2011-06-15 / Features

Pinsky Discusses Queens, City Economic Future

Pinsky became the head of the EDC in early 2008. He had been in office a few months when the economic crash occurred. Pinsky became the head of the EDC in early 2008. He had been in office a few months when the economic crash occurred. BY THOMAS COGAN

At the June Queens College Business Forum breakfast Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, spoke about the future of the city’s “new” economy, which has to reply to economic insurgency throughout the world and thus keep New York in its high place among the globe’s most dynamic cities. Pinsky also talked about work at Willets Point and in Long Island City. When praising the city’s business “incubators” he again mentioned Long Island City, citing an entrepreneurial center near Northern Boulevard. When speaking of investment in engineers and applied scientists he envisioned Queens as a haven for start-up enterprises.

Pinsky became the head of the EDC in early 2008. He had been in office a few months when the economic crash occurred, among the effects of which was a loss in city tax collection of $3 billion in 2009. He said that after being severely impacted, the city made something of a recovery, so that now, on a comparative basis, it and the borough of Queens are doing better than other places. Pinsky said that’s no cause for complacency within the administration, which is aware not only of the now-traditional centers of competition such as London and Tokyo but also the newer ones, such as Shanghai and Mumbai. He observed that 20 years ago the city’s economy was larger than China’s, not to speak of India’s. Now, India’s is twice as large and China’s nine times. That is only stimulating New York to become the capital of innovation for this century, he said.

The city’s industrial economy must remain significant, but industrial space for expansion is scarce, so much retrofitting going on, with tax advantages as a stimulus for landlords. Pinsky mentioned a program for expansion of the food industry, of which Queens has a one-third share, being sponsored by Goldman Sachs. The film and television industry in the city began to expand greatly some 40 years ago, though at the time Mayor Michael Bloomberg entered office in 2002 it was declining, Pinsky said. It had 30,000 workers in 2000, but fell below 20,000 within three years. Since then, its revival owes much to productions at Silvercup Studios and Kaufman Astoria Studios, both in Long Island City. He called the ability of government officials to pick economic winners “lousy” but added that recognizing this weakness, they encourage entrepreneurs instead. There are nine entrepreneurial “incubators” supported by the city, he said, citing the Entrepreneur’s Space at 36-46 37th St. and its director, Seth Bornstein, who was present at the meeting.

This is no time for retrenchment, Pinsky said, recalling the “disastrous” fiscal cutbacks of the 1970s and 1980s. It is better to invest $25 to $30 billion in basic amenities, such as drainage and sewerage to whole communities, he said. He was speaking in particular of Willets Point, of which the city now owns 90 percent. Willets Point, he said, has been largely cut off from the city for ages, lacking basic infrastructure. The city established infrastructure there, and further, is dealing with the federal government to get highway funds to construct connecting ramps to the Van Wyck Expressway. In May, the city put out requests for proposals for construction of the buildings at Willets Point that have been long under discussion and now must be realized.

Turning to Long Island City, Pinsky said the city made a $300 million investment when it bought the land beside Newtown Creek and the East River from New York state and the Port Authority. It is now to be realized as Hunters Point South, comprising thousands of residential units, schools, a library and retail businesses, and extensive waterside parkland. He cited the new ferry service about to open between Long Island City and several parts of Manhattan and said he couldn’t leave LIC without hailing the Queens Plaza project, the building of Gotham Center, new home of the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the arrival of JetBlue Airlines in the MetLife Building on Queens Plaza North.

He said he had asked some social observers what the city might do as a project if unhindered by budget considerations and noted that the better part of their answers had concerned training of more engineers and applied scientists. This past December, challenges were issued from New York City to countries throughout the world to send their students to New York’s schools and invest in their stay there. Pinsky further proposed that the south end of Roosevelt Island be incorporated into such a project, in the process involving Western Queens.

Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, expressed his disappointment that those driving the Willets Point project have decided to set aside plans for what QCC and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, among others, believed was its crown jewel: a convention center. It would set Willets Point apart from other building projects, they believed, and would bring a much-needed facility to the city. Pinsky was not unsympathetic but said the other parts of the project, such as housing, retail and a hotel, ranked ahead of it. He said that a single disadvantage of convention centers, the Javits Center included, is that their ultimate expense exceeds the money they bring in. He said the hotel might include a convention area, but a dedicated convention center was doubtful.

Pinsky summarized by noting that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that in an economic poker game that includes players from throughout the world’s business centers, he’ll play New York’s hand any time.

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