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Biz owners fear Flushing Commons parking situation

The limited number of parking spaces in downtown Flushing has long been a headache for drivers, but the loss of more spots could devastate local business owners once construction begins on the proposed $800 million mixed-use Flushing Commons project, merchants and community leaders warned.

Work on the project, which is to break ground in 2011 and be ready for occupancy in 2013, would lead to the elimination of the lot’s 1,100 spaces during its construction, many of which the developer, TDC Development, said would be replaced with spots west of Main Street until construction concludes.

Nearby business owners — 80 percent to 90 percent of whom are Korean American, according to Ikwhan Rim, president of the Union Street Merchants Association — and workers said that simply providing alternate parking would not alleviate their concerns.They want the city to give the owners compensation.

Hyea Sug Kim works at the Korean-American-owned Wien Cafe Bakery directly across 39th Avenue from Municipal Lot 1. She said she does not oppose the project, but worries that without compensation many shops will be forced out of business during the three-year construction period.

“Everybody’s going to suffer at the businesses. Everyone’s very furious right now. It’s past fear, it’s a life and death situation,” she said. “We just want to survive.”

James Wu, Assembly District 22B leader, said he understands the area business owners’ concerns but thinks parking should be less centralized and instead spread out to different lots throughout the neighborhood in order to alleviate traffic and distribute the customer base to all merchants.

“You don’t want to put more than 1,000 parking spots in the lot because it will only create more problems with traffic,” he said. “Having more people drive there would increase [area merchants’] business, but Flushing is about more than three or four businesses, it’s about the whole downtown area.”

Kim, other merchants and political leaders said they are angry because the city has not presented them with a sufficient compensation plan to get them through three years of construction. About two years ago the city discussed a possible plan which Korean-American merchants collectively rejected, saying it was not enough money.

Terence Park, a Korean-American politician in Flushing and president of the Our Flushing Political Coalition, hosted a news conference Monday at Municipal Lot 1 to introduce “six fundamental rights” he believes local community members should be granted.

He is positioning himself as the voice of merchants who want to keep their businesses viable without having to close shop and move somewhere more accessible.

“It’s human nature that customers will not walk two, three long blocks to Union Street,” he said. “It’s important for the developer to consider and the city to consider the merchants.”

His six rights are as follows: minimum of 2,000 public, fairly priced parking spaces; appropriate merchant compensation; opportunity for area merchants to move into Flushing Commons; construction of a community center; angled parking on sections of 37th Avenue and Union Street; and employment opportunities in Flushing Commons for locals.

Park said discussions to determine a proper level of compensation for merchants are still in their infancy.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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