You’re walking through an average neighborhood in New York City. You’re surrounded by one story houses fenced in with lush trees, and you can make out small apartment buildings a few blocks in the distance. As you move along the curb, you walk past a family of 3 – a mother and her two kids – playing in the park. It’s a quiet neighborhood, and with the only sounds being those of the occasional car driving past, or the birds chirping.
Now imagine a middle aged Asian man, who owns a very successful business company. Recently, his business has been on a roll, and he is making greater profits than ever doing what he does best: building hotels. Remember the previous scenario? Right where you had stood, in the center of a residential street in a quiet neighborhood, was now a towering 12-story tall hotel building.
That was the experience of residents living in Fresh Meadows in 2012. Plans emerged for a hotel building to be built in a thriving neighborhood in Fresh Meadows. The location was across a small resident street, on the back of a large parking lot that was there for shoppers in the Fresh Meadows Mall. The news of the plans received severe backlash from the community, which consisted of white and asian families. They argued that the hotel was “going to stick out like a sore thumb,” since it was a 12-story building surrounded by 1 or 2 story buildings.
The opposition was led by the president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, James Gallagher Jr. and City Councilman Mark Weprin. Weprin argued that the hotel could attract an “undesirable element” to the neighborhood because he didn’t see how travelers would find that location appealing. He was quoted as saying, “There are a lot of undesirable uses for hotels,” and pointed to hot sheet motels and temporary housing for the homeless as examples. He might have been referring to the original purpose of the hotel, which was meant to be an “Ellis Island” of sorts, being a place for Chinese students and business people to stay in while in town.
The company in charge of the hotel’s construction, The Mayflower Business Group, had a response ready, however. Spokesperson George Frangoulis argued that “The community is always complaining because they never liked the project in the first place,” he said. “New York City is all about development. It’s not New York without real estate. It provides jobs and creates economic growth. This hotel will be a great addition to the neighborhood.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions but this will be a four-star hotel,” he added. “People have to realize Asians are an asset to New York City. We’re Americans and we have to accept everyone with open arms.”
What Frangoulis conveniently left out was that Xiao Zhung Ge was already responsible for 2 other hotels being built in the same neighborhood only a few minutes’ drive away. Additionally, there were the very practical issues of parking and sewage overflow that residents were reluctant to have to deal with if the plans did go through. Using these to maneuver the city into chopping the plans, Gallagher and the rest of the community were successful in forcing the Zhung Ge to let go. Their victory didn’t last for long though, because Zhung Ge applied for renewal of the hotel a few months later and was quick to get his project back in action.
This time, the community was less successful in stopping the company, so in 2015, construction began for the Wyndham Hotel. The hotel opened in 2017, and residents were forced to accept that, despite their active hostility to the hotel’s presence and those who would occupy it, they would have to share their streets with those outside of their community.