June 17, 2021 By Allie Griffin
City officials and local lawmakers celebrated the start of the environmental cleanup of Willets Point Wednesday — which paves the way for the redevelopment of the area.
Six acres of land near Citi Field is being remediated to prepare for the construction of three buildings that will include 1,100 affordable apartments, retail and community facility space. There will also be a stand-alone school and public open space.
The ceremonial groundbreaking follows nearly 15 years of wrangling over the fate of the area that has long been occupied by autobody shops and junkyards. The remediation work begins as the city looks to recover from the economic fallout caused by the pandemic.
“A recovery for all of us is happening right here in Queens,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at the groundbreaking. “Willets Point represents the best of our comeback – new units of affordable housing, more school seats for our children, adding public space and detailed infrastructure improvements.”
The environmental remediation will remove contaminated soil in the brownfield-designated area and replace it with clean fill. Workers will also raise the ground so that the future buildings and infrastructure will be above the floodplain.
The remediation efforts will be completed in 2023. Infrastructure construction is expected to begin in 2022, followed by the construction of the apartment buildings and school in 2024.
The cleanup and first phase of construction will lead to more than 800 construction jobs, according to the city. Upon completion, nearly 200 permanent jobs will be created.
“The environmental cleanup is a critical step in the first phase of the Willets Point project,” said Council Member Francisco Moya, who noted that New York has been dealing with an affordable housing crisis and overcrowding in schools for some time.
“Today we are taking another critical step forward in tackling these issues,” he said.
The six-acre project is the first phase of a larger development plan.
The city has control of 23 acres (including the six acres that are part of the first phase) of the 61-acre Special Willets Point District that is bordered by 126th Street, Roosevelt Avenue, Northern Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway.
The first phase of the development was approved last month by the Queens Borough Board — made up of Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, several Queens council members and community board chairpersons.
Under the plan, the first phase is being developed by Stephen Ross’ Related Companies and Sterling Equities, a real estate company that previously owned the Mets. The two companies formed a venture called Queens Development Group and have leased the six-acre site from the city for 99 years.
Three residential buildings with 1,100 affordable apartments — and no market rate units — are being built at the site. Of those apartments, 220 units will be designated for seniors under the Senior Affordable Rental Apartments (SARA) Program, and another 99 will be designated for families who were previously homeless.
The other 781 apartments will be set aside for households in six different income groupings – ranging from 30 percent to 130 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI).
The redevelopment also includes new streets and utilities, approximately 25,000 square feet of retail space, a 3,000-square-foot community facility space, about 310 parking spaces, an acre of open space and a K-8 school with 650 seats. The number of seats was increased from 450 in a previous agreement in 2018.
The City, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and QDG are funding the environmental cleanup.