Mayor Bloomberg evoked Fitzgerald today when he announced the deal between Sterling Equities and Related Companies to revamp Willets Point. “Today the ‘valley of ashes’ is well on its way to becoming the site of historic private investment,” the mayor said in a statement, referring to the gritty midpoint between Gatsby’s West Egg manse and Manhattan. The plan pegs its success to a mega entertainment/retail hub just west of the stadium, that sounds very much a part of a trend in projects that used to be called malls, but are now called retail/entertainment attractions (see also the aptly named American Dream in NJ).
Willets West, as the new complex will be called, promises to convert a former parking lot into more than one million square feet of retail, movie theaters, restaurants, venues, and, of course, parking. But before that the city will spend $100 million east side of the site in demolition and cleanup of the former auto repair shops and junk yards, and then install much needed basic infrastructure. The city is already installing $50 million worth of sewers. Also east of the stadium, the Sterling/Related partnership, called the Queens Development Corporation, will begin developing the 126th Street corridor, where a 200 room hotel will abut 30,000 square feet of retail and a twenty acre interim parking lot.
After all that is done, then comes the housing. The Willets Point Community, as it is to be called, will have 4.5 million square feet of mixed-use development. This phase of the project will include construction of the Van Wyck Expressway’s access ramps that city got approval for in April. Another 900,000 square feet of street level retail will meet 500,000 square feet of office space, another hotel, and 2,500 units of housing, of which 35 percent will be affordable.
That the housing comes so late in the game has got more than few politians up up in arms. The Daily News reported early this week that City Coucilmember Karen Koslowitz was not pleased. It’s a pretty sensitive topic that was initially raises in The Wall Street Journal last month, which cited Willets Point and Atlantic Yards as examples of where housing was used to win favor with the locals but ends up being the last component of the project scheduled for completion.