Park Board Meets, Receives Draft Report on Housing Alternatives

The board of directors of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation met today at the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. The principal item on the agenda was receipt of the draft report of Bay Area Economics, the consultant hired by the Corporation to study alternatives to luxury housing as sources of revenue to cover maintenance and operational expenses of the Park. The draft report is available here.

As we reported earlier, the consultants were given nine prospective sources of revenue to study. Ron Golem of BAE presented a summary of the draft report. He began by noting that each proposal was evaluated with respect to the amount of revenue it could generate and how it compares with housing as a revenue source in terms of risk and timing of revenue flows. The parameters within which each proposal was evaluated were (1) it must not displace revenue that would otherwise accrue to the City and (2) risk and timing must be consistent with site development. The bottom line was, in the view of BAE, the proposed alternatives could produce revenues in the range of $2.4 to $7 million annually.

When Mr. Golem completed his presentation, members of the board were invited to question or comment. City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe expressed skepticism about revenue projections for certain of the alternatives. He expressed doubt that a Park Improvement District, which would cover all properties within one quarter of a mile of the Park boundary, would receive the required approval of a majority of the property owners in the affected area, as they would have to pay assessments. He was also skeptical of the projected revenue figures for fee-based recreational facilities, which he said in other City parks can only support their operational costs, and from fundraising appeals.

When discussion was opened to members of the public, both Judi Francis, head of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, which has been active in opposing housing in the Park, and who thanked BAE for showing that substantial revenues could be generated by alternatives to housing, and Tony Manheim, pioneer park advocate, questioned the zeroing out of the Watchtower properties as a potential revenue source. State Senator Daniel Squadron later released a statement on this issue:

Between what’s included and what’s been left out, this draft shows it’s possible to fund the park without imposing a new fee on Brooklynites or building new on-site luxury housing. The report details almost $3 million in new revenue from recreation, special events, concessions, commercial uses and increased fundraising — all on sites already planned for residential development, commercial development or parking, and without imposing any new taxes or fees on
Brooklynites. And the most important alternative revenue source has not yet been studied: tapping into the 2.8 million square feet of nearby Watchtower properties that are not currently on the City’s tax rolls because the properties are tax-exempt and lack much of the zoning and other changes needed to become viable taxpaying properties generating the full revenue that could be realized from those sites. I look forward to hearing from the community during the 60-day public review of this draft, as we work together to find a solution that funds Brooklyn Bridge Park and moves us closer to a unified Harbor Park–a Central Park for the center of our city.

As noted by Senator Squadron, comments on the draft report are invited to be submitted within the next 60 days (deadline April 23), and should be sent to There will be a public hearing at St. Francis College Auditorium, 180 Remsen Street, on Monday, March 31 at 6:00 p.m. BAE will issue its final report within 30 days of the end of the comment period, and expects to do so by the end of May. After that, the board’s Committee on Alternatives to Housing will hold a public meeting at which it will vote on which alternatives to present to the full board for approval, and the board, at a public meeting, will review the committee’s recommendations and vote on which of them to adopt.

In other business, the board approved the by-laws of the Community Advisory Council and authorized an amendment to the contract with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates to authorize $22 million in already budgeted funds for work on Pier 5. BBPC president Regina Myer gave a report in which she expressed delight that the National Park Service had reaffirmed its decision on the de-parking of the Tobacco Warehouse. She noted that the lawsuits are continuing, but that work can proceed on the designation of St. Ann’s Warehouse to occupy the space, so long as nothing is done to alter the structure. She also said an RFP would be issued for Empire Stores, and that one response had been recieved to the RFP for the restaurant on Pier 6. She concluded by noting that weather had slowed construction work, but that she hoped to have news on the opening of the volleyball courts on Pier 6 and other ongoing projects soon.

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  • DrewB

    The PID looks like a winner to me.

    “The annual PID cost for a Class 1 residence with $750,000 market value could range from $111 to $442″

    That seems like a small price to pay to have a world class park outside your door that is certain to raise your property value. I’m willing to part with less than the cost of dinner out each month to cover that ($36.83/month).

  • Buggs Bunny

    What’s up Doc?

    Trim the “Park” budget. Why do you need 16 Prius automobiles for a condo development? They already have a commuter bus. Maroons!

  • http://deleted Sue

    A clear win for the people of Brooklyn – a way to get rid of housing inside the park. There are multiple ways to fund this park starting with concessions (river cafe takes up a full 2 acres of park land yet pays only $7100 per month for this privledge – doesn’t anyone think this a total rip off?), parking fees, events, and even, if needed, a small tax on properties that benefit most from this greenery – those people like Joanne Witty on the Park Board – who look over the park in the first pace.

  • Spin Cycle

    Looks like the Judy Francis spin zone is in full effect on this already. Lets talk about Priuses, because I’ve heard this one alot:

    1) The 16 Priuses comes from a report from a consultant about 7 years ago – before there was even a blade of grass planted. I haven’t heard anyone at the Park talk about Priuses in a couple of years. And the Park has been open now for about a year – I have not seen anyone on the park staff driving around in a Prius. I have seen them driving up and down Furman and in dumbo in those dinky little golf cart things – those things probably cost less than a i-pad.

    2) Even if you think there will be priuses, how much is a prius, $30,000. S0 16 Priuses would be $480,000 for the whole fleet. And you don’t buy 16 new priuses every year, right? They probably last at least 5 years before they need to be replaced. So $480,000 / 5 years = $96,000 a year in operating expenses. The housing raises a reported $9 million a year. You’ve just cut about 1% of that. Keep going , you’ve only got another $8.9 million left to cut….

  • Spin Cycle

    And regarding the River Cafe: That restaurant is not on Park property. It existed even before anyone was talking about a Park. If I remember correctly that lease dates back to 1975, when everyone can agree that this land was worthless. Buzzy Okeefe was a visionary who put his time and money into a project that most of us would have thought was crazy, and he succeeded probably way beyond even his wildest dreams. He’s got a lease with his landlord, the City, that he was smart enough to sign way back in the 70’s. That lease still has about 10 years on it. WHen it expires, we can talk about raising the rate and how much money that will earn. But until then the City needs to honor the terms of its lease. You wouldn’t want your landlord coming to you in the middle of the year and raising your rent just because he felt he could get more, do you? That’s why we have contracts. Advocating for the City to be dishonest and not honor it’s obligations in a contract seems to be a silly suggestion.

  • Resident

    The problem with relying on the Watchtower properties is that there will be questions of when tax revenues will start to be produced from those properties and how much money it will bring in.

    We know two things about Watchtower: (1) they put several properties on the market way back in 2007/2008 and (2) about a year ago they started seeking approval to build headquarters upstate. That leaves two huge question marks, when will their headquarters be completed and the moving process begin, and how long will it take to sell the properties?

    I would think that it’s safe to assume another 3 years minimum before the witnesses vacate the neighborhood. How much longer until these properties are sold and returned to the tax rolls? The marketing of properties announced in 2007 didn’t produce great results. The Standish Arms sold, but did any of the other properties? All deals for the Bossert, what should have been a prime property for developers, fell through. I think the sales results demonstrate a patience on Watchtower’s part to wait for the right price, and right now, with several slow moving developments in the neighborhood ongoing, how many developers are going to jump at the bevy of new properties that would be available?

    So the important question becomes, who is going to fill the funding gap while we wait on the “goldmine” of witnesses properties? It could be 10+ years before the properties start producing enough money for the park, how do we bridge that funding gap? We certainly can’t rely on the city with Bloomberg’s budget.

  • sandy

    Last time I heard Judi Francis was for the park improvement district.. She has mentioned this several times.

  • Still here

    I agree with Spin and Resident. The report indicates to me that there really isn’t much out there in real alternatives to replace housing. Further to Resident’s last point regarding the condo market, I am not sure who would want to develope housing right now. And on the other hand, I also doubt that the City will let this new park deteriorate and will therefore find some way of providing interim funding for maintenance. We must wait and see how some of the suggested sources evolve which shall be augmented by the probable hotel and some income from the Empire Stores.

  • Buggs Bunny

    Spin Cycle – you are spinning yourself into a hole in the ground. How much are you getting paid by the BBPC? We think Resident works for Walentas, so you know what that’s all about. Carry on, boys. Earn that money.

  • Spin Cycle

    1) @ Buggs – in the interest of having a meaningful discussion and not devolving into cheap name calling I wish you would point out something specific that I said that you disagree with rather than just calling me a shill.

    2)@sandy – That’s what I thought too (that Judy Francis was pro the park improvement district), but if you look at today’s Brooklyn Paper, it quotes Judy Francis as coming out against the PID.

  • Resident

    I work for Walentas? Good to know… though my current employer will no doubt be troubled by my “moonlighting.”

    I’ve said many times, I’m not pro-development, I’m pro-park funding. In my mind, the development proposal is the best way to assure future funding. I’d be perfectly content with other funding options if they were realistic, but since Squadron has said the PID won’t happen and Watchtower seems in no rush to vacate and sell, I just don’t see any realistic options. I mean, seriously, is $3M (the maximum potential alternative revenue streams w/o the $4M PID revenues) and waiting on potential watchtower properties really the answer?

    If anyone could seriously show when Watchtower properties are going to provide $13M/year and how we’re going to bridge the gap in the meantime, I’m all ears. I agree that the Watchtower properties are the ideal solution to make everyone happy, if only they had started the process 10 years ago. Today, it is merely unknown potential that I’m not comfortable holding out hope for.

  • Publius

    Only 1 proposal in the response for an RFP for the restaurant on Pier 6. Clearly others seriously doubt the viability of such a location or there would be more proposals.

  • william

    To Spin Cycle – The cars aren’t in a consultants report from 2004 as you posted.

    They are part of the revised 2010 BBPC M&O Operating Budget which I am told is posted as a public record. There is supposed to be a fleet of vehicles for the park including: 15 Prius Cars, 16 ATVs, 40 riding lawn movers, and several large dump trucks to be replaced over a period of time. And I don’t know how you are comparing ipads and ATVs together in price. They aren’t even close in price range.

    The point being is that the Park Budget of 16 million per year is inflated to support the mythical “need” of housing inside the park. Housing inside the park isn’t needed for things that aren’t needed.

    The budget needs to be adjusted for the amount of money available for the park – excluding housing. That’s all.

    Is this specific enough for you? I hope you are just mislead, and not shilling for housing as you claim you aren’t.

    And regarding the River Cafe, since it is now surrounded by Park property, why shouldn’t the City give it’s rent to the Park’s maintenance? Seems to make sense. When the lease is up, do whatever in raising it. Your defense of NY City’s honesty is a real hoot. Which planet are you from?

    And lastly, The Brooklyn Paper was bought by Rupert Murdoch a few years ago. Can you trust anything they write now? Who knows anymore? I would be suspicious of their reporting.

  • william

    Resident – Your past posts are all over the place. They spin, duck, dive, how can anyone identify what position you hold at any one given time? It is futile, so why bother? You blow like the wind – here, then gone, all at the same time.

    But, why must the “Park” be finished within the next 10-years? Do you have a contract for something?

    But, the same argument applies. Make a budget with the money available. But don’t make a budget and then do anything (like housing) to support it.

    I’m glad you claim not to be working for Walentas. Have you thought of applying? You could be a godzillionaire.

  • http://deleted Sue

    RIver Cafe occupies two acres of park land. They have occupied this public land since the mid 1970’s – land that the public owns and that was designated part of the park project many years ago. This is fact. The question is, How much is that land worth to rent each year? It is worth far more than what is paid. But this contract, like so much about this park financing model, was not on the table. For all the people who like what is going down in this park, good for you. But now even the Heights Association is crying wolf with their new law suit and public comments about privatization of public lands and public resources. So come off it – unless you work for a developer or the Conservancy or the Park Corporation (i.e. derive your income from this park) you should be appalled at the actions of this Development Corporation. And it you are not, you are delusional. Either way, there will be green space and there probably will not be any more housing inside its borders which will be a good thing for those of us who do want a real park with much needed recreation for our kids to use.

  • resident

    William, if my posts have been “all over the place,” it’s only due to the absurdities posted on this site by people who seem to be against any development at all cost.

    A little bit about me, I used to be connected to the construction industry, but with no contacts to anyone who has any interest in the park, or really any interest in any development in the area. I now work in a field that is completely removed from the industry.

    My only interest is the betterment of the neighborhood. To me the completion and proper maintenance of the park is of utmost priority. The completion of a great, big, beautiful park not only gives the neighborhood a world class amenity, but it might have down the line benefits, like drawing more people to the neighborhood leading to things like better restaurants and shops.

    I am not opposed to development “in” the park, I’m sorry that this bothers you. It’s just that in my opinion, all evidence points to the current plan being best able to fund the park. That’s the only reason I support the plan, and by the way, this seems to be the position of the vast majority of commenters at places like brownstowner, curbed, and gothamist.

  • bklyn20

    Way to go William! I wonder how many Priuses, etc. have been purchased when not all the housing has been built (and I pray it stays that way. In addition, a few times over last summer and fall, I was in the park in the early evening and in need of security personnel for minor emergencies, yet there were neither Priuses nor security personnel to be found. Hmmm.

    In response to an ealier post re: The RIver Cafe, if that restaurant isn’t in the park because it pre-dates the BBP, then I guess we can all stop debating about the Tobacco Warehouse and even about the Empire Stores — they pre-date the River Cafe by 100 years or so. They must not be in the park’s space either. All are on public land and within the park’s “space.”

    Still Here, if you don’t think anyone wants to develop housing right now, then why support the curent financing plan that is based on housing? I appreciate that you think that the city will not allow BBP to disintegrate into the East River, and that we should see how the other sources of funding pan out. I just don’t understand the contradiction in that position.

  • Spin Cycle

    To correct a couple of things that have just been written:

    1) I’m assuming this is an honest mistake on your part, but you’re just wrong on your facts there. I follow this pretty closely and there was no document in 2010 that mentions priuses. Sorry – it’s a very old reference.

    2) Clearly the i-pad remark was a rhetorical flourish on my part, but the general idea is true – the golf carts (not ATVs) are closer to the cost of an ipad than to a prius.

    3)I understand that your point is that there is “fat” in the budget. My point is that, while that may be true, there is not $9 million worth of fat. You act like if you trimmed the fat then you could get rid of the housing. That’s just not accurate. Even if you think there’s 20% of fat (which would be alot), at most all you could do is get rid of a tiny portion of the housing.

    4) Also it is entirely appropriate for an organization to be conservative in putting together a budget with contingencies in it. I know that you think that the budget is purposely bloated to justify housing, but you have to acknowledge that it would be irresponsible to put together a budget that was so barebones so as not to be able to deal with unknowns that come up. I know you are going to attack this a being a weak argument, but as someone who puts together budgets for a living, I can tell you that every budget has some fat in it, and that is not being deceitful, it is called being conservative. I for one would rather there be an extra floor or two of housing at pier 6 than have there be insufficient funds to operate this park at the appropriate level.

    5) I agree that the Brooklyn Paper is wildly inaccurate on alot of things, but what I’m referring to is a direct quote from Judy. Usually they are pretty good on direct quotes.

    6)@sue – River cafe is not buit on parkland. As you acknowledge – it’s been there since the 70’s. No one even started talking about Brooklyn Bridge Park till the 80’s. River Cafe predates the park by about 5-7 years at least. Also I am not making a naive plea about the City’s honesty. It’s just a legal fact that if you sign a contract and do not abide by the terms of the contract, you will get sued and you will lose. I agree that the tiny amount of rent from the River Cafe SHOULD be directed by the City to the Park (but it’s only like $50k – still not going to do much to get rid of housing). I also agree that when the lease is up, the rent that the City should ask for at that time should be much higher. The problem is that is like 10 years away. You people are acting like it’s something that could be done today.

  • william

    To Spin Cycle – I am told that the page detailing the list of vehicles is “missing” from the 2010 Budget, but the numbers allocated for vehicles haven’t changed downward. They have gone up. The list for vehicles for the previous years is listed. Your claim that the Priuses aren’t in the Budget anymore is inaccurate.

    And for the River Cafe, $50,000 isn’t chump change. That rent amount would pay for someone’s legit salary. So, who does own the property that the River Cafe sets on? It would have been the Port Authority 20-years ago. Who owns it now?

    Good luck suing the City in court.

  • Bob Stone

    On the Prius subject, just what is their purpose? Are they targeted for for park uses, with NYC id’s, or will they be take-home perks for the metastasizing numbers of bureaucrats making their living from BBP. I think it’s the latter.

  • Spin Cycle

    @William – Listen, I honestly don’t know what budget you’re talking about with a missing page regarding priuses. If you can produce a copy of this I would love to see it. Otherwise I stand by comment that I have not seen the Park staff produce a budget that references Priuses in years. Also, my point was not that $50k is chump change objectively. My point is that $50k is chump change when you compare it how much money you would need to replace the housing, which is $9 million. $50k is less than 1% of that total, so in that context I think it would be accurate to describe that as relative chump change.

    Finally, I don’t understand your comment about suing the city. I have friends who work for the city’s legal office. They get sued and lose and have to pay out ALL THE TIME.

    @bklyn20 – The point wasn’t that BUILDING pre-dates the park. The point is that the LEASE pre-dates the park. There are no existing leases on Empire Stores or Tobacco Warehouse, so any new leases are able to be directed to the Park. That’s a pretty basic point. I’m surprised I really have to explain that to you.

  • bklyn20

    “And regarding The River Cafe: That restaurant is not on Park property. It existed even before anyone was talking about a Park.”

    Spin Cycle, that sentence is what I based my comment on. Your hostile retort leads me to believe that you usually post under a different name. I am not interested in another insult grudge match. Make the points you want to make, but please give the animus a rest.

  • william

    To Spin Cycle, I have been searching also, and it now seems the budget is in hiding. I did find some interesting stuff though from some Brownstoner postings.

    One blogger was complaining that they couldn’t find the budget.