Under the consortium of “FWRA LLC,” developers Richard Siu of F&T Group, John Liang of Young Nian Group LLC, and William Xu of United Construction & Development Group recently announced plans for the Special Flushing Waterfront District, a major redevelopment in downtown Flushing, Queens. Designed by Hill West Architects, the master plan would transform an underdeveloped swath of land bound by Flushing Creek, Northern Boulevard, College Point Boulevard, and Roosevelt Avenue into a mixed-use community, while simultaneously restoring and upgrading the neighborhood’s public waterfront access. YIMBY reached out to the development team with ten questions on what’s to come for the project.
YIMBY in bold.
How many new residential units would the proposed rezoning add to Flushing?
Richard Siu, F&T Group: Our proposed plan for the unoccupied area that makes up the Special Waterfront District would add 1,725 homes to Downtown Flushing, including affordable housing. If the Special District is not approved, then there will be zero affordable housing, no publicly accessible integrated road network to help alleviate the heavy traffic congestion in Downtown Flushing, and the waterfront will be significantly reduced in size and scope.
The proposed Special District will be privately funded and maintained, and will provide for a substantially improved and coordinated publicly accessible waterfront open space, integrated publicly accessible road network, extensive environmental remediation, infrastructure upgrades related to the existing sewer and drainage system, and much more.
When the Special District is approved, all public benefits we’ve highlighted will exist in perpetuity and be mandated to be open to the public. It’s also important to note that the Special Waterfront District, once approved, has provisions to prevent any property owner from reneging on building the proposed public benefits, such as the road network or expanded waterfront.
What about commercial and retail square footage?
John Liang, YNG: Combined, the office and community facilities comprise approximately 400,000 gross square feet. This is in addition to more than 286,000 gross square feet of retail space, as well as 687,250 gross square feet of hotel space, which will create a plethora of permanent jobs and further boost Flushing as a destination. Our vision behind all these offerings is to knit together Downtown Flushing and the Flushing Creek waterfront to improve the quality of life for the Flushing community, and Queens at large.
How many new jobs is the rezoning expected to eventually create?
William Xu, United Group: The Special Flushing Waterfront District will create 2,926 permanent jobs, including an additional 558 average construction workers per day. This is an extremely important part of revitalizing our economy.
What kind of environmental remediation are you planning for the site?
John Liang, YNG: As you well know, sadly, the Flushing Creek is one of the most contaminated bodies of water in all of New York City. Through a mandatory environmental remediation plan—performed under the supervision of and based upon the guidelines issued by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Brownfield Cleanup Program—we will achieve everything from a new and privately funded sanitary sewer system to flood resiliency. As part of the privately funded cleanup, we will also address soil, groundwater, and soil vapor due to earlier contamination from past industrial sites and provide major infrastructure additions and upgrades to the existing sewer and storm water drainage systems. It’s a tremendous undertaking that has been sorely needed for decades.
How much public space will be included in the revitalization, and what specific components within these new spaces do you think will be most valuable to the surrounding neighborhood and community?
Richard Siu, F&T Group: This is a whole new chapter for the Flushing waterfront. The Special District will transform this heavily contaminated area that has laid dormant for decades into an exciting outdoor gathering space for the community. The 160,000-square-foot privately funded and maintained, publicly accessible waterfront will be in addition to the privately funded and maintained, publicly accessible integrated road network, which will significantly help alleviate the traffic congestion the Flushing community faces every day.
How much additional tax revenue do you anticipate the rezoning will bring into city coffers?
William Xu, United Group: In addition to the 2,926 permanent jobs, we anticipate the Special Flushing Waterfront District will bring $28 million in annual tax revenue, which is immensely important to sparking the local economy. The city needs this type of stimulus. In total, the project will bring billions in private investment to the Flushing neighborhood—something especially important given the area’s history of government funding neglect.
Do you think more widespread rezonings are an eventuality in Flushing given its proximity to transit hubs as well as both of the major airports within New York City’s limits?
John Liang, YNG: Queens has always had its own identity, but it’s really coming into its own because of all the unique developments that are happening. Those who work and live in Flushing understand its long, proud history and entrepreneurial spirit.
Over the last 30 years, Flushing has evolved into a true New York City destination largely because of the economic development spearheaded by elected officials and dedicated community leaders who care deeply about the neighborhood. Downtown Flushing has become an iconic, bustling central business district, but right now, the neighborhood is suffering, and the waterfront remains a stagnant eyesore, sitting idle and polluted. The Special Flushing Waterfront District will provide stimulus for Flushing to continue to thrive, all while creating a superior design and overall stronger plan that ultimately provides a more comprehensive benefits package to the community.
The long-awaited AirTrain to LaGuardia is yet another major transit link nearing completion. As Flushing becomes an increasingly important node and sees more development both through rezonings and as-of-right, do you think we will see any skyscrapers, or does proximity to LaGuardia and JFK likely rule this out permanently?
William Xu, United Group: Irrespective of any infrastructure upgrades, the FAA governs all the height regulations, and based on the height approvals we received in both our southern and northern parcels, we don’t anticipate skyscrapers becoming a factor in Flushing—or the surrounding areas in proximity of the airport—anytime soon. Height limitations will always impact Queens in how dense it can become, ensuring this neighborhood will continue to retain its character. It also ensures that its local economy will continue to grow through other avenues, like major private investors dedicated to providing a financial stimulus to the local real estate and small business community.
Each of the developers is rooted in Flushing in some way. What makes this area so desirable and unique?
Richard Siu, F&T Group: It’s easy for people to forget the state of Flushing even just a decade or two ago. It was an underappreciated community with significant crime and lacked public and private investment. The investments we’ve made in Flushing have improved the quality of life there tremendously, creating permanent jobs and tax revenue. This area has the most businesses in the entire Queens borough—9,000, to be exact (Office of The New York State Comptroller 2018 report). Locals are proud of what Flushing has become, and we’re proud to progress an area where we’ve developed and worked in for many years.
For 20 years there have been false starts and stops to activate the Flushing waterfront. The neighborhood has come so far and the Special District will revitalize these underutilized and unoccupied parcels of land that sit stark and dilapidated and unite it with a vibrant neighborhood people now see as a destination.
Besides the rezoning and redeveloping the Flushing Waterfront, what’s next in store for you and your teams?
Richard Siu, F&T Group: We all stay very busy. I will say that with the Special Flushing Waterfront District being a long-term, multi-year project, we are all focused on ensuring the Special District comes to fruition in the most beneficial and efficient way possible.