Halloween came early for a developer seeking to take over a controversial plot on the Williamsburg waterfront; this afternoon activists hauling coffins and headstones tried to spook Midtown Equities out of building on land once destined to become a park.
Led by the open space advocacy Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, about ten people dressed in black gathered on the corner of East 17th Street and Fifth Avenue and marched four blocks up to the offices of Midtown Equities, which is reportedly in negotiations to take over the eight-acre site where the former CitiStorage warehouse burned down earlier this year.
They brought with them a cardboard coffin reading, “Midtown Equities Tower Deal DOA RIP.” Another piece of cardboard, shaped as a tombstone, read “CitiStorage Rezoning RIP”; another, shaped as a small coffin, folded open to reveal a printout of a resolution from Community Board 1 opposing any rezoning that would open the way for developers to build on the waterfront land between North 10th and 11th Streets.
“Where are you guys from?” asked a phlegmatic front desk attendant.
“Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, we have a delivery for Mr. Cayre,” said a member of the group, referring to Midtown Equities founder Joe Cayre. The demonstrators expected to be denied entrance but were ushered to the second floor, where they were told that Cayre wasn’t in. They left an envelope containing Community Board 1’s resolution.
Back outside they lay down the coffin and gathered around it, two of them kneeling next to it as if in mourning. Jens Rasmussen, the leader of the group, picked up a green cheerleading megaphone with “#wheresourpark?” written on the side and yelled out the entire community board resolution.
Mr. Rasmussen works in theater and film and has been involved with the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park since the massive seven-alarm CitiStorage warehouse fire in January. “I had been to other meetings in 2014. Everyone was aware that the clock had been ticking and city had not moved on this property to complete the park. But after the fire we lost the luxury of waiting, so that kicked all of us into high gear. We knew that after the fire that property was not going to just sit there and things have played out that way. Norm [Brodsky, owner of the eight-acre property] is trying to offload the property—”
Just then one of the participants, a middle-aged man, walked up and congratulated him. “That’s going to scare the shit out of them. The fact you got in there and came into their offices is going to be very scary.”
The demonstrators say the Bloomberg administration promised the creation of a 28-acre park on the waterfront, in addition to affordable housing units, to ameliorate the effects of the 2005 Waterfront Rezoning Agreement, which the City Council passed over the protestations of Brooklyn’s Community Board 1. They want the City to follow through on its promise to purchase the CitiStorage property and develop it into part of the Bushwick Inlet Park.
Ken Fisher, a spokesperson for Midtown Equities, said he wasn’t ready to share the company’s “vision for the site,” but told Beford + Bowery, “We respect the community’s concerns about the future development of the site, which the owner put on the market after waiting a decade for the city to decide how to proceed. And we hope to fashion a plan that can at least in part include significant public park as well as provide other important benefits as the property will not continue to lay fallow indefinitely.”
The problem with the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park’s demands is that since the 2005 rezoning property values have soared beyond what anybody, in and out of government, predicted. For a 28-acre park, city officials predicted a maximum cost of $90 million—which was how much the current five-acre park alone ended up costing taxpayers.
Brodsky, who purchased his eight-acre parcel of land for $5 million in the early 1990s and built a company on the property, wants his due. “As of right now I have no signed agreements with any developers,” he told Bedford+Bowery. “And the last meeting I had with the city was in the Bloomberg administration. I know that the neighborhood is very agitated and I don’t blame them. There were promises made to them to get a park. The price of the land has sky-rocketed since that promise was made just over ten years ago and I guess the city finds it very difficult to have to pay the value of the land to live up to their commitment. The city paid for a piece next door to me $96,850,000 and that’s half the size of my piece and that was probably about seven years ago, so you can imagine.”
Brodsky’s property is currently zoned as manufacturing. If it’s rezoned as residential, he said, the value of his land could possibly exceed $1 billion. Brodsky says he is not currently involved in any discussions about the future of his property, though he undoubtedly will be. Still, he expressed support for the expansion of the park, though with compromises. “As a business guy I just don’t see how they’re going to get the whole park. As long as the majority part of [my] property becomes a park. That’s up to the community, not me. If a 28-acre park were realistic I’d be on their side, but it’s not realistic.”