Thursday, January 4, 2007

Another end-of-year review

Sad when newspapers write about how all the future buildings in Astoria and LIC will be great but fail to recognize that the cause of the blackout last summer was all the new buildings in Astoria and LIC...

Blackout, real estate newsmakers in 2006
By Nathan Duke, Times Ledger, 1/4/07

For Astoria and Long Island City, 2006 was a year of great gains as billions of dollars were poured into new development along the waterfront, but also big losses as a prominent corporation announced plans for an exodus back to Manhattan and a July blackout left residents in the dark for ten days.

Long Island City continued its growth as one of the city's burgeoning development centers as 27 housing structures, including the Rockrose Development Corp. project on Center Boulevard and The Gantry on 49th Avenue, were being built or planned at neighborhood sites during the year.

The neighborhood also witnessed a corporate boom as Citigroup constructed its second tower and the United Nations Federal Credit Union built its first tower at Court Square.

But the largest project was Silvercup Studios' $1 billion expansion along the Long Island City waterfront. The project includes eight new soundstages, 1,000 new apartments, retail and office space, a 40,000-square-foot catering hall, a 100,000-square-foot cultural institution and a waterfront esplanade. The expansion is expected to create 4,000 new jobs.

But it was not all gains for the growing business community as The Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. announced it would move back to Manhattan. But MetLife, which moved its headquarters to Long Island City in 2001 in exchange for millions in tax incentives, reached an agreement with the city in November, under which the company would keep 85 percent of its employees in the borough through June 2008 and 30 percent of its staff through December 2014.

MetLife does not have to repay the city any of the $10 million in tax incentives it received, but forfeited $13.4 million in incentives it had not yet received as part of the deal. In late December, the company signed a 21-year lease for a building in Midtown Manhattan.

But the biggest blow to the western Queens communities came on July 17 as Astoria, Long Island City, Woodside and Sunnyside were plunged into darkness for ten days during a massive blackout. The outage caused hundreds of thousands of residents to lose power, while businesses lost a total of millions of dollars in product, revenue and equipment.

Elected officials slammed Con Edison's response to the blackout in a series of hearings and accused the utility of playing down the number of effected residents. Several businesses near Astoria's busy 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard intersection, including Planet Wings and Cold Stone Creamery, were forced to close permanently, but Con Ed decided to reimburse each business for only $7,000 in damages.

The utility, which is responsible for supplying power to western Queens, released a 600-page report on the outage on Oct. 12, which blamed the incident on short-circuited cables, a substation circuit breaker malfunction and a surge as utility workers attempted to restore power. The utility maintained the blackout was beyond its control.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by email at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.


Anonymous said...

A friend just informed me that a few days ago he witnessed an electrical transformer explode atop a service pole in downtown Flushing! Blue flames shot out of it accompanied by a loud report! The paper goods that had been put out for re-cycling the night before at the curb, had caught fire. The blaze had to be extinguished by the Fire Dept. Just another example of overdevelopment that causes causes overloading of feeder cables! But don't look for this event to be covered in a news article, they happen too often everyday and are considered to be too common to report on. Thus, we the public, will never hear about these well kept dirty little secrets!

Anonymous said...

The funny thing about Astoria is that a number of Con Ed workers LIVE here.

They tell their friends and neighbors the reality behind the brown out last summer.

It was from illegal conversions and overdevelopment. The power grid was set up in the 1950s for what was then considered a fully developed community.

This problem had been going on for years and even this winter, when we got a brief spurt of cold weather, all the basement apartments turned on their heaters and, whoompa, manhole fires.

The point is no one knows how many people live in Astoria anymore. They even tried a special census count in 2004 and got nowhere.

Anonymous said...

The funny thing is that the local politicians and community boards hid throughout the opening stages of the crisis. That is why Con Ed had no idea how bad the problem is. They had no feed back from any local officials.

Vallone is head of Public Safty in city council. Word is he panicked and called out the police who stood around hand in pockets watching the unattended manhole fires.

They thought Astoria would riot like Washington Heights. Years of making a community hopeless and passive with done deals and double talk worked well.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing a news article that all the local politicians played softball with a team from Con Ed in 2005.

After the hearings last year, City Council said they knew about Con Ed alleged misdeeds after the Washington Heights fiasco a number of years ago.

So why the hell did they not sit down with Con Ed and discuss this? Everyone in Astoria knows that a significant part of our community has illegal conversions, and its groaning under a major increase in develoment.

What the hell was those politicians problem? Softball? How about soft in the head!

Anonymous said...

I work for Con Ed and was responsible for sending out the refund checks. We put our foot down when we started getting the fourth or fifth request for a refund from the same apartment. The names may have been different but they all fed off the same meter.

Anonymous said...

An ammendment to my first comment about that exploding electrical transformer in downtown Flushing: My friend informed me yesterday that a responding NYC fireman at the scene said that this was the 2nd time this same transformer blew! Isn't that swell! Wait until the long hot summer arrives! We're being fed lies about adequately safe feeder cables being able to handle our increasing electrical power demands! We're over-built and under-juiced!

verdi said...

Following that big Astoria "blackout" was an even bigger "news blackout"! The media would not take responsibility in discussing the main reason for that dangerous (and fatal, in some cases) power failure. It was overdevelopment. Even the people who were left in the dark clearly saw this!

Anonymous said...

Eh, wadda ya say! Isn't Con Ed management part of da problem? They don't really care who's feeding off their meters, as long as they're making a fortune (some of the highest rates around) selling juice. Do they warn our elected scum that Astoria is overdeveloped beyond the capability of the electrical grid? Nah! Because it's got to be Junior Vallone that gets the role as savior, calling for an investigation! They're all in cahoots! The developers, politicos and Con-job Edison! Ya know, people died, you crumbs, due to your incompetence! But, I guess that's OK. You just keep workin' on your "flashy smiles" and public relations moves and it'll all be forgotten by the time that the next new building permit is issued. Bye the way, buying a full subway car full of ads saying that, "We're on it" , Con Ed, won't assure us that this is so!

Anonymous said...

WITHIN WEEKS of the power outage in Astoria, city council approved 1000s of new units (SUNA brothers waterfront grab and Queens Blvd upzoning) in western Queens and a 25% pay increase for themselves. A pay increase after being MIA while their communities burned around them? I guess they found that hiding in a spider hole during the blackout was uncomfortable and improved amenities were needed for the next inevitable blackout. It all happened during the 2nd or 3rd week in August when we were all on vacation. I was hoping that they would do this 2 AM some morning in January, but they needed to satisify the campaign donors before the public wakes up, so speed was essential.

Anonymous said...

Keep on offering the over-developers new incentives for building, as if they needed them! Instead, builders should be taxed for the added strain on the existing woefully inadequate infrastructure that their new projects will demand! Oh, but of course, I'm dreaming!