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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.