Friday, August 23, 2013
Details of shady Mattone deal being FOILed
From the Queens Chronicle:
Convinced that something is amiss in an Elmhurst real estate deal, community board members and civic association leaders are investigating the history of a 2.3-acre property located between the Queens Center mall and the Long Island Expressway, where the Mattone Group plans to build three restaurants: Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Joe’s Crab Shack. The Newtown Civic Association filed a Freedom of Information Request with the city’s Economic Development Corporation for all documents related to the site, last Wednesday. If the EDC’s records confirm their suspicions, the civic association will bring its findings to the city’s Department of Investigation.
Newtown Civic Association President Tom McKenzie, a longtime member of the Community Board 4 Planning Committee, remembers when the city sold the land, which was then a municipal parking lot, to the Mattone Group for $2.2 million in 2001.
Mattone signed a contract with the EDC, promising to build a movie theater on the lot within four and half years and to buy the dilapidated Elmwood Theater across the street and donate the proceeds to the Catholic Medical Center of Brooklyn and Queens, which operated nearby St. John’s Hospital. If those conditions were not met, the city would be able to buy back the property for $1.
Mattone had originally planned to have Loews operate the theater, but Loews declared bankruptcy and Mattone struggled to find a replacement. The lot has been used for commercial truck parking until recently, when Mattone erected a fence around the property. Mattone never purchased the Elmwood Theater and therefore no proceeds were donated to the Catholic Medical Center. The theater was sold to the Rock Church and St. John’s Hospital went bankrupt in 2009.
In 2010, the EDC issued an eviction notice and Mattone sued the city. The judge ruled in favor of the EDC, but Mattone appealed and reached a settlement with the agency for $3 million and signed a new contract with it on Feb. 6, 2013, modifying the zoning requirements so that Mattone could build the restaurants. The money went straight to the agency and the promises made to the community evaporated.