2011-11-23 / Features

Deputy Mayor Tells LICP Luncheon: ‘There’s Life In LIC’

By Thomas Cogan

“[The past year] has been a challenging time,” Long Island City Partnership (LICP) President Gayle Baron told the audience at the LICP annual trade show and luncheon at Terrace on the Park last Wednesday, an audience that was somewhat thinner in 2011 than it had been in recent years. Nonetheless, 130 exhibitors drew a good crowd throughout the trade show’s three-hour length.

Baron reported that since last year’s trade show and luncheon, Tishman-Speyer’s 665,000-square-foot Gotham Center building on Queens Plaza South and Jackson Avenue has opened and 3,000 workers, mainly from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which now calls the building home, have moved in. The new building faces the century-old elevated train tracks of the ‘N’ and No. 7 lines, below which a park amid the traffic lanes approaching the Queensboro Bridge has been built in the last year and a half and it will soon be open to the public. There’s life in Long Island City, a fact touched on by the luncheon’s keynote speaker, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel. Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, who was presented with the William D. Modell Community Service Award, agreed with Steel and suggested that the trade show and luncheon be held in Long Island City in 2012.

Steel has a prominent business background. He was recently president and CEO of Wachovia Bank after a 30-year career at Goldman Sachs. He started his address to the luncheon audience with a look at the city’s economy, the positive aspects of which include a relatively low, if not heartening, level of unemployment and a rate of mortgage foreclosures that is less than perilous. But the actual, if not official, level of unemployment is higher, and the “churn rate”, cycles when people are out of work, is longer than it was just a few years ago, he said, adding that when he began his term as deputy mayor he was told by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that his chief concern should be “jobs, jobs and jobs”. He referred to the nine Work Force Centers devoted to job creation, citing the one at LaGuardia Community College as meritorious. There, the emphasis is on health care, and some 500 jobs in that category have been filled in the past year. He said the mayor would like to start ten or more such places as “express centers” of employment.

About half of New York City’s business is small business, he said, and it has been hit hard in this recession. Reviving it is of primary importance, involving assessment of capital and negotiating the maze of municipal regulations that hamper progress. Reforming the process of acquiring permits and licenses is being addressed, as it must be, since only ten percent of it is currently workable online, which in today’s business environment leaves the city in a “primitive” position. He praised a new business development team pledged to cutting down the time expended getting small businesses, particularly restaurants, started. More than 500 restaurants have gone into business under the new regimen, each one having been the beneficiary of a ten-week time reduction, the deputy mayor said.

Job growth is the short-term goal; transportation, expansion of business space and affordable housing are goals for the long term. Significantly, Steel mentioned the No. 7 train line, since lengthening it from its current terminus at Times Square to 11th Avenue, or even, possibly, New Jersey, has been determined. The extension can be linked to a massive business expansion plan for the area around the old West Side railroad tracks. When completed, Steel said, the area will be three to four times the size of Rockefeller Center.

As for affordable housing, Steel called the city the “key driver” for the completion of 165,000 units that are expected to be opened by 2014. He cited the Hunters Point South project in Long Island City, said to be the city’s largest residential construction plan in the past 40 years. The first phase of it, due to be completed in the next year or so, is classified as 100 percent affordable, he said.

Steel said that a look at the statistics reveals New York to be the nation’s largest “college town”, with 650,000 students. Unfortunately, it is under-invested in the sciences and engineering. Other educational centers, such as Boston and Silicon Valley, are far ahead. A spectacular project, a science and engineering campus, is meant to be a remedy for the situation, and it is proposed for construction in one of three locations. Whether it is built in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, on Governor’s Island or on Roosevelt Island, it “can be a game-changer”, Steel said, encompassing both undergraduate and graduate study. The city’s investment will be $100 million, and more than $2 billion is expected from outside sources. If Roosevelt Island is selected for  the science and engineering campus,  it could become home to the bulk of the center’s student and faculty population,  probably having a great and seemingly positive effect on Queens.

After Steel ended his address and departed to other duties, the luncheon concluded with the partnership’s Green Business Award. Earlier, Nolan had presented the William D. Modell Community Service Award to the Rockrose Development Corp. and Rockrose Development Vice President Justin Elghanayan had accepted it. Now, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer presented the Green Business Award to Materials for the Arts, a repository of a wide variety of materials from clothing to art supplies for theaters, schools and non-profit organizations, located at 33-00 Northern Blvd. “Let’s hear it for Harriett Taub!” Van Bramer said, as he presented the award to Taub, MFTA executive director, who runs the MFTA warehouse, which has been at its Northern Boulevard location since 2000. Taub literally sang her praises of the Long Island City Partnership, bringing this year’s ceremonies to an end.
 

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