NYC’s largest public housing project called victim of 9/11 — before crash in Alaska

The Starrett City Development Company had almost completed the planned redevelopment of New York City’s last remaining public housing project, another victim of the city’s dramatic post-9/11 housing boom. A Dec. 4, 2005, event,…

NYC’s largest public housing project called victim of 9/11 — before crash in Alaska

The Starrett City Development Company had almost completed the planned redevelopment of New York City’s last remaining public housing project, another victim of the city’s dramatic post-9/11 housing boom.

A Dec. 4, 2005, event, this time in Anchorage, Alaska, will have an enduring legacy in that community and some housing advocates in New York City.

Police spokesman Lt. James Morrissey said a private airplane and two people on board were killed when the plane crashed into a residential building. The Piper PA-31 crashed into a building at the community around 3:15 p.m. at a busy intersection near downtown Anchorage. It was about two weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

The Cessna Model 727 was chartered by Starrett City LLC, a subsidiary of the New York-based Starrett Corporation, which planned and oversaw development of some 3,000 apartments in parts of New York and New Jersey as well as Hawaii. The plane, then owned by Ideal Jet America, had just flown from Washington state and had gone about 25 miles (40 kilometers) before its crash, according to Alaska State Troopers.

It was the second-deadliest U.S. plane crash in recent years, after the collision between two passenger jets over Buffalo, New York, in February 2010 that killed 50 people.

Richard Frank, then the top public affairs officer at Starrett City, said the National Transportation Safety Board gave the company the OK to move forward with its redevelopment plans in 2002. “Everything was going on very smoothly,” he said.

Starrett City purchased the 30-acre property, as well as some adjacent buildings, starting in 2001. By 2008, construction had begun on about 880 apartments, townhouses and condominiums. In 2009, Starrett City was under contract to sell three large blocks of land to JPMorgan Chase & Co. and signed an agreement to lease the remainder back to the bank, which would eventually acquire and sell the remaining blocks to New York City, Frank said.

In May 2005, the Starrett Development Corporation and Gary Brown, head of Starrett City LLC, filed a combined $138 million lawsuit against Ideal Jet America, an Oklahoma City-based charter air service, arguing that Ideal owned the plane involved in the wreck. The suit claimed the plane violated federal law by flying without a pilot on board during refueling stops. The lawsuit included renderings of a 70-story residential tower planned for Starrett City, and said the proposed tower would have made it “America’s tallest residential building.”

In February 2006, Ideal Jet America disputed the allegations in the suit. It denied any liability.

In 2008, Starrett City announced that it had closed on $370 million in financing and its redevelopment plans for the Starrett City project. At the time, Starrett City said the project “had the potential to provide over 10,000 new jobs for New York City.” The apartments and townhouses would “have the ability to house individuals currently living in public housing,” it said.

Starrett City officials in 2006 did not respond to a request for comment about the crash.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Starrett City or Ideal Jet America had been contacted by federal investigators. NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson would not say whether the NTSB had completed its inquiry of the crash.

John Wilen, executive director of Alaska Housing Finance Corp., said the housing company, now called Hope Housing LLC, was the purchase agent for the airport hangar used by the private plane. Wilen said he had no specific knowledge of the crash investigation but said the facility does not have any safety issues.

Randy Wunderley, senior program officer with the National Housing Conference Foundation, which manages a contract to manage the Starrett City housing, said he did not know the relationship between Starrett and Ideal Jet America. “There was no discussion about any of that at the time,” he said.

The Alaska DOT and NTSB had no immediate comment.

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