For years I've been reading about various plans to redevelop the Willets Point area, each worse than the last. Each time I wonder why everyone's so convinced that Something Must Be Done. It's not a slum where people live in close quarters and can die of diphtheria or something. On its own terms, it's a successful business district. Why do people care about this forlorn corner of the borough? And why the urgency?
There are some people whose goals are obvious: those who have a direct financial interest. The Related Companies and the Wilpon family are the main investors in the current scheme, and they stand to make a profit in rent and property sales. In addition, the Mets could get more business from residents and customers, who figure they might as well take in a game while they're in the area.
There may be some other business owners who see themselves as "on the way" to Willets Point, and hope to make some money that way. And then there are all the "economic hunters" (like the Queens Chamber of Commerce and Deputy Mayor Robert Steel) who see this as a way to bring jobs and tax revenue to the city.
I have a lot of trouble relating. First of all, I have no direct financial interest. Second, I'm much more of a fan of economic gardening than hunting. What that means, as Chuck Marohn describes, is finding a way to help ten small businesses add ten jobs, rather than a single business adding a hundred jobs.
For existing small businesses in Queens to benefit from this new development, they would have to be perceived as "on the way," and I just don't see that with the current plans. Maybe some drivers would think about getting off the highway to shop or dine, and maybe some would think about getting off the number 7 train, but most of the proximity boost comes from walking. The current setup actively discourages walking, and none of the plans would do much to improve that.
So why is Willets Point so urgent? It's not like it's the only industrial area in the city with crappy streets. After thinking and thinking, I believe I've finally figured it out: you can see it from Citifield. It's even closer and more visible than it was from Shea Stadium. It's right across the street, staring you in the face: junkyards! unpaved streets! grimy brown people in work clothes!
I'm guessing that someone has a box seat in Citifield with a grand view of the junkyards behind the field, and the Wilpons look out at the thing every day. They got ahold of the politicians and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, and there you go.
Of course, it's not your problem or my problem. To paraphrase the office proverb, lack of tolerance for muddy streets on their part does not constitute an emergency on our part. But it looks like they've got enough clout to make it an emergency for us.