Willets Wonderings

East, East Coast
Monday, December 14, 2009
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The city saw a robust response to an RFQ for the development of the western portion of Willets Point in Queens.

The city saw a robust response to an RFQ for the development of the western portion of Willets Point in Queens.

It appears the city’s plan to trifurcate development out at Willets Point has been a smashing success, as the Economic Development Corporation announced on Friday that 29 developers from across the country have expressed interest in the first phase of the project, an 18-acre swath of land on the western section of the 62-acre Iron Triangle that contains the densest mix of uses. “The quantity and quality of these responses are strong indicators that the development community has confidence in the successful redevelopment of Willets Point despite current economic conditions,” Seth Pinsky, president of EDC, said in a release. An RFP is expected sometime in 2010 for a selection of those 29 respondents. After that, the next hurdle is finishing land acquisition, which stands at 75 percent of the phase one area controlled by the city. If need be, the city has not ruled out acquiring what’s left through eminent domain, a specter that has cast a long shadow over the area’s redevelopment, though one that could be sunsetting.

Following a court ruling that the state could not seize land in the Manhattanville section of Harlem so that Columbia could build a new campus there, Atlantic Yards opponents are hustling to have their ultimately unsuccessful case reheard, a last-ditch effort to impede the sale of Forest City Ratner’s bonds. Whether or not they succeed, all this eminent domain tumult—combined with the recent collapse of plans for the Mother of Them All in New London, Connecticut—could nudge New York over the edge, taking it off the list of a handful of states that have yet to enact eminent domain reform since the Kelo decision four years ago. State Senator Bill Perkins certainly thinks so, calling for the governor to live up to his previous promises of a moratorium on eminent domain in the state.

How could this all pay out in Flushing, Queens? David Lombino, a spokesperson for EDC, emphasized the agency’s strong track record on reaching deals with business owners in the area, despite the continued intransigence of some. “The response from the private sector is encouraging,” he said. Should it come down to eminent domain, but eminent domain is no longer there? EDC, while proffering hypothetical projects, does not respond to hypothetical questions.

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