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Editorial December 11, 2014  RSS feed

Times Newsweekly EDITORIAL

The Rebuilding Of Queens

Suddenly, everyone seem ready to build big in Queens—but what do they want to build, and what will they build it on?

With the vast majority of Manhattan’s 34 square miles developed beyond imagination, it appears the city’s master developers have their sights set on crossing the East River into our fair borough.

Former Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff presented the latest big development idea for Queens in a Nov. 30 New York Times op-ed, in which he suggested covering the Sunnyside Yards with a deck and building a replacement for the Jacob Javits Convention Center.

The present Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side, he said, is far undersized in comparison to rival convention centers across the country and world, thus depriving the city of large-scale, tourism-boosting, income-generating events. Sunnyside Yards, measuring well over 100 acres, offers plenty of land to build one of the biggest—if not the biggest—convention center in the U.S. and open up the Javits Center site for affordable housing development.

If that sounds familiar to you, you’re not imagining things. Nearly two years ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pitched the idea for replacing the Javits Center with the nation’s largest convention center—only his plan was to build it at Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park. That scheme, however, fell through in negotiations with Genting Americas, which operates the casino at Aqueduct and was to be a key partner in the endeavor.

In fact, this is the third instance in which someone in, or formerly a part of city or state government suggested building a Queens convention center. The Willets Point development plan, the subject of much controversy over the past decade, also included a convention center where auto junkyards and other industries now stand. It appears, however, that proposal went by the wayside as the plan evolved.

Then there are the other big ideas floated for Queens, such as a soccer arena for the fledgling New York City Football Club (which eyed Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and, later, land near Aqueduct Racetrack) and the QueensWay proposal to turn former railroad tracks into a nature and bike path that the planners seem to think will be the second coming of High Line Park.

Careful development in Queens is welcome, but there’s just one problem: infrastructure. The subways are packed and antiquated; the roads are jammed and crumbling; the schools are overcrowded; and utility mains are old and ill-equipped to handle increased capacity. It’s nothing short of a minor miracle that our electric grid—still using overhead wires and wooden poles in many parts of our neighborhood— has held up in the face of overdevelopment and new technology.

For all the grand ideas guys like Doctoroff and Cuomo offer, no one’s talking about the desperate condition of Queens’ infrastructure. We understand why they do this: visions of grandeur are sexy and spur the imagination; infrastructure problems are the complete opposite.

But it’s the infrastructure that serves as the bedrock on which the visions of grandeur stand. If it is overburdened, it will eventually fail— maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon—and the damage will cost twice as much to repair then as it would to upgrade now before building anything significant.

Queens and the rest of the city desperately need a 21st century electric grid, updated utility lines, more rail capacity and lines (sorry QueensWay supporters), more buses and more schools.

Will it cost billions to do all this? Yes. Can this city afford to do it? Well, it can’t afford not to. The city needs to find a way to fund the reconstruction of Queens—or stick its big ideas for this borough in the circular file.