City Closes on Willets Point Land as Opponents Question Funding
In the past month there’s been a fair amount of deals closing at Willets Point, with the Bloomberg administration finishing up the acquisitions that it negotiated with some of the property owners on the industrial site by Citi Field that’s slated for a major redevelopment.
In the run-up to a City Council approval of the redevelopment plan last year, the Bloomberg administration made deals with more than a dozen property owners, most of the major owners, shelling out undisclosed sums in order to gain control of much of the land.
By our tally, more than $78 million in nine separate transactions have closed—though far more have previously been negotiated and yet to show up in city records.
There’s a number of things that aren’t told in that number, particularly what the city is spending in terms of relocation costs. There’s been $424 million allocated for both acquisitions and off-site infrastructure, an amount that would seem to be too small to do everything the administration has discussed.
The city has said the off-site infrastructure will cost about $150 million, for one.
And then there are land costs, which are substantial. Here’s the most recent closed deal: $11,993,825 for a lot that is 57,000 square feet (on the less valuable northern end of the site), according to the real estate tracking firm PropertyShark. That comes out to $210 a square foot, which, if extrapolated across the full 45 or so acres that are privately held on the site, would come out to $412 million.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which runs the Willets Point project, contends it would be misleading to apply these early deals’ costs outward for the whole project, as the city paid more to find early sellers, and different sites have different values.
“We’ve paid a premium for early acquisitions,” David Lombino, an EDC spokesman, said.
The city also seemed to be responding to the pressure put on it by the City Council just before it approved the project, as Council members urged the city to control a large portion of the land in an apparent attempt to avoid a “land grabber” label.
According to an EDC document from December 2008, there was language written into some of the larger land purchases that would seem to give the landowners a pretty good deal.
For both businesses, House of Spices and Fodera Foods, two of the larger property owners on the site, an EDC board action said that EDC “must use its best efforts” to “promptly purchase replacement property,” then sell the property to those businesses for $1. Given that EDC would be condemning their land, then buying them new land (though “best efforts” seems a loose term), this could get expensive as well.
THE NEXT MAJOR STEP in the Willets Point plan is the eminent domain process, which the city expects to begin with hearings in the next few months. As that process readies, the business owners—the bulk of them automotive repair—are trying to apply new pressure on a number of legal and political fronts.