Willets Point To Be Transformed Into Vibrant Destination
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and Related Companies announced on June 14, the development plans for transforming long-blighted Willets Point into a dynamic mixed-use neighborhood and destination. The historic realization of this community-driven vision, approved by the New York City Council in 2008, is the culmination of more than 50 years of development efforts and has been more than a decade in the making. The Queens Development Group agreement will result in construction as originally envisioned in the Special Willets Point Zoning District and Urban Renewal Plan, but there will be additional environmental remediation on even more acreage than was originally envisioned, and the plan will activate significant acreage on both sides of Citi Field to create a true center of economic growth for Queens. The mayor outlined the plans at a breakfast hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce, where he was joined by Sterling Equities Executive Vice President Jeffrey Wilpon, Related Companies President Jeff Blau, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel, Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, and Congressmember Joseph Crowley.
“At Willets Point, where others have seen challenges, we have always seen enormous opportunities,” said Bloomberg. “Today the ‘valley of ashes’ is well on its way to becoming the site of historic private investment, major job creation and unprecedented environmental remediation. Investing in infrastructure and laying the groundwork for private investment are hallmarks of our Administration’s economic development strategy, and projects like this one are part of the reason our economy is doing better than the rest of the country.”
“We are thrilled to have been selected by the city to advance the mayor and the administration’s vision to rejuvenate Willets Point and completely transform a 23-acre dilapidated area into a stunning new mixed use neighborhood, which will become a destination and serve as a catalyst for future development and investment. We commend Mayor Bloomberg for his steadfast commitment to redevelop Willets Point which will benefit the borough’s economy with 12,000 union construction jobs and 7,100 permanent jobs in the initial phase alone. We look forward to working with the administration, EDC, local elected officials and the community as the development moves forward,” said Wilpon and Blau, the joint venture partner entities of Queens Development Group.
The Queens Development Group will acquire an initial 23 acres in the Special Willets Point District to the east of Citi Field to begin build-out of Phase 1 and will create a retail and entertainment attraction to the west of Citi Field, allowing for a more comprehensive and continuous transitoriented development around access to the Mets/Willets Point stops on the No. 7 Train and Long Island Rail Road. Ultimately, the plan will unlock over five million square feet of new development in a unified district, transforming a contaminated area into a new neighborhood. The build-out will include retail, hotel and commercial uses to complement a residential community of 2,500 housing units, of which 875 units will be affordable. The expanded vision will infuse $3 billion of private investment into the local economy and create the 7,100 permanent jobs and 12,000 direct construction jobs with MWBE and local hiring goals of 25 percent. During construction, the project will generate over $310 million in new tax revenue, and once operational will account for over $150 million in new annual tax revenue.
“Today’s announcement marks the beginning of a clear and achievable plan for the new Willets Point,” said Pinsky. “As a result of this historic project, an area that for decades was in desperate need of new infrastructure and remediation will be transformed into a dynamic community for future generations, creating thousands of jobs and increased economic activity that will benefit Queens and the entire city for years to come.”
In the coming months, the city and the Queens Development Group will begin the process of updating the existing environmental impact statement and amending the zoning text needed to advance the plan, allowing for the subsequent remediation of 23 acres of contaminated land in Willets Point, which is critical to future development on the site. The city will provide almost $100 million in capital funds towards demolition, remediation, infrastructure and permanent improvements to the land to expedite the project.
Upon completion of the offsite infrastructure and remediation projects, the Queens Development Group will continue the transformation of the area by activating the 126th Street corridor with a 200-room hotel and 30,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants. This step also includes an interim 20-acre surface parking area that would be converted to recreational space 183 days per year during both the MLB off-season period and during certain in-season road trips by the Mets. Anticipated recreational uses would include modular athletic fields and community open space designed by the architects of Citi Field. This public recreation zone, with uses to be developed through community input, could include amenities such as soccer fields, basketball courts, ice skating, and a multi-sport bubble.
Willets West, the new component of the project, will be to the immediate west of Citi Field and will convert a stadium parking lot into a one million square-foot-retail and entertainment center, complete with over 200 retail stores of all sizes, movie theaters, restaurants, entertainment venues, a parking structure and surface parking for 2,500 cars and grand public spaces with year-round programming. This development, combined with the initial activation of 126th Street, will entail $1 billion of private investment, create 4,200 unionized construction jobs and 2,700 permanent jobs, and bring in $84 million in tax revenue during construction and $62 million in annual tax revenue upon completion.
Following this, the culmination of Phase 1 of Willets Point will result in the first 4.5 million square feet of mixed-use development for the new Willets Point community. This will include the construction of the new Van Wyck Expressway Access Ramps, for which the city received approval from the Federal Highway Administration and the New York state Department of Transportation in March of this year. The ramps, which the city has committed capital out-year funding for, will be critical to enabling better access to the area. Once complete, this first portion of the new Willets Point neighborhood will include 2,500 housing units, 35 percent of which will be affordable, 900,000 square feet of street-level retail serving the community, and 500,000 square feet of office space serving Queens businesses. It will also feature an additional 280 hotel rooms (for a total of 480) and more than five acres of public space.
Work is progressing on schedule for the critical offsite infrastructure including construction of a sanitary sewer main and reconstruction of a storm sewer and outfall that the city broke ground on in December 2011. These $50 million in improvements support the historic redevelopment of Willets Point, which currently lacks this basic infrastructure, and provides over 350 construction or construction-related jobs. Both sewers will be completed in 2013 with the construction primarily occurring between the months of October through March to prevent any impacts during the baseball season at Citi Field.
“As a long-term advocate for the improvement of Willets Point, I am pleased that this plan will advance its transformation,” said Marshall. “The plan will also create almost 10,000 much-needed construction jobs and more than 7,000 permanent jobs.”
The mayor additionally announced that the city has made considerable progress in acquiring property through negotiated acquisitions with area business owners and now has control of or agreements to acquire approximately 95 percent of the land needed to proceed with this project. The city will provide relocation assistance to businesses, with relocation of businesses in the Phase 1 area occurring prior to the start of construction. Additionally, professional development and skills training is available to the area’s employees through the Worker Assistance Program, administered by LaGuardia Community College, which has enrolled over 550 participants since its inception.
Additional phases of the full 62-acre Willets Point Redevelopment Plan remain unchanged, with the overall development of Willets Point allowing for up to 5,500 units of housing, a convention center and a central eight-acre park.