Cleaning Up Willets Point Lifts Up Queens Economy
Federal data released this week shows that more than one in five New Yorkers live below the federal poverty level, a one percentage point increase over the previous year. Almost 21 percent of New York City residents were in poverty in 2011, higher than the national average of 15.9 percent and about double the rate in both New Jersey and Connecticut. In Queens, we have also been hit hard by the global recession. While the unemployment rate here is the second lowest of the five boroughs, it is still above the national average.
To achieve a better future for Queens, we must continue to build on our unique strengths—a diverse and resilient community and multi-faceted economic base that relies on both small and large businesses. As we have seen in Long Island City and Flushing, stepped-up city development efforts can help boost our local economy and provide real jobs. We must capitalize on opportunities to draw private investment and encourage development throughout the borough.
Finally, there is a plan moving forward to bring this kind of investment and economic opportunity to Willets Point, an area that, despite its unique location as a transportation hub in the heart of Queens, has remained a contaminated and underutilized eyesore.
Under a multi-phase plan, the city and Queens Development Group, a joint venture of The Related Companies and Sterling Equities, will transform the area into a thriving and modern mixed-use neighborhood and commercial destination, linked to essential infrastructure and services. Neighborhood redevelopment will start with environmental clean-up and commercial development, followed by construction of 2,500 units of housing, at least 35 percent of which will be designated as affordable.
More than $3 billion in private investment will be committed to the project in the coming years, helping to stimulate the economy and create badly needed jobs. Construction alone will generate 12,000 union jobs. When the new buildings and businesses open, the city estimates that more than 7,000 positions will need to be filled. These positions—in the retail, office, entertainment, restaurant, education and hospitality sectors—are the kinds of jobs that lift people out of poverty and provide long-term employment stability.
Even in today’s economically distressed environment, city and business leaders continue to believe in the promise of Queens and a renewed Willets Point, developing a plan that is even broader, yet nonetheless in keeping with what was approved by the City Council in 2008.
The time has come to work with the city to move this ambitious, yet achievable plan for Willets Point forward. Community involvement and dialogue with the development team is critical. Working together, we can clean up the area, attract billions of dollars in private investment, meet environmental and community goals, create jobs and build a better future for our children and Queens.