Small business owners on Union Street have slowly been making an exodus as dealings between the city and the developer of Flushing Commons continue behind closed doors, a business leader said.
Ikhwan Rim, president of the Union Street Merchants Association said that out of about 100 businesses located on the west side of the street, between Northern Boulevard and 37th Avenue — just a block — about 15 longtime tenants have moved their offices elsewhere.
“The fortunate ones are the ones who already left,” Rim said.
Accountants and beauty salons are some of the businesses that packed up shop and relocated to Northern Boulevard or even other neighborhoods in the city, leaving behind the ones that would be hard to move, like retail stores with large inventories and restaurants, he said.
News Salon, a beauty salon that used to be on Union Street, recently moved to Northern Boulevard, according to Rim, who said the business owners wanted to take advantage of new retail space on the boulevard that might not be open in the future.
Don-A Travel Agency is another business that has made the exodus to Northern Boulevard, Rim said.
The problem scaring the entrepreneurs is the development of Flushing Commons, a $850 million mixed-use complex that is slated to take the place of Municipal Lot 1, a huge parking lot that Rim said is essential for the foot traffic that drives commerce along the street.
The parking lot is currently owned by the city, but according to plans that were approved last year, the city will sell the land to Flushing-based TDC Development, which in turn will construct the 5.5 acre project that includes 275,000 square feet of retail space.
Michael Myer, president of TDC, was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.
Rim would rather see the project built in phases, so at least some parking can be retained for the commercial strip.
“If there are no parking spaces but construction trucks and lots of dust, I don’t think there will be a lot of customers,” he said.
In an effort to assuage the fears of small business owners, during the construction process TDC and the city are supplying alternative parking spaces, some of which will be on College Point Boulevard.
A spokeswoman for the city Economic Development Corp. said the city has taken care to make sure the concerns of the small business community are addressed.
“To mitigate disruption, the city worked with elected officials and stakeholders to develop an assistance plan to help small businesses manage construction impacts,” she said in a statement. “Among other things, the plan includes an interim parking plan, which will provide 1,144 additional interim parking spaces within four blocks of Muni Lot 1 during construction.”
But that is too far away, according to Rim.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he said, referring to a proposed lot on College Point Boulevard. “If you just want to shop for five or 10 minutes, or have to carry electronics, you’re not going to walk half a mile from the parking lot.”
The city also provided a $6 million package it said could go toward marketing and advertising to help the businesses and offered to cap parking rates for three years after construction is complete.
But the most frustrating thing, he said, is that the city Economic Development Corp. and TDC will not disclose if the project even has enough money to get off the ground.
“Are they going to do it? Are they not going to do it?” he asked. “People’s lives depend on this information.”
TDC has said in interviews with TimesLedger Newspapers that all of the funding is not there for the project, and so it remains up in the air whether a shovel will ever actually be put in the ground.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.