The project, which is nearing the end of the city’s Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), would bring 1,725 units of housing, including up to 90 affordable apartments, in 13 buildings, along with offices, shops and hotels.
Lee touted all of the benefits the project would bring to the community, from the expanded public shore walkway that provides recreational open spaces to the privately funded but publicly used road network, which she believes would alleviate the congestion problem in downtown Flushing.
The developers behind the Special Flushing Waterfront District would also remediate the creek with city and state oversight. Lee said if the property owners built their own projects as of right, they wouldn’t have to seek city or state approvals. She noted that for more than 25 years, the Flushing waterfront became more polluted and often smells like rotten eggs.
“I don’t think the community wants to associate Flushing with that smell anymore,” she said.
Lee also emphasized the 3,000 jobs that would be created by the project, not just in construction, but also in finance, legal, design, building services and much more. There would also be a workforce training component that is targeted for people who need it the most.
“It’s what Queens really needs right now,” she said.
She said the waterfront district would result in $165 million annually in tax revenue “to revitalize our neighborhood,” including $115 million from property taxes alone. “Think about how the city can benefit from that,” Lee added.
The developers behind the SFWD also see building out the waterfront as a legacy project. Lee called it the “last frontier” for Flushing, the last real piece of land that developers can stitch together into a project they believe will benefit the community.
Though each of the developers could have built their own developments on their sites years ago, they were convinced by city officials to collaborate and create a unifying district for the waterfront.
“This is the last opportunity, there’s no turning back,” she said. “Let’s put the politics aside and do what’s really best for Flushing.”
Often referred to as a “second Chinatown,” Lee said she always cringes at that description of the neighborhood. Though it was dilapidated and lacked public and private investment, she said F&T Group knew Flushing was unique.
“My father wanted Flushing to stand on its own and be a dynamic cultural hub,” she said. “Places like this need to attract public and private investment. You have to stay authentic to your community.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, Lee said it’s hard to think about the future too much because of the uncertainty. For now, the company is focused on finishing the construction at Tangram while maintaining the safety and health of the workers. The company also wants to guide the Special Flushing Waterfront District through the final stages of ULURP.
“We’re always looking for other opportunities,” she said.
Lee noted that the politics of the city is an important factor in how developers act in the long term. She noted that large real estate projects, such as the Industry City rezoning, were shut down in recent months, and believes those decisions reflect an anti-real estate and development push.
“In New York City, real estate development is already challenging as it is,” she said. “It’s the most highly regulated market in the country.
“The anti-development politics will influence where we develop and build,” Lee added. “It will force us to rethink where to put our private dollars.”
She believes the Special Flushing Waterfront District, as well as the city elections in 2021, will be a litmus test for how that anti-development movement will manifest. With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting Flushing and New York City at large, Lee believes projects like the SFWD are needed now more than ever.
“The impact of COVID will set us back for years, that’s why we cannot sit still,” she said. “We’ve got to keep moving forward and push progress and growth.”