BAILOUT! Stalled Downtown tower get $20 million in federal aid

Tower wants free money
The Brooklyn Paper / Sarah Portlock

A comatose Downtown development got the breath of life last week, in the form of a $20 million in tax-exempt federal stimulus bonds to jumpstart the stalled plan to construct housing, retail space, and offices at Albee Square.

The delayed CityPoint project — which initially included plans for the tallest building in the borough, more than 800 apartments, as well as commercial space and room for national retailers — will receive the federal bailout because work on the shovel-ready project might help the neighborhood’s economy, said David Lombino, senior vice president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

“It represents an investment in a neighborhood that was witnessing a lot of private investment a few years ago during the boom, but has recently dried up,” said Lombino. “We think this investment is important to keep up the momentum in the neighborhood.”

The project, located along the Fulton Mall between Flatbush Avenue Extension, Willoughby Street and DeKalb Avenue, will receive the federal bonds through the city’s “Recover NYC” plan, a program that provides taxpayer-subsidized financing to select for-profit developers. Last year, the builders sought a $400-million tax-free loan.

With the cash infusion, CityPoint is now expected to be built in two phases, starting next March with a two-year stage that will include the construction of 184,000 square feet of retail space and 262 apartments, 120 of which would be affordable.

A second three-year phase including the remainder of the retail space and residential units will begin in March 2011, Lombino noted.

And dozens of floors of office space are scaled back.

Downtown boosters celebrated the rescue.

“It’s an important project because it addresses permanent jobs and affordable housing,” said Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “Because the project is so large and so well located, it will work to diversify Fulton Mall and establish Downtown Brooklyn as the premier shopping destination.”

But not everyone likes the plans for the former Albee Square Mall, which Coney Island developer Joe Sitt purchased for $25 million in 2001 and flipped to the current developers for a cool profit of $100 million six years later.

“We need to make sure that they don’t negatively impact the neighborhoods,” said Bettina Damiani, project director for Good Jobs New York. “The city has not done the greatest job of using public subsidies to [create] good jobs.”