination of what it was and what the city has envisioned. Right now, the EDC says redevelopment may take 10 years or more. That is too long. A better plan might include light industry, including some of the existing companies, along with the planned housing and limited commercial development.

The new Willets Point should benefit from the people drawn to Citi Field and other attractions in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. It should also create jobs and homes.

The city must come up with a plan that can be accomplished in a reasonable period of time. The last thing Queens needs is a fiasco like the redevelopment of Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, where nothing has happened in eight years. Borough President Helen Marshall should work closely with City Hall and the EDC to redefine Willets Point’s future.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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