The city is officially moving forward on developing a neighborhood over the Sunnyside Yards by launching a master planning process this summer. The Economic Development Corporation announced today that Alicia Glen, deputy mayor of economic development and Anthony Coscia, chairman of Amtrak, which owns most of the space, signed a letter of intent to collaborate on the plan. The EDC’s announcement confirms Crain’s New York Business’ March 29 report that urbanist Vishaan Chakrabarti will be heading the master plan team. But more people are involved! Cali Williams, an EDC vice president for the last decade, now has the title: director of Sunnyside Yard. And a steering committee headed by Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership and Sharon Greenberger, head of the YMCA for Greater New York (what?) will be consulting on the plan. But wait… what about elected officials who don’t want this to happen?
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district spans both the LIC and Sunnyside sides of the yards, has been vocal against this project. How the EDC and mayor’s office will be able to push this ahead without the support from the 26th city council rep, I’m really not sure. The yards would have to be rezoned to allow residential development and super tall buildings, something the council member would have to approve. Sunnyside Post reported shortly after the EDC’s announcement today that JVB and State Rep. Catherine Nolan, who also opposes the plan, complained the city went around them on this. Well of course.
Mayor Bill de Blasio slammed the New York Daily News today for reporting that he “may ditch” the BQX streetcar proposal. The News had reported on a comment by Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for economic development, that implied that if the streetcar turns out to not be self-funding, then the city might have to consider a different use of capital funds. This is the quote the News reported this week and I posted on Corner (and was posted all over the place):
“Assuming that it does not pay for itself… then we have to decide whether or not this is the right use of capital money for a transportation project.”
I never took that to mean De Blasio is backing off the BQX, and I don’t think the News reported it that way. (Disclosure: I interned for the News in 2013). You can read the quote as many times as I did. This is what De Blasio told a caller (Nick from Astoria, at 16 minutes in) on The Brian Lehrer Show segment, “Ask the Mayor” (Disclosure: I work for Brian Lehrer in a different capacity) asking for clarification on his commitment:
“This is an instance where a real disservice has been done by the media, specifically the Daily News, in taking comments that presented no change in our position whatsoever and trying to reflect something entirely different… I don’t understand how a journalist does that. I don’t understand how a journalist goes out of their way to misrepresent the facts, and I’ve seen it way too often lately at the Daily News.”
“My deputy mayor spoke about the complexities of a major undertaking like this. But it’s one we believe is going to be very, very valuable for what’s one of the single biggest growth areas and population centers of the entire city of New York, the East River Waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens. This is increasingly the core of New York City and we think the BQX is going to be a high impact investment in the community. And also because I think it’s going to be part of positive development of housing, affordable housing, job creation, that’s part of why it interacts very positively with what we’re trying to do overall to help those communities strengthen. It’s going to serve 40,000 public housing residents in many communities that are underserved by mass transit. But it’s a big, complicated endeavor and it’s certainly going to require some federal support as well, which is something I’m very hopeful about particularly because of the presence of Senator Schumer in the Senate, the roll he plays. We’re moving forward but we have to get the exact details right and we’re going to have a plan…”
“We must have more mass transit and it’s not going to be created by the MTA on the scale we need.”
So the point of the story is BDB is still committed to the BQX, regardless of what Alicia Glen said.
An important player in the BQX streetcar project expressed doubt this Brooklyn-Queens waterfront train will happen. Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for economic development, oversees the Economic Development Corporation, which is studying the feasibility of funding the BQX. TheNew York Daily News reported late Tuesday that Glen said at an NYU transportation event, “Assuming that it does not pay for itself… then we have to decide whether or not this is the right use of capital money for a transportation project.”
This comes a year after the News reported on an internal memo expressing doubts on the planned self-financing capability, involving underground obstacles:
“Digging up and moving utility lines “continues to be the biggest single cost factor” that “has the possibility to make the project unaffordable and render implementation timelines unfeasible,” according to the memo.”
From the outset, the city projected a $2.5 billion price tag.
Of course the story isn’t over for the BQX, while a late study still looms. Glen said that Senator Chuck Schumer is a “huge fan” of the project. Schumer is of course father of Jessica Schumer, interim executive director of Friends of the BQX. However, this wrinkle might be a minor blow to the group. Rival organization Queens Anti-Gentrification Project has jumped on the opportunity to criticize the project on Facebook: