REBNY Amps Efforts To Quash “Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District” Landmarking

The Real Estate Board of New York is amping its drive to derail the still-tentative landmarking of 21 buildings in downtown Brooklyn, by sending out a mailing to thousands of area residents urging them to bend City Council’s ear against the newly proposed historic district. In addition, on Friday, REBNY sent a letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn urging the Council to rethink the decision.

All landmarked districts require final approval from the City Council and mayor within 120 days. The Council vote is slated for Feb. 1, with two hearings scheduled next week.

Preservationists had claimed victory last September when the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the “Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District,” a cluster of highrises built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries along Court Street and the corners of Joralemon, Remsen and Montague Streets around the already landmarked Borough Hall. Commission Chairman Robert B. Tierney noted then that “the buildings had a central role in Brooklyn’s development and illustrate an important chapter of New York City’s history.”

But a number of property owners, local landlords and developers were vehemently opposed, claiming it would drive up costs and impede retail redevelopment. Mike Slattery, SVP of the Real Estate Board of New York, sneered in September that the buildings “have little architectural and historic significance and distinction.”

In an article published in Crain’s Business New York January 18, Steve Spinola, president of REBNY, further belittled the district: “The city continues to landmark away its economic future. We want the people in the area to know landmarking will cause a lack of investment in buildings.”

Detractors argue that the designation puts a financial burden on landlords, who have to obtain additional permits and pay extra fees for any changes or upgrades on their properties. REBNY surveyed owners of roughly 750,000 square feet of space within the proposed historic district, and predicted property owners and retail tenants will incur $4.7 million in additional costs over the next several years as a result of landmark regulations and rules, according to the letter obtained by Crain’s.

“Some owners were prepared to make an investment in their buildings, but now they have a noose around their neck because it will cost them more money,” added Spinola.

Brooklyn Heights Assn. president Judy Stanton has stated that the landmark designation “is necessary to protect those buildings from being torn down—it does not prevent redevelopment. It has been a longstanding regret we did not get a district sooner.”

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  • Quinn Raymond

    Apparently this is what happens to buildings in the area that aren’t landmarked:

    It’s hard to take REBNY seriously when such a compelling argument for landmarking greets us every day.

  • Fritz

    Could the Municipal Building be more ugly if it tried?

  • stuart

    For heaven’s sake! There must be hundreds of historic districts in New York. Why would this one bring Armageddon to property owners?
    There are loud, self-entitled people who feel they are above the law and can manipulate local politicians to do their bidding whenever they say so. I guess.
    This corner of Downtown is so historic! And it is the only piece that survived the massive Urban Renewal demolitions of the early 1960’s. If this is not a historic district in Brooklyn, what is?

  • Jorale-man

    I think the Municipal Building is quite handsome by design; it just hasn’t been cleaned in so long that it looks grimy and worn. The entrance around the subway stop is in particularly bad shape.

    I agree with Stuart on this one too. I look at my window at those buildings and they’re full of rich architectural details.

  • carol

    The Wall Street Journal recently had an article claiming that Brooklyn is the new real estate frontier. Manhattan is nearly fully built-out and Brooklyn is ripe for the picking. Need we go any further to find REBNY’s motive?

  • JM

    @Carol…you read my mind!

  • Andrew Porter

    The photo includes buildings, including Borough Hall, which are NOT in the proposed district. Surely, Homer, you could find another photo which shows the buildings on the west side of Court which are in the proposed district.

    Brooklyn Heights is a prime example of Landmarking causing “a lack of investment in buildings.” Why, nearly every day another of the miserable hovels in BH falls down…