Big plans for Willets Point finally clear the Council

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Julissa Ferreras, who led the negotiation, earlier this summer. (Dana Rubinstein )
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Soon, F. Scott Fitzgerald's valley of ashes will be no more.

A special permit needed for the long awaited development of Willets Point, the industrial section of Queens near Citi Field, passed the City Council on Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 42 to 3.

This latest iteration of the Willets Point redevelopment plan, which the city estimates will spur $3 billion of private investment, was first announced last year and includes a massive mall, parking lot, new housing and community space, and some funding for Flushing Meadows Corona Park. 

The gravity of the moment—debate over redevelopment has lasted decades and several administrations—was not lost on the Council.

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Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who represents the 21st District in central Queens, which includes Willets Point, led the negotations, and she told reporters she resumed talks over the redevelopment "four days after giving birth to my first child."

The plan went to a vote in the Council on Wednesday morning and greenlights two phases of construction, both projected to be developed by the Queens Development Group, a partnership between Sterling Equities and The Related Companies.

The first phase includes a thorough clean-up of twenty-three acres of Willets Point, making space for a 200-room hotel, 3,000 square feet of retail, parking and 1 million leasable square feet on "Willets West," the section west of Citi Field. A $1.3 million rooftop farm will sit atop the Willets West Mall. 

The second phase will include 2,490 housing units, 35 percent of which will be affordable housing units, in addition to more retail and hotel space. The development includes a total of $66 million to build ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway that will make the housing units accessible.

The plan also includes a 1,000-seat school for kindergarten through eighth grade, as well as a combined 525,000 square feet for community and commercial space. 

Ferreras said she projects the affordable housing will be complete by 2025, and while she could not give dates for the other phases of the proposal, said she believed they would take less than a decade. 

The project will also include a $15.5 million commitment to the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Alliance, a newly formed non-profit that aims to improve the condition of the underfunded, heavily used greensward. Holly Leicht, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, a park advocacy group and Alliance supporter, told Capital the financial commitment to Flushing Meadows is a "game-changing moment for a park that has been distraught for decades." 

Pre-emptively responding to criticism of the project, which has largely been registered by the soon-to-be-displaced owners of existing small businesses in Willets, Ferreras estimated that the first two phases of the development would create 12,000 construction jobs and 7,200 permanent full-and-part-time jobs. The city will also contribute $15.5 million to current Willets businesses, including the businesses that want to move together in clusters of five or more. 

Willet Points has proven one of Bloomberg's most controversial redevelopment schemes.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Bloomberg called the vote "a crucial milestone in the history of Willets Point. ... This historic redevelopment will remediate 100 years of environmental degredation, link this district to modern infrastucture, establish a new commercial destination, and generate billions in economic activity."