Posts tagged with "Van Wyck Expressway":

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Willets Point Brings Retail Revelry, Puts Housing on Back Burner

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.  
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Willets Point to Rise from Ashes

In Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby the billboard eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept watch over the ash heaps near Willets Point. For the past four years Mayor Bloomberg has had his eyes steadfastly fixed on the site and it looks as though he may realize his vision of the area as a mixed use development. Today Crain's reports that a key part of the redevelopment plan, ramps connecting to the Van Wyck Expressway, was approved by the Federal Highway Administration.

In Gatsby, the area served as a brutal reality check between Gatsby's West Egg fantasy and the glitz of the Plaza Hotel.  For urbanism buffs a trip to Willets Point is a must. The many auto repair shops, junk yards, and recycling plants provide an unfettered look inside the belly of the urban beast. But like so many other dirty bits of business (see Fresh Kills), the city seems intent on exporting the unattractive aesthetics that come with it. "It may not look pretty, but its work that needs doing," said Roberta Brandes Gratz, author of The Battle for Gotham and Jane Jacobs protege. "If it's not clean work, does that make it blight?"

Gratz compared the city's plan to Robert Moses' neighborhood clearance projects.  She questioned the elimination of businesses that pull in more than $1 million in real estate taxes, despite being unconnected to basic services such as sewer and waste water systems. "It costs the city nothing, yet its collecting tax revenue," said Grantz. "Where are those businesses going to? Jersey, Connecticut, Nassau?" There's no questioning that the city has begun to appreciate its decayed industrial aesthetic, so lovingly and nostalgically preserved on the High Line. The city has even found ways to reclaim former trash heaps (see Fresh Kills again).  A statement from New York City Economic Development Corporation frames  the Willets Point project in similarly ambitious terms:  "Building upon the off site infrastructure work on which we broke ground last fall, today, we are literally laying the foundation for the site and unlocking its long-term potential for future generations of New Yorkers." But the gritty industries that created the sites may not be as welcome in future plans. Instead, $3 billion worth of hotels, residences, and retail along with nearly  80,000 vehicle trips a day will take their place.  "Adding new highways is no longer considered reasonable and an off ramp will increase traffic," said Gratz. "What ever gets built there would car oriented. I thought the city was trying to be green!"