The Flushing Commons development sailed to a 44-2 vote of approval in the City Council yesterday after the city arranged a set of concessions to local merchants who had opposed the project. Chief among them: $3 million to keep the project’s oversized parking lot even cheaper.
The Economic Development Corporation had already set aside $2.25 million to help Downtown Flushing’s many small businesses stay afloat during the mega-project’s construction. Many merchants remained opposed to the project, however, arguing that by replacing the municipal parking lot currently on the site, Flushing Commons would keep customers away and drive them out of business.
In response, the city added another $3.75 million to its relief package, $3 million of which will subsidize driving and automobile storage. The money will be used to offer free and discounted parking while Flushing Commons is under construction and to extend a cap on parking prices in the development’s 1,600-space garage for an additional two years.
In other words, a city which ostensibly has a policy to reduce traffic, PlaNYC, has sunk another $3 million to subsidize the use of 1,600 parking spaces in one of the most transit-rich downtowns in the city. We often write about how parking minimums function as a hidden city subsidy for motorists, but this is a signed check made out to the minority of New Yorkers who drive.
That’s a scandal in its own right, but then remember that at no point in the run-up to the MTA’s service cuts did the mayor or the City Council chip in a little extra.
What else could Flushing have gotten for $3 million in city support? A reprieve from all MTA service cuts, for one thing. Discontinuing the Q14, X32, and X51, along with cutting off-peak service on the Q26 and Q48, saved the MTA a total of $3.1 million this year.
Budgets make government priorities perfectly clear. City Council and EDC had a choice of how to spend $3 million to help bring people to Flushing. They chose cheap parking.