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October 16, 2008

Wasteland to


Yesterday, we met NYC Economic Development Corp. prez Seth Pinsky at his William Street office, and he was more than eager to update us on two large projects in Queens—Willets Point and Hunter's Point South. Both have recently earned the OK of borough president Helen Marshall, their respective community boards, and the city planning commission; now it's up to the city council to give its yeas or nays within the next few weeks.


Seth tells us to expect the turnaround at the 62-acre Willets Point to take 10 years. The property, which sits beside the Mets' new Citi Field, is quite polluted, a remnant of its earlier days as a coal ash dump, as well as ongoing pollution by some of its current occupants. It also resides in a marshy area, below the flood plain, so it's often under water. Hard to believe, but after it's remediated, raised, and developed, it will be the first LEED master-planned neighborhood in New York, with affordable housing units (over 1,000), retail, open space and more. (Bonus: it's going to create 5,000 permanent jobs and 15,000 construction jobs—in this economy, doesn't that qualify for a Nobel?)


Of course, development doesn't come without controversy. Seth says there's been negative talk about the City using eminent domain at Willets Point, but he adds NYC is doing everything possible to avoid exercising that power. So far, EDC has made five successful deals to move businesses out of the area and expects to complete more before the city council makes its decision. Once it gets the thumbs up, next steps include beginning off-site infrastructure and sending an RFP to private developers.


Now, we'll hop on the Manhattan-bound 7 train and get off at Hunter's Point South. EDC will acquire a 30-acre tract of East River-front land from Port Authority and the state of New York and plans to redevelop into 10 acres of open space and 5,000 apartments units, at least 60% of which will be affordable to middle-income New Yorkers—the largest such housing project in recent years. There's $220m in the budget for acquisitions and infrastructure and tens of millions in housing subsidies, and the EDC hopes to break ground in '09. Seth says it's still looking at a number of ways to develop the project, including the use of a 501(c)(3) non-profit to issue tax-exempt bonds.


The EDC also is working on improving the areas of Long Island City and Jackson Avenue in Queens. So much love for one borough, no wonder Seth hardly has time to breathe. But he did manage some vacation time recently, visiting Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the heart of the ancient Silk Road; however, he maintained a New York state of mind—confirming that his BlackBerry still worked in Uzbekistan.

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Arent Fox
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