Francis to NY1: No Turning Back Once Housing is in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Last night’s public hearing at LICH on alternatives to housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park was well attended according to NY1. About 100 people weighed in with alternative funding plans.

“This is the first time in the city or the state, there will be private luxury housing inside the borders of a public park. Once you put private houses inside a public park, that land is gone forever,” Judi Francis of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund told the channel.

Video after the jump.

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  • bklyn20

    The opponents of housing in the park at the hearing greatly outnumbered the pronents of housing in the park, by something like 100 to 3. I hope the consultants get the message.

    I can only pray the Committee on Alternatives to Housing, most of whose members did not bother to attend, got a message too.

  • Resident

    Could that just be because anyone who sees housing “in” the park as not a big deal probably don’t care enough to go to a hearing?

    So what were the grand proposals to make up for the funding and make the park “self-supporting”? I don’t buy Squadron’s original proposal for it is either a tax increase or a loss of revenues to pay for all other city services, depending on the details. The only plausible solution I’ve heard is turning the watchtower buildings into residential/commercial properties and having them pay PILOTs, but that is dependent on an outside group.

  • checker

    Is Judi’s characterization even factually correct? I mean, she’s fighting her fight to win and all public figures spin, but is the housing “inside the borders of a public park?” I know the parkland hasn’t been mapped as such, so the statement seems untrue to me.

    More accurate, but less persuasive as ana argument, is the proposed housing would be on the perimeter of the park on land that park advocates had imagined would be used for recreation.

  • http://deleted buddy11210

    Checker: The housing is inside the borders of the park. Each building is surrounded on three sides by the park. And while you are technically correct to say it is not yet been designated a park, it was and has been conceived as a park since 1984, so you are splitting hairs about designation. Or if you think it is a housing project, then you seem to agree with the people who are trying to get a park! There were at least 10 different and new ideas for funding presented at that meeting in addition to the Squadron and Jehovah Witness ideas.
    To Resident: You are factually wrong. The PIRC plan encourages development from buildings that currently are not producing tax dollars (so nothing is taken away) or producing at a lower industrial rate vs. housing. Remember, the PILOTs take ALL tax dollars away from the city! That is a further injustice on this funding scheme.

  • David on Middagh

    Now that the old warehouses on Furman Street have been knocked down, walkers of the Promenade have a better-than-before view of the Eighth Wonder of the World.

    I truly hope that not rebuilding there remains an option.

  • my2cents

    Maybe they’ll put in a private golf course too.

  • bkre

    I was there. I don’t think there were 10 ideas that were mentioned. Maybe half that. And none were new, all have already been mentioned. Here’s what I got:

    1) Squadron’s PIRC plan or some other form of TIF or BID or other new tax
    2) Commercial development like bars and restaurants and places to dance instead of housing
    3) The Watchtower plan
    4) Reduce the operating budget by trimming fat
    5) The city should pay for Park maintenance out of the City Parks Dept budget.

    If I missed anything please feel free to add to that list.

  • DrewB

    I attended and spoke at the meeting last night. I feel it is important to make a few points.

    1. Nobody, not even Judi Francis, is fighting against a park. Everyone who spoke out against the housing inside the park, supports the park. Many of us feel that the budget is ridiculously bloated (The cost/acre to run it is 10 times the cost of Central Park) and that combination of spending reduction and alternative revenue sources could reduce or eliminate the need for housing in the Park.

    2. There are many reasons that people are opposed to the housing in the park:
    -the ominous nature of a 31 story high rise greeting you as you enter
    -the obstruction of sight lines
    -the blockage of sunlight
    -the privatization of a public park are just a few.
    To that last point we have already seen that the project administrators feel that they can set their own rules about what happens in “their park” including trampling the first amendment rights of local residents, as you can see in this video

    3. There is no guarantee proposed buildings will cover the cost of the HUGE budget. 360 Furman is barely 50% full after three years on the market, and that only after reducing prices 20%-30%. Other recent luxury condo developments in the area sit half full, or have turned to rentals to survive. These developments were planned at the height of the bubble, and if they fail to provided needed revenue the project administrators have already said they’ll just build more.

    4. The purpose of the meeting was for the public to express their views about the revenue streams in the park and offer alternative revenue ideas to housing. Several alternate ideas were presented:
    -Capturing all revenue generated in the park. Currently the park receives no rent from vendors, no payments from film crews and no payment from the water taxi, all which benefit from the park and should pay for that privilege.
    -Create a year round, pay to play rec facility on Pier 6 similar to Chelsea piers
    -Capture tax revenue from the soon to be sold Witness properties that border to the park, like they did with 360 Furman
    -Explore philanthropy, many parks around the country supplement their revenue with donations from local residents and businesses.
    -A small itemized tax for residents that border the park and will see their property values rise. I for one would be happy to an extra $100 per year to support the park. It’s a small price to pay for a world class rec facility right outside my door that increases the value of my apartment.

    This is just a sample of ideas presented. The consulting agency that has been hired for this committee is the real expert and one would hope that they can come up with more.

    The second and final opportunity to have your voice heard will be
    Thursday, December 9, 2010, 6pm – 8pm
    St. Francis College*, 180 Remsen Street
    Founders Hall Auditorium, 1st floor

    You can also submit your ideas via email to Bay Area Economics Consulting by 12/13/10 5PM to

    Get involved.

  • bkre

    Oh yeah, a couple of other ideas from last night that I forgot in my last post:
    6) All revenue from concessions should go to the park
    7) All revenue from photo and film shoots should go to the park
    8) All revenue from events in the park should go to the park

    The problem with these ideas of course is that all revenue from these things already goes to the park. The only exception being the River Cafe and Ice Cream Factory which are both operating on leases that pre-exist the park, and don’t really generate a lot of money anyway

  • Josh G

    Moving my comment from the “restaurant” post here…

    Everyone is so up in arms about housing in the park and I still don’t get why. That housing is funding the park – PILOTs, maintenance fees or whatever – so let those residents’ maintenance fees that they (not you) pay build the park that you can enjoy for free. The city is not going to raise our taxes, so let those people fund the park.

    As others have stated there are very few alternatives. As I understand it lots of alternatives were analyzed in 2004-05.

    There is this pervasive attitude that BBP is an elitist park. Last I checked I didn’t see a special section in Pier 1 for park residents only. This is not a private park.. it’s totally public and totally free. If you live in Brooklyn or anywhere in NYC, then you’re getting a brand new gorgeous park and are not paying anything for it.

    Perhaps the people who are so vehemently opposed to the park development and the groups championing it day after day would prefer the vacant shipping docks that used to be there instead.

  • DrewB

    The solution here is the same solution all of us are facing in trying times, how to cut our spending and maximize our income. People need to stop thinking in terms of all or nothing. As much as I’d like to remove all the housing from the park, if we could reduce it (particularly the 31 story building) that would be better than nothing. The more we can spread the revenue stream around to a variety of sources, the less the project administration has to bow to the will of the park residents.

    But up until now the project administration has been totally unwilling to discuss any revenue options except housing. It wasn’t until turncoat Marty Conner was defeated because of is adamant and arrogant support of housing, that some politicos like Joan Millman finally figured out they needed to listen to their constituency. Whether or not this is merely political theater remains to be seen. But it is at least one last chance to have your opinion heard.

    I would also like to state that it shouldn’t be up to the residents to come up with these ideas. We aren’t civic planners. That’s the job of this panel and the consultants they have hired. It is great for the residents to offer up ideas, but the professionals are certainly better suited to figure this out.

  • checker

    “Capture tax revenue from the soon to be sold Witness properties that border to the park, like they did with 360 Furman”

    The Witness properties will not be sold “soon.” It’s a great idea except for that fact.

  • DrewB

    Fact huh?

    I don’t know whether the Witness bldgs will be sold soon or not, and I doubt you do either. A lot of people who are more plugged in than I (Community leaders, real estate professionals, politicos) say that they will be on the market soon. No reason to dismiss it unless we know the full story, and it is certainly worth discussing since the group has been trying to liquidate property in the area in recent years.

  • william

    The idea to “Pilot” the other Witness properties is the best idea yet. (Besides slashing the totally bogus operating budget.)

    And any new “inside the Park” construction won’t be filled with residents anytime soon. With 50% of the luxury housing in the area still vacant, there is obviously no demand in the market for MORE luxury housing.

    And what about Maritime usage? Build restaurants on barges, or lease dock space for cruise ships and use them as ready made hotels. That can happen quickly.

  • Resident

    I’m tired of seeing this argument that the maintenance budget is “bloated” as compared to such parks as Central Park. BBP is self supporting and built on piers in saltwater. In BBP not only do you have to mow the grass, you have to care for everything under the surface. This cost is significant and the main reason a park wasn’t there long before. It doesn’t cost money to knock down some buildings and put in grass, it costs money to make sure the pier can support it and will be safe into the future.

    The $16.1M not only is intended to take care of everything you see, but is also to go into reserves for known future expenses, as determined by competent engineers, for the care of the pier structures. Since the park isn’t supposed to receive a lump sum from the state or city to make such future repairs, it has to plan for it out of whatever revenue streams they have.

    So again, the only two plausible alternatives to make up the revenue stream are Squadron’s tax increases/diversions from the tax pool at large and the use of the Witness’ property. Since Watchtower has just begun the land use process up-state, on land where there is rumored to be significant remediation issues, and Watchtower’s reluctance to receive anything but top dollar for their property, this option is risky.

  • DrewB

    Yes, Maritime usage was another item that was mentioned last night. Roy Sloan presented and excellent idea to rebuild a new “Atlantic Ferry Terminal” on Pier 6, much like the one that existed int he days before the Brooklyn Bridge. It could be a multi use building incorporating Ferry service to Manhattan, dining, entertainment and recreation. Being at the bottom of Atlantic it would be easily accessible by bus, car, ferry or trolley (if that happens). Because there is little residential development at the bottom of Atlantic, it would not be disruptive to residents. And rents/fees would provide income. The idea of floating restaurants and hotels was also mentioned. They use no park land, and provide a community destination as well as income.

    Lots of ideas out there, if only the project administration would open their eyes. But the EDC has been determined to include housing since they’ve been involved. What else would you expect when you allow the ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORP to design a park. Their mission is to drive development, not diminish it.

  • Resident

    And William, if the market won’t support more luxury housing built on the park, why would they buy luxury housing in Watchtower properties? Seems like your criticism applies equally to housing “in” the park and your “best idea yet.”

  • DrewB

    The difference Resident is if the buildings outside the park fail to support it, then we don’t have a bunch of useless huge buildings in the park. Once they are built they are not going anywhere, empty or not. Either it is a viable income source or not. Why sacrifice valuable park land, and risk the privatization of parkland, when we have an option that offers the same income, without any of those drawbacks?

  • Resident

    DrewB, I don’t really think a failure to sell is a concern. 1BBP’s problem was that it was an isolated building without a park. Ever since pier 1 and 6 were completed and prices were chopped in line with the post bubble market, the units have been selling like crazy. According to streeteasy, there are only 16 active listings (one in contract) currently with 187 sales. Seems like they’re doing just fine.

    My point was really that it seems hypocritical to say that the market won’t support new luxury housing (in buildings designed to be housing, no less) yet expect it to support new luxury housing converted from witness buildings.

    Speaking of the witness buildings, has anyone seriously looked into what it would take to convert those buildings? Has a developer been given a tour to determine what it would take to make a profit? Any idea if developers’ opinions will match what Watchtower thinks the buildings are worth? For we’ve seen that Watchtower is willing to wait it out to get the price they want (see the Bossert).

  • DrewB

    Again the difference is if they don’t provide the support you have not wasted the parkland on buildings that don’t serve the purpose they were intended to. You have some good questions about the witness buildings, which is why it is important to explore them. As it is important to explore all funding options. It is strange to me that some people seem to be against exploring other options.

    When the EDC took over the process they never gave a fair assessment to the alternate funding options that the community had developed in the extensive planning process. Theses were not funding options that were pulled out of the sky. They were developed with input from local businesses, city planners, park experts, and other professions with specifc insightts on this type of thing.

    The EDC also ignored one of the most important points that the community had put in “13 Guiding Principles” of the original park plan, that there should be no housing in the park. Instead of a balanced plan that offered revenue from a variety of sources, thereby lessening the effects of problems with one source, they moved ahead with a plan that provides 90% of the funding from one source, Luxury Condo Developments.

    I can’t understand why anyone would be opposed to widening the spectrum of funding, particularly if it can lessen development.

  • checker

    Drew, I am more plugged in than you and fall into one of the three parenthetical categories you posted at 4:22. I have read originial documents from the Town of Warwick. See the last paragraph of Resident’s post at 4:44.

  • nabeguy

    As far as I’m concerned, put ’em up. Let those suckers pay $1mil+ for a “luxury” one bedroom. And then listen to them all screech when the BQE re-construction gets under way in their backyard. Adios, muchachos, I’m outta here.

  • DrewB

    That’s fine checker. All I can say is that I have spoken with others in those parenthetical categories who disagree with you. So why not explore the issue.

  • bklyn20

    Drew B, many many thanks for keeping the side of right going today.

    RE;: The illusion that restaurants and venues in the park are going in to the park:

    Sorry, you’re wrong. The River Cafe pays $28,000 a year to rent the space it uses (2 acres, including a mini-park they had to build to compensate for the “Casual RIver Cafe” (no jackets necessary) extension. However, if you go into their River Cafe Mini-Park, chances are good that you will be ushered out. I think they may also use the space for wedding photos – do I hear another
    ca-CHING! here that is not being shared with the park?

    Before you object — THE RIVER CAFE LEASE, and presumably that incluides the Ice Cream factory lease as well — WAS RENEGOTIATED LAST YEAR. The terms of their lease were not changed.

    $28,000 a year — can you rent a studio in Fulton Ferry or DUMBO for a little over $2,000/month? Yet that’s what Buzzy O’Keefe pays, and he puts NONE of his profit into the park.

    RE: Jane’s Carousel — while carousel profits are not ever going to be huge, any money the carousel generates must be used to sustain the carousel. That’s the deal the Walentass struck. But no revenue for the park

    RE: St Ann’s warehouse in the Tobacco Warehouse space — all the revenue goes to St. Ann’s.

    It’s clear, to those with minds open enough to see through the “housing is best for the park” smokescreen, that the BBPDC wants to maximize the appearance of a need for housing to justify the additional housing. They don’t want the park to generate any alternative revenue that might challenge their shortsighted preconceptions..

  • bklyn20

    Another point I must contend with, although as I mentioned above, Drew B is doing a great job on this as well — Hudson River Park is built on piers. The BBP budget is also bloated compared to that of Hudson River Park.

    And Josh G, as I pointed out earlier, we are all paying for 1BBP (we who don’t live in 1BBP) by having to absorb the decreases in property taxes that are going into the Park instead. PILOTS might be ok in some circumstances, but not when the buildings are IN the park. Taking away all those tax dollars for obtrusive NEW buildings is like a double tax for those living outside of the park.

  • william

    Resident, I am told that your BBP budget calls for 16 new Toyota Prius automobiles. Are you going to stuff the new cars under the salt water piers to support them? What does Regina want with 16 new cars? (Are you getting one for your postings? Or are you a car salesperson working on commission?)

    What other “park” buys 16 new cars from it’s operating budget? For what? You already have a big private bus to drive you and your neighbors to the subway station.

    And if you are a Resident, why would you want to overcrowd your ‘special place’ with all those new extra residents? Let them buy their luxury Condos elsewhere.

    If you have an apartment with a South facing view at 360 Furman Street, you will be looking into other people’s apts less than a half block away, not the NY harbor view that you see now and paid for now. Will Regina give you and your neighbors your money back, if she builds the new buildings?

    And since those planned 31 story towers will be right next to your building, they will take the sunlight away from EVERY resident at 360 Furman – which might be 12 stories in height, if that.

    Why do you want to spoil your good thing?

    You should be screaming – against new housing – not pushing for diminished services that you probably paid dearly for.

    Think about it.

  • bklyn20

    What William said — I concur.

  • Publius

    If Ratner can take blocks of private business and housing through eminent domain for his private Atlantic Yards venture (thank you US Supreme Court for the Kelo outrage), NYC/NYS should be able to take the Witnesses buildings using eminent domain for a true public project- Brooklyn Bridge Park.

    The Witnesses, though reasonably good neighbors, IMHO, have not been paying taxes on those buildings for decades due to their status as a tax exempt religion. It’s time the rest of the community and the government benefits from the hundreds of millions (perhaps billions) of dollars in lost tax revenue from all of these decades.

    Since they are planning to leave anyway, the Witnesses should get a fair market price for their buildings through eminent domain, and then the state/City and/or private developers could use those existing building outside the park for money making ventures such as hotels, housing, schools, etc, that would support the park.

    Problem solved.

  • http://deleted buddy11210

    Witness building can be the hotel that was planned for pier 1 if the concern is that there is a glut of luxury housing in Brooklyn (which there probably is if it has taken 3 years and 1 BBP is still only 55% sold or in contract). All revenue that is derived from the park both
    on premises (like all vendors inside the park and those on its borders) should pay into park maintenance – that is not happening today. The River Cafe’s deal is one we should all be shocked about but why aren’t the proponents of housing questioning this sweetheart deal? (I suspect the proponents of housing are the very ones who struck those sweetheart deals in the first place, posing on this blog.) And if money is what the pro-housing lobby is after, there were a lot of good ideas about generating them in the park, with facilities open to the public that leave this as public land and not private. Wouldn’t that benefit everyone (or are some who want housing really just real estate mavens who want a piece of the action?). Private housing will forever alienate these public lands. Is that what we want for our parks going forward? This was to have been a park not a housing project. If the Mayor, who seems to want to be known as the parks-mayor, really cared he would do for Brooklyn what he is planning to do for Manhattan along the East River – plan to pay for a park along a river front, without housing! Why is Brooklyn’s park a second class citizen’s park that must pay for both operations as well as capital costs but Manhattan’s parks not? The answers were given on Tuesday night if the consultant cares to listen.

  • DrewB

    A couple other points that I remembered from the meeting that I thought were important.

    1. The wetlands on the pier. One of the speakers was a structural engineer. He explained that the idea of building wetlands on a pier is very problematic. The pier structural integrity is attacked from above and below be corrosive salt water. This makes that structure particularly expensive to build and maintain. This a feature that was not part of the original plan. While it may be a beautiful feature, the community never asked for it. The original plan called for a recreational area in that space. Something that is much cheaper to build and maintain. This is an example of how the budget was unnecessarily bloated. Get rid of the wetlands. Build a ball field. The kids are happier, the costs are reduced.

    2. Another bit of testimony came from an architect, who discussed the problematic nature of building residential buildings in that flood plain. Because of the unstable nature of the location, the foundation and anchoring work will be massive. It will be a huge expense just to anchor the building to the bedrock. She said that after spending so much to do the foundation work. it is unlikely that developers will be able to make the smaller 15 story building profitable. They will want to go higher to recoup their expenses. If the park is reliant solely on the funds form this development to survive, how can they hold the developer to height restriction.

    I don’t claim to be a structural engineer or are an architect. And I am no position to defend these theories. If you want to know the specific details i suggest you check out the transcripts of the meeting that are supposed to be posted on the BBPC website. But if people with these expertise are putting up red flags (as they have been for the last 6 years with no one paying attention) then it is just one more reason to take a look at alternate options.