Part of the allure of constructing Citi Field was the assumed revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood, Willets Point.
This summer, after years of back door dealings and voracious opposition, development plans are moving forward. And not surprisingly, there are some surprises baked into the proposals.
Perhaps the biggest surprise relates to housing. Part of the deal was that a mixed-use neighborhI'm nood would be developed on the site of the Iron Triangle businesses. Mixed use means affordable housing, schools and the other stuff that sustains a community for people to live. Housing is still part of the plan. But it is the last part, coming by 2028. I'll be approaching 60 by then, so this may work out great for my retirement plans. But I'm pretty sure this isn't what most people had in mind.
The Times Ledger of Queens did a good job breaking down the five stage proposal that the city accepted in June from Manhattan real estate firm Related Cos. and the Wilpon's own Sterling Equities. It basically comes down to this:
STAGE 1 - Detox. The 23 acres of Willets Point needs to be razed and all the soil replaced. Expect completion date = 2015
STAGE 2 - First round of retail construction. Low-scale retail and
restaurant locations along 126th Street across from Citi Field, along
with a 200-room hotel. This will certainly benefit the Mets bottom line. Expected completion date = 2016
STAGE 3 - WILLETS WEST. This is another new wrinkle that is generating lots of opposition. Developers want to essentially build a mall between Citi Field and the Grand Central Parkway, which will host about 200 stores. A few problems here. - The site is currently a parking lot. Where will fans park? - More important, developers want to build this mall ON TOP OF THE SITE OF SHEA STADIUM!!! Of course, they claim they will take pains to commemorate the Mets' old home but c'mon. Show some respect. - Even more important. This proposal is probably illegal. According to the Times Ledger:
"Because it is on park land, the development becomes a legal issue.
A law stipulates that anything built on the property is legal as long
as it benefits the Mets, meaning no other development firm could have
proposed to build on the land aside from Sterling. The partnership
contends the law allows the movie theaters, restaurants and other
entertainment venues they would like to build.
But opponents say the development is not only an egregious misuse of
parkland but also illegal. The law would only permit something like a
souvenir shop, for example."
Of course, the developers say Willets Point West and the other two stages have to happen before they can contemplate building housing and letting regular folk live near the mall.
STAGE 4 - New exit ramps off the Van Wyck. Expected completion date = 2021
So as Loge13 understands it, the area around Citi Field will get 400 new stores and a hotel AND there will be less parking and no additional access ramps into the area from major highways.
STAGE 5 - construction of market-rate and affordable housing Expected completion date - Between 2024 and 2028.
There are still many more hurdles to leap before these plans are ratified. We'll keep following the progress. It is also not clear what will come first - housing to Willets Point or a pennant to Citi Field.
It's a safe bet that the Willets Point section of Queens, setting
and subject of the new documentary "Foreign Parts," does not figure in
many New York tourist itineraries, though it has starred in a movie
Bahrani's "Chop Shop." This battered stretch of junkyards and auto
repair shops may thrive (or fester, depending on your point of view) in
the shadow of Citi Field,
but it seems a universe away from that gleaming corporate food court
where the Mets occasionally win a baseball game.
The city's Economic Development Corporation touts Willets Point as
"New York City's next great neighborhood" and has an
ambitious project for its transformation, a plan that has met with
resistance from many who work there. Like Citi Field itself the
redevelopment controversy hovers in the background of "Foreign Parts,"
which was directed by Véréna Paravel and J. P. Sniadecki in an
unobtrusive, ethnographic style. Ms. Paravel occasionally appears on
screen, and many of the people who appear on camera are comfortable
talking to it, which means that the filmmakers are not concerned with
rigorous obedience to the conventions of cinéma vérité. But they are
more interested in observation than in interpretation, and in preserving
above all a visual and aural record of the texture of life in a place
that might well be destined for oblivion.
Without sentimentalizing the neighborhood or its people -- and in
spite of having only a
single legal resident, Willets Point feels, in this film, very much
like a neighborhood -- Ms. Paravel and Mr. Sniadecki cast an appreciative
eye on its beauty. It is not just the compositional artistry of the
camera work or the clarity of the high-definition video images that
reveal this quality. The persistent puddles (Willets sits in a flood
plain) and the body shop signs evoke a venerable, rough, workaday New
York, the polyglot poetry of which can be heard in Spanish, Hebrew and
English dialogue that is frequently drowned out by the noise of tools
and automobile engines.
The cars that dominate the Willets Point landscape have an
aesthetic nobility of their own. The dismantling of a minivan early in
the film resembles the ritual slaughter of a sacrificial animal, much as
the removal of a steering column later looks like a grisly act of
surgery. An alien anthropologist studying "Foreign Parts" might note
that in this area the car has a totemic, sacred function while also
serving as a source of livelihood and, in a few cases, a home.
Embedded in this compact movie are stories of drug addiction and
poverty, hard work and jail time. Like the cars, these tales are
encountered in fragments. People talk but don't say too much, and as
curious and thorough as Ms. Paravel and Mr. Sniadecki are -- "Foreign
Parts" is the result of many months of patient filming -- they are too
polite to pry. But their tact adds to the richness of their film, which
busy, complicated world within the space of few unlovely city
The Willets Point Industry and Realty Association sent around a video today to back their claim that Community Board 7 Board ignored its own conditions of approval last June when it approved the Willets Point redevelopment plan.
No matter your beliefs, this is a wonderful clip of a local community board in action...
From the press release:
(New York, NY) September 4, 2008 – Willets Point business and land owners today released a video revealing the Queens Community Board 7 vote may have to be converted to a "No". The video, produced by the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association (WPIRA) can be viewed at: http://wpira.com/Behind%20the%20Curbline.htm or by going to www.wpira.com.
In June, the Land Use Committee of CB7 held several meetings to review the EDC's plan to rezone and redevelop Willets Point. After the final Committee meeting on June 23, it was very clearly stated by the Community Board Chair Gene Kelty and the Committee Chair Chuck Apelian that the Board required several "mandatory" concessions from the EDC before the Board would approve the plan. If these recommendations were not agreed to by the EDC or adopted by the CPC in its final approval, the CB7 vote would convert to a "no."
At the final hearing and board vote on June 30, 2008, the Chair Chuck Apelian, read a letter from Deputy Mayor Robert Leiber which he claimed addressed most—if not all—of the Board's concerns. The video provides a side-by-side comparison of the Board's Conditions set forth on June 23 and the EDC's response on June 30. It is clear from the Video that CB7 did not receive the mandatory concessions it required before approving the plan. WPIRA has distributed the video to the City Planning Commission and will distribute it to all members of the to NYC Council.
Dan Feinstein, President of Feinstein Iron Works, said, "If not for the strong-arm tactics of Board Chairman Gene Kelty and Willets Point Committee Chairman Chuck Apelian, it's clear the majority of board members would have voted against this illegal land grab. Kelty and Apelian clearly went over the line and IGNORED the interests of the very people they are supposed to represent."
"Kelty and Apelian should be removed from office immediately, and the board members should call for a new vote now that Kelty and Apelian's betrayal has been laid bare for all to see," Feinstein said. "Kelty himself said the board's approval would turn into a 'No' vote if its conditions are ignored. To date, there is no evidence the Administration will do anything but pay lip service to Community Board 7 and no evidence Apelian and Kelty will ever standup for the residents of Queens. While it's clear the board's 'Yes' vote really meant 'No,' it's time for the board to make clear that Apelian and Kelty's shameful sellout will not succeed."
As the video clearly demonstrates, the board members made clear with their conditions that they do not support eminent domain and the plan as currently proposed by the EDC. The Board's conditions for approval included:
· More affordable housing – the board wants 30 percent of the project devoted to real affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers, while the City has continued to offer only20 percent for low and middle-income families;
· A substantial traffic mitigation fund – the board has asked for 10 percent of the project cost for traffic mitigation (about $300 million) - the city has continued to offer the community board only $5 million to mitigate the impacts of this project. This in spite of the City's admission that the traffic impacts of the project are an incurable problem;
· Real Community Board oversight of the project – the board wants an ongoing and active oversight role in the project if it moves forward, while the city has promised only quarterly advisory meetings with an unknown developer who will have no obligation to heed the community's advice or concerns;
· Limited use of eminent domain to obtain private property for use by a private developer – while the Board acknowledged the possible need for eminent domain, it demanded the City exhaust all efforts to relocate current businesses before considering the use of eminent domain.
Anthony Fodera of Fodera Foods said, "The City will continue to make claims of good faith in dealing with the business owners of Willets Point, but we know their word is as good as Kelty's and Apelian's. We will take this fight to the City Council, and beyond if necessary. We will not relent in our efforts to fight for our rights and our private property."
Frank's Franks is a hot dog stand that is "on the scene for lunch" - but its blue-collar owners are wondering just how long they'll be able to stick around.
Frank Kasiaras, the eponymous hot dog purveyor, and his buddy, Phillip Wieczkowski, peddle wieners to hungry Mets fans from a dusty sidewalk at the edge of Willets Point, the industrial enclave near Shea Stadium.
"This is my livelihood," Kasiaras said one day recently as dogs sizzled on the curbside stand at the corner of 126th St. and 34th Ave. "There is money here."
But Frank and Phil, like the owners of some 260 businesses in Willets Point, are worried the good times may not last much longer now that the city is pushing to redevelop the gritty strip into a megadevelopment.
"All of my life I've been trying to do something," said Kasiaras, who first lit his grill on 126th St. earlier this year. "And then when I finally get a chance it may not be there anymore."
Kasiaras, 46, of Jackson Heights, and Wieczkowski, 56, of Elmhurst, are friends from their days tending bar at Donegal Tavern, a now-defunct Elmhurst saloon popular with cops from the nearby 110th Precinct.
When the tavern went belly up, Frank and Phil decided to start grilling for a living, and applied to the city for a wiener stand license.
They opened last year on Broadway and 51st. Ave. in Elmhurst - and nearly lost their shirts. But then Kasiaras "stumbled" upon solid-gold frankfurter real estate - a vendor-less sidewalk across from Citi Field, Shea Stadium's heir apparent.
"It was such a dream come true," Kasiaras said before the first pitch of a recent Mets home game - a sellout for Frank's Franks.
The apron-clad Kasiaras grills the $1.50 franks while Wieczkowski plays the role of salesman.
"Three for the price of one," he yells, stopping to explain two numbers - 1084 and 1063 - displayed next to "Frank's Franks" on the cart's front side.
"1084" means "on the scene" in cop lingo, Wieczkowski said, and "1063" is "meal."
"So we're on the scene for lunch," he said with a laugh. "That's what happens when you hang out too much at a cop bar!"
But their successful spot is in jeopardy if the City Council approves Mayor Bloomberg's controversial Willets Point redevelopment plan in November. But Frank's Franks could get booted in other ways.
The Parks Department, which owns the Citi Field land, has yet to talk with Mets honchos about the future of vendors who work the area surrounding the new ballpark, which is set to open next year, said a city source.
Though Kasiaras and Wieczkowski are versed in cop-speak, they don't know if police have a word for "limbo."