Wholesale Center Brings New Life To Former Flushing Airport Site
By Aaron Rutkoff
The site of the former Flushing Airport, one of the last undeveloped spaces in New York City, will be sold to a group that plans to transform the long-dormant area into a wholesale center for approximately 180 small businesses and importers.
As part of the plan, which Mayor Mike Bloomberg unveiled in College Point on Feb. 3, the city will invest $8 million in the reconstruction of Linden Place, remaking the now decrepit roadway into a thoroughfare intended to divert heavy traffic flow away from nearby residential streets.
"This is really good news for the whole city, and it is symptomatic of what is happening in all five boroughs," Bloomberg said. "Jobs are coming back." Bloomberg estimated that the wholesale center would eventually employ more than 1,000 people, including over 400 new permanent job positions and 1,100 jobs created during the construction phase.
The site has long been vacant, and was once home to Flushing Airport, an entity that opened in 1927 but closed after the opening of LaGuardia Airport in 1939.
Not everyone approved of the high-density, high-traffic plan selected by the city, however. "This is city government at its worst. It boggles the mind," said Councilman Tony Avella, who was not present at the press conference even though the Flushing Airport is within his district.
Bringing Businesses To Queens
Many of the companies expected to flock to the wholesale center will relocate from other commercial corridors in the greater metropolitan area, including the overcrowded wholesale districts in Manhattan where businesses have struggled to meet increasing rents.
Pil Jae Im, the head of the business consortium selected to develop the site, knows those problems all too well. His own Korlus Trading Corporation, based in Manhattan, considered leaving New York City as a result of rising costs and traffic problems.
But now he will join the hundreds of importers and light manufacturers that will set up shop in the new wholesale center on the Flushing Airport site, where he believes the climate will be much more hospitable to small businesses.
The complex will provide distribution space for companies that sell consumer goods – such as toys, jewelry and electronics – largely imported from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe
"Moving to Queens is going to considerably lower their rents and other operating costs, and it will give them room to grow," Bloomberg said.
While the formal sale of the 26-acre Flushing Airport site is expected to take another nine months, the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) officially selected the development plan put forth by the College Point Wholesale Distribution Development group, a consortium of Korean business owners.
The $175 million development plan calls for a series of two-story buildings, each with enough space to accommodate 25 to 75 businesses, as well as a public nature trail that will snake around the protected wetlands area within the airport land.
Im described the agreement as a proud moment for the Korean-American community, and said, "We look forward to working with the city and surrounding neighborhood to create a place where our businesses can grow and thrive."
During the announcement, Bloomberg framed the Flushing Airport sale as a boon to the local community. "This development is going to be a major contribution to the quality of life in Queens," he said. "The city will fund a project at the top of the local community agenda."
Mayor Bloomberg, EDC officials and City Councilman John Liu all stressed that the initiative to turn Linden Place into a traffic artery would significantly improve traffic conditions in College Point. Liu said the refurbished road "will serve to alleviate the extreme congestion we have at 20th Avenue near the Whitestone Expressway."
At the press conference, Liu said that he would seek an additional $1.2 million in the next city budget to connect Linden Place to 20th Avenue. Currently, Linden is blocked off at 23rd Avenue, where a segment of roadway has deteriorated to the point where it can no longer be used.
But Fred Mazzarello, head of a local civic group, remained guarded, insisting that the roadwork be completed well before the wholesale center opens. "You have to build that road," he said. "It has to be done first."
Avella, who represents the area around Flushing Airport, anticipated a surge in truck traffic that would snarl neighborhood streets. "As far as I am concerned, the EDC has said to those communities, ‘Drop dead,’" he said. "This is a nightmare. We have a nightmare now, and this is going to make it worse."
Homeowners in the neighborhoods just beyond the 550-acre College Point Corporate Park and the adjacent Flushing Airport site have long complained that the thriving manufacturers and mega-stores in the area – lured there in the last decade by the EDC – create traffic gridlock that spills onto the narrow, residential streets.
Within the last six months alone, homeowners have watched as a huge automotive training center and a garment distributor have moved into the Corporate Park – with the help of incentives from the Bloomberg administration. Crystal Windows and Doors, the glass manufacturer who hosted the mayor’s announcement, also plans to expand into a second nearby facility this year.
Andrew Alper, president of the EDC, said that no incentives had been given to the consortium selected to develop Flushing Airport.
Avella insisted that the repairs to Linden Place would not be enough to reduce the already existing traffic gridlock around the Corporate Park – let alone the influx of delivery trucks and customers expected at the wholesale center. He supported a "fly-over ramp," a solution favored by area homeowners that would take traffic directly from the Whitestone Expressway into the Corporate Park, bypassing the congested 20th Avenue.
"The flyover is but is a dream," countered Liu. "We’re talking about a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars for the flyover." Though Liu said he agreed with many of Avella’s reservations about the wholesale center, he was gratified that the EDC agreed to repair Linden Place as part of the development deal.
Another twist on the Flushing Airport site concerns the protected wetlands that adjoin the property. Within the boundaries of the old airport are 33-acres of wetlands, which underwent a $4.3 million restoration program by the EDC last year in advance of development deal.
Included in the 26-acre parcel that will be sold to the wholesale group are a few acres of wetland, but officials who spoke at the press conference said that they would not be disturbed by the impending construction.