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Still not a park! New city board has only two open space pros

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Only two members of the city’s new 17-person team overseeing the rest of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s build-out are parks professionals — evidence that the new agency remains a waterfront development, not a park, critics said this week.

Park advocates weren’t surprised by the makeup of the new member board, but some said that it puts their worst fears in motion — that the rest of the $350-million waterfront “park” will continue to be anchored by housing to underwrite its substantial maintenance budget.

“We said it before and we’ll say it again — these committees are designed to keep public input out,” said Judi Francis, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense fund, an advocacy group. “It isn’t a public park at all.”

With 10 mayoral appointees, four designated by the governor and three by other elected officials, the board has only two “park” people: Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the Parks Department; and Peter Aschkenasy, who used to be the agency’s deputy commissioner.

The rest of the board consists of development and real estate officials, a cultural and arts appointee, and designees by elected officials — some of whom sources told us will lead some “interesting debates” over housing, the expected hot topic of the coming months.

Former state Sen. Marty Connor (D-Brooklyn Heights), who lost his seat to Daniel Squadron in 2008, will sit across the table from Squadron’s chief of staff on the board. Plus, Councilman Steve Levin (D-Williamsburg) turned a few heads when he appointed Debra Feinberg, a Manhattanite who is the top aide to Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez.

Insiders fretted that the Feinberg appointment was some sort of tactic to give Lopez a hand in the development of the park. Others said that Levin wanted to give Feinberg some local experience before she plans to take on Squadron in two years.

Levin said it’s all about her experience.

“She understands the issues, she understands the needs and desires of the community, and she is someone I trust completely,” Levin said, adding that she supports his position against the housing model of funding.

The developer-heavy makeup has fueled the ongoing debate that, despite the city takeover of the park’s operation and construction from a state agency, nothing much has changed in terms of public involvement.

But the board’s real test of transparency will come in the next few months, when Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) — both of whom have appointees on the main board and oppose housing in the park — lead a sub-committee that will decide whether there are other ways to fund the park’s maintenance and operations.

Squadron — who designated his chief of staff, John Raskin, to the main park board — has said in the past that the sub-committee on housing will give the public a voice — if only because he and Millman will represent them.

“I am sympathetic to those who are frustrated that the new governance structure creates another public authority with a complicated operating board,” Squadron said. “But with its composition of representatives from a greater number of elected officials … the [new entity] represents a more transparent and open process.”

Squadron also has veto power over the sub-committee’s decision, which should come within a year of its creation. Raskin said that the sub-committee should be formed by the board’s next meeting in the coming months.

The other board members are:

• Anita Contini — Served as vice president and Director of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

• Peter Davidson — Executive director of the Empire State Development Corporation.

• Henry Gutman — Partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, where he works on property litigation. Also served as president of the board of the Downtown Brooklyn Local Development Corporation.

• Paul Nelson — Chief of staff to Assemblywoman Joan Millman.

• David Offensend — Chief operating officer of the New York Public Library, and past president of the Brooklyn Heights Association.

• Seth Pinsky — President of the Economic Development Corporation.

• Daniel Simmons, Jr. — Co-founder of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, a New York-based foundation dedicated to providing disadvantaged urban youth with significant exposure and access to the arts

• Nanette Smith — Special Assistant to the mayor and chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris.

• Robert Steel (Chairman) — Deputy Mayor for Economic Development.

• Matthew Wambua — Executive vice president of real estate and external relations for the city Housing Development Corporation.

• Joanne Witty — Lawyer and community activist who served as the president of the Downtown Brooklyn Waterfront Local Development Corporation.

One appointee of Gov. Paterson has yet to be named.

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Reader Feedback

No Friend of Benepe from Dyker Heights says:
Geoffrey Croft should be on this board
Aug. 4, 2010, 2:01 am
jon from south brooklyn says:
god no, Geoffrey Croft is a shallow opportunist with no constituency or or real organization. He won't even release information on his sham of organization NYC Park Advocates. Who's on your board, Geoffrey?

Transparent, my ass!
Aug. 4, 2010, 9:48 am
Doug Biviano from Brooklyn Heights says:
The biggest problem with the luxury housing in the park is that it really has delayed construction of the park, resulting in its phased and uncertain completion.

When Marty Conner and his loyal follower Joan Millman ushered in the radical funding model of housing/development in the park (never done before) they handed control over to the developers, increased complexity with drastic infrastructure upgrades, and ballooned costs from $100 million to $350 million with unnecessary and exorbitant earthwork. Think of how radical development incongruent with community input delayed Atlantic Yards decades perhaps.

Everyone I speak to wants a park now -- BEFORE OUR KIDS GO TO COLLEGE (already too late for many who fought for the park over the decades) and BEFORE THE REAL ESTATE MARKET RECOVERS.

NOW that NYC has taken control and the real estate market has cooled, we have a great opportunity to revisit the GPP, to simplify and lower capital and maintenance costs.

The space is inherently beautiful without extravagant architectural detail, wasteful earthwork and $84,000 stainless steel domes to adorn Million Dollar luxury condos. Ironically, a lower cost project scope will speed up completion in a way that will yield much more active space for park users (i.e. a little league baseball diamond vs. passive $100 million three story earthwork berms running the length of Furman).

Let's get the park done now. Scrap the luxury condos. Get Marty Conner and his followers out of the way.
Aug. 4, 2010, 1:55 pm
political favors from dumbo says:
It is "coincidental" that Debra Feinberg was Steve Levin's campaign manager on his run for city council and he is now appointing her based on her "experience" - Give me a break!
Aug. 4, 2010, 2:35 pm
Parktrivia from Transient says:
Dear Biv: Without speaking to the merits of any particular funding mechanism for this park, parts of which people are already enjoying (except for the kids who burned their hands), the first publicly funded public park (Birkenhead Park, UK) was funded at least in part by the sale of development rights. Never been done before?
See - http://friendsofbirkenheadpark.org.uk/history/history.htm
Aug. 4, 2010, 3:26 pm
Sarah from Brooklyn says:
Unfortunately this information is not surprising considering this has always been a real estate deal. This project needs community-based consultation and participation not political hacks that will only further highjack the process and ignore the needs of the neighborhood. I thought you were being extremely kind in including Adrian Benepe as a "parks person" when he clearly represents the administration, and does so without principle or dignity.

As far as the comments from "jon from south brooklyn" about Geoffrey Croft and New York City Park Advocates: these sound suspiciously like language used by the administration. The writer is not fooling anyone. (opportunist - that's a funny one.) Perhaps the "jon" is new to the non-profit world because board members are easily available from the the New York State Charities Bureau as everyone is aware.

Mr. Croft would be wonderful for the board except he's knowledgeable, independent and he's not a stooge of the administration. Clearly these are qualities that would disqualify him from being offered such an appointment.

Thank goodness for groups like the Bridge Park Defense fund who have been advocating for community involvement and sensible planing for all these years. Words can not begin to express the gratitude park and open space folks feel for Mr. Croft and his work. The city desperately needs city-wide groups like NYC Park Advocates to advocate independently.
Aug. 4, 2010, 5:26 pm
Michael from Manhattan says:
We desperately need more community representation on this board. I agree that as an advocate who represents fairness, Geoffrey Croft would be wonderful.

A note to Jon from South Brooklyn - you clearly demonstrate you know nothing about how significant Mr. Croft is in representing the many people in New York who would otherwise have a voice to speak out against the many injustices brought upon by this insidious administration. As for your accusation that he has no constituency - try asking the many communities in all 5 boroughs with whom he works - they all stand firm behind him.
Aug. 4, 2010, 5:37 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
so much venom on this issue. Its always nice when the Manhattanites come over and tell us how to do this especially when they have the Hudson River Park paid for by the housing in Battery Park City(Luxury housing?). There is already housing in the park. I do think reasonable people can disagree on this. No one loves the housing in the Park but the agreement when the park was approved was that it had to be self sufficient internally for maintenance. You need things that have a positive cash flow. 360 Furman Street which the city allowed to be part of the park pays the way for now but when the park is fully built it will need more maintenance money(primarily because piers are expensive to maintain). So far the City has stepped up with money where is mouth is while the state has played hide the money until you do it my way....and the problem with the park being built was and is the STATE not the city...
Aug. 4, 2010, 7:39 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
and the delays in building the Park have been lawsuits by the "protectors" and an incompetent(until Regina Myers was appointed) state ESDC... nothing having to do with the Real estate deals which are for fund maintenance not its construction...
but the facts never stand in the way of political grandstanding from people who never did anything on this. BTW I am glad Marty Conner is on the Board. Forgotten somewhere along the lines was that he got the original money for the Park and has been one of its biggest supporters...
Aug. 4, 2010, 7:44 pm
jon from south brooklyn says:
Sarah and Michael,

Show me the 501c license and the board membership for NYC Park Advocates. I've been looking for it for years!!

It's a totally sham, a one man band.
Aug. 5, 2010, 3:37 pm
Sid from Boeum hill says:
hey Jon from South Brooklyn, the NY state AG has registration info. They only applied in 2008 and it seems their filing may not be up to date

http://bartlett.ag.ny.gov/Char_Forms/show_details.jsp?id={2DFAD39A-678F-4059-A7D0-E6DD440A5AF5}
Aug. 6, 2010, 1:10 pm
Sid from Boerum hill says:
http://bartlett.ag.ny.gov/Char_Forms/show_details.jsp?id={2DFAD39A-678F-4059-A7D0-E6DD440A5AF5}

lists the officers as of march 2009...
Aug. 6, 2010, 1:21 pm

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