2016-05-11 / Front Page

QCC Breakfast With EDC Torres-Springer

By Thomas Cogan

Last June, Marie Torres-Springer addressed the Queens Chamber of Commerce as commissioner of Small Business Services.  Later in June, she left SBS to become president and chief executive officer of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and in that capacity she again spoke before a QCC audience, in late February and again at the Bulova Center in East Elmhurst.  She explained the prime purpose of the EDC, then related it to certain events going on in the city or proposed for it, among them the streetcar line that’s supposed to run from south Brooklyn to Astoria, Cornell Technion on Roosevelt Island and the five-borough ferry line.  She also stressed workplace diversity in talking about the EDC’s Operation M/W/MBE and Hire NYC. 

She began by saying that the city’s population is 8.4 million and that 230,000 private sector jobs have become available since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office two years ago.  Still, she added, more than one city resident in five is below the federal poverty line, the rent’s too damn high, our infrastructure is in serious decline and our broadband is inferior.  There are repairs that need to be made, she was saying.  She then reviewed the duties and goals of the EDC:  duties being capital construction, asset management, real estate development and industry and innovation; goals being the building of “dynamic, resilient neighborhoods” and 21st century jobs.

The Jamaica Action Plan was cited as an example of a goal, since it aims to improve neighborhoods and expand livability and commercial growth.  She also referred to the massive plan for developing housing over the tracks of the Sunnyside Yard, though she quickly recognized a controversial situation and admitted, “It’s complicated.”  The progress of the housing complex, Hunters Point South, couldn’t go unnoticed, so she hailed the fact that its first 5,000 units will soon be ready for occupancy.

Of primary importance to the city’s infrastructure is expansion of the ferry system.  The goal at present is to have 21 landings (at the moment there are nine) and six routes, connecting all five boroughs.  The Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), the light rail system intended to operate at street level from south Brooklyn to Astoria, got the attention of Torres-Springer’s audience as no other topic did. 

One man said that when he set up his business in 1980, he heard that the Long Island Railroad would soon be going to Grand Central, expanding the service it had provided to Pennsylvania Station since circa 1910.  He said he’s still waiting for it.  After close to four decades of planning and building, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s excavations have yet to reach their 42nd Street goal.  He called for a timeline on the smaller BQX project.  Torres-Springer said groundbreaking is scheduled for some time in 2019 and the first cars should be running in 2024.  She had already espoused the benefits of the tram line, saying it would be of service to long-established neighborhoods (10 percent of New York City Housing Authority [NYCHA] residents live near where the line would run) and its construction would prompt the creation of new ones.

A presentation favoring BQX glides over some lightly-considered situations that could become problematic.  For one thing, it would be built independent of the MTA, a state agency.  When asked where the money to build it would come from, Torres-Springer said it would be largely self-financed; she anticipated issuance of bonds.  She answered a question about eminent domain, the seizure of any property that might impede construction, by saying that the line would be built in currently existent streets and little or no seizure would be necessary.  Since it would be a non-MTA project, the use and easy transfer of MTA fare cards would be nullified and an entirely independent fare would be necessary.  Torres-Springer said she was aware of several difficulties that would have to be overcome but believed they would be.

As for concern about 21st century jobs, she said the mayor has a 10-point action plan that includes $150 million to fund industrial expansion, with a goal of obtaining 400,000 square feet of factory space .  Her computer showed an illustration of a completed Cornell Technion campus on Roosevelt Island, with references to New York University CUSP and Mt. Sinai Institute of Technology.  She said that a successful attempt to establish a tech sector in the city could yield 300,000 jobs.

She was quite concerned that EDC’s programs, Opportunity M/W/DBE and Hire NYC, should succeed.  The first stands for minority, women-owned and disadvantaged business enterprises and, just as its name says, promotes programs that would include people and groups that have often been excluded.  The EDC has given it and Hire NYC a motto:  “Connecting employers to communities and communities to jobs.”

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