The meeting was the first of four workshops for “YourLIC,” a public engagement process organized by three Long Island City waterfront developers: TF Cornerstone, Simon Baron Development and L&L MAG.
YourLIC, the developers have previously said, will help determine how to best develop the 28-acre site where Amazon once planned to build its HQ2 campus. The workshops will have different themes, such as resiliency, neighborhood planning and community resources.
Last week’s workshop was led by Bishop Mitchell Taylor, co-founder and CEO of Urban Upbound, and Dr. Gail Mellow, the former president of LaGuardia Community College.
Taylor, who was part of Amazon’s 60-member community advisory group, said while the deal eventually fell through, the land is still there.
“Obviously, something is going to be built there at some point,” he said.
Rather than build on the properties “in the dark,” Taylor said, the developers are hosting a “listening tour” to get feedback from residents about their needs, concerns and hopes for the site.
“They don’t want to develop it behind the scenes,” Taylor said. “They want to develop it in public and with your input.
“We have a proverbial blank page,” he added. “Nothing has been drawn, nothing has been submitted. This is all about trying to figure out what the community would like to see in this development site.”
According to Mellow, YourLIC’s online engagement has already fielded more than 100 comments. At the workshop, residents discussed four topic areas: owning a business, acquiring new skills, becoming a successful entrepreneur, and establishing a lifelong career.
After 40-minute group discussions, each table presented their findings to everyone at the workshop.
“Economic empowerment and career development is what has to be at the center,” Mellow said. “It really has to be an engine so this community can make things better.”
Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Residents Association, attended the workshop to learn more about the developers’ plans. She also wanted to share her thoughts about economic empowerment, especially for young people.
“One thing they should do is to teach our young people how to save and how to invest,” she said. “They should start in elementary school, and continue throughout their schooling.”
Another attendee was Jukay Hsu, president and CEO of the Queens-based organization Pursuit. Hsu was involved in talks with Amazon on possibly running a job-training center.
He said he wants to make sure local residents can participate and benefit from whatever is built at the waterfront site for the long term.
“I hope we can work together,” he said. “Our community is our partner in creating any of these opportunities.
“Our goal is to figure it out,” Hsu added. “We’re here because we want to understand that, and make sure this is done the right way.”
Not all community members agreed with the developers’ plans for the 28-acre site on the waterfront. A handful of people from the LIC Coalition and the Justice for All Coalition, who oppose development, attended the meeting and voiced their concerns.
The LIC Coalition handed out documents detailing their own vision for the Anable Basin, calling for the developers to scrap their proposal in favor of a “community-driven plan.”
The group’s vision includes creating a continuous park along the river to act as a “sponge” against rising sea levels, and arranging for the government to buy the privately owned sites and transfer them to a community land trust.
They also called for the repurposing of a Department of Education (DOE) site for two new middle schools, a community center, mentorship and tech training programs, small business and artist spaces, and more.
Dannelly Rodriguez, a member of the Justice for All Coalition, said he felt the workshop was structured in a way that an “agenda has already been placed upon the community.”
“The developers and the city are working in tandem to push this upon us,” he said. “This is a remake of what the EDC tried to do with Amazon and Sunnyside Yard, really trying to shove this down our throats.”
Rodriguez said when he began talking about not privatizing public land at his table, he got “shut out.” The facilitator redirected the conversation, he said.
Though the groups opposed to development had at least one person at every table, Rodriguez said they will look to attend the following workshops in higher numbers.
“In the meetings moving forward, we’re probably going to look into taking some action, in some shape or form, to send the message that this process is a hoax,” he said. “It’s really not democratic.”