Dateline : Thursday, April 10, 2008
Opening Day Fury Outside Shea Stadium
By Henrick A. Karoliszyn
The sun was shining and Mets fans were cheering when an angry storm of protestors rallied outside Shea Stadium on opening day.
Hundreds of residents, elected officials and local organizations had big league concerns about a redevelopment plan that would transform the industrial, 13-block area of Willets Point into 5,500 housing units – very few affordable – and a brand new retail center.
Bullhorns were blaring as the marchers chanted, “No justice no peace,” many with signs over their heads. Gladys Hernandez, a member of the Queens Congregations United for Action, claimed the march was about fundamental freedom.
“Affordable housing and fair treatment for workers should be respected for everyone,” she said.
The main problem is the Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) proposal lacks affordable housing guarantees and protection for local business owners that rent property at Willets Point, according to Council Member Hiram Monserrate. Monserrate, who marched in front of the protestors, said this project is contrary to development. “Eliminating jobs is not progress,” he said. “Keeping rents high is not progress. There is a better way to create housing and improve our economy. It’s up to the city to ensure that.”
The plan, expected to be certified by city officials later this month, riled people up as they marched from 114th Hinton Park to126th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. This anger was largely because the proposal would displace close to 1,500 workers who are part of local businesses.
Francisca Garcia is part of a Catholic charity organization and has family members who work in Willets Point. She feels they will be overlooked with the massive development project. “They [the EDC] should take us into account and they should listen to us in the area,” she said.
Ju Bum Cha, the advocacy director of YKASEC, an organization that aims to empower Korean American communities, spoke about where he lives and how neglected they could be with the city’s new project. “Flushing should have affordable housing altogether and this will not happen with this [proposal],” he said.
With the rally, the protestors aimed to persuade city officials to make Willets Point affordable and to compensate any displaced workers. P. Wayne Mahlke, Legislative and Budget Director at City Hall said, “Getting people’s attention is very important if things are going to change.”