“Those two acres were just given away,” said Irene Prestigiacomo, a Willets Point property owner who is featured in a new video produced for Willets Point United that outlines the deal.
When the Bloomberg Administration announced that Sterling Equities, whose principals also own the Mets, and The Related Companies were selected to develop 23 acres in Willets Point, the deal included two acres in Willets Point proper, as well as land currently used for parking at Citi Field.
That property would be used for a massive retail and entertainment complex, while the two acres in Willets Point would be used for temporary Citi Field parking.
Once the mega-mall was complete, profits from it would be used to fund the development of affordable housing and other amenities, including the two acres, at Willets Point.
But a state judge shot down that plan, ruling that the city could not give or sell the land for the mall to Queens Development Group, as the partnership between Sterling and Related was known, because it is technically parkland
Any transfer of the property would require approval by the state, and lacking that, the entire proposal was scrapped.
As per its contract with Queens Development Group, the city has until December 20 to take back the two acres if any special circumstances arise.
Willets Point United argues that since the judge killed the mall proposal, there is no reason the city shouldn't take back the two acres that were part of the deal.
“People don't seem to realize that this doesn't belong to just one or two business owners, this belongs to the taxpayers,” said Prestigiacomo, who estimates that based on currently property values, the two acres is worth about $36 million.
“They are trying to slide these two acres under the radar,” she added. “It could prevent a developer who could actually complete the project from getting their hands on it.”
According to Willets Point United, the land did not come cheap for the city. To acquire the property, the city paid the previous owner $14 million, as well as gave them city-owned property in the College Point Corporate Park to relocate.
The city recently announced that it would lease a separate six acres to Queens Development Group for housing and a school in an unrelated deal.
A spokesperson for the Economic Development Corporation said the city intends to take back the two acres.
“The city will exercise the call option prior to moving forward with the next phase of the project,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
Prestigiacomo rents space to several auto-related businesses on property her husband purchased in the late 1970s. She took over managing it after he passed away in 1989 and her flight attendant job was eliminated in the collapse of Eastern Airlines.
Her property encompasses 22,000 square feet at 127th Street and Willets Point Boulevard. She claims the city has been using hardball tactics, such as issuing violations, to try and get business owners to leave.
“This is the way they are doing things,” she said. “They are finding loopholes to close people down. This is basically a taking.”
And despite the fact that many businesses were forced to relocate, Prestigiacomo said the city's original proposal for thousands of units of affordable housing at the site has gone nowhere.
Now, new ideas are being proposed for the area, such as the LaGuardia AirTrain and a soccer stadium.
“I'm not against it being developed, but it has to be done fairly,” Prestigiacomo said. “I would like to see the people who have businesses there treated fairly. They took care of the big guys, why can't they take care of the little guys?
“I feel like there's an atmosphere here right now that something will be done,” she added.