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City OKs subsidies for Willets project

Edwin O'Keefe Westley, a Community Board 3 member, speaks at the meeting on the Willets Point project. Photo by Alex Robinson
TimesLedger Newspapers

The city approved $42.6 million in tax breaks for the developers of Willets Point Tuesday in a move strongly opposed by two elected officials from northeast Queens.

The New York City Industrial Development Agency board of directors voted in favor of giving developer Queens Development Group LLC the subsidies to redevelop the blighted 23-acre parcel of land into retail, residential and commercial space. The Queens Borough Board approved the sale of the land to the group for $1 in November.

The group estimated the development would bring more than $211 million in tax revenue to the city over 25 years and that the first phase of the project would create 2,600 permanent retail, entertainment and hospitality jobs, according to its benefit application.

City Comptroller John Liu, who sits on the IDA’s board and voted against approving the subsidies, said these calculations do not provide the full picture.

“The Economic Development Corp. defends these tax breaks and other subsidies as producing a net gain, using calculations that do not account for the hundreds of millions city taxpayers have spent on purchasing the land, building a sewer system under it and access ramps to get to it,” Liu said in a statement. “In fact, when the real math is done, it’s clear the costs outweigh the benefits, leaving taxpayers empty-handed and in the red.”

Liu, a former city councilman from Flushing, also contended the Willets Point development could negatively affect jobs and tax revenue in surrounding retail areas, such as Flushing and Corona.

“We are also concerned that huge tax breaks are being doled out for retail development when plans for affordable housing, the linchpin of what was supposed to be a great new neighborhood, have been shoved to the back burner,” he added.

The affordable housing component of the redevelopment is in a later phase of the plan.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who has been a vocal opponent of the redevelopment of Willets Point, also denounced the IDA’s decision.

“It’s disgusting. One more time, the city of New York gives away taxpayers’ dollars to developers who obviously don’t need it. The project will make tens of millions of dollars. They don’t need a subsidy. They are going to make huge amounts of money off this project,” he said.

The developer did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The remaining Willets Point businesses that have not been evicted or taken a relocation deal will face a final Jan. 31 deadline. The city has offered business owners who operate on city land a payment worth six months’ rent if they accept relocation before the end of January.

Business owners who agreed to relocate before the end of November were given a payment worth 12 months’ rent.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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