Bridge ‘park’ housing now also on hold

Hundreds of luxury apartments that were slated to be built inside the controversial Brooklyn Bridge Park as a scheme to generate revenue to maintain the open space have been delayed — the latest threat to the financial well being of the long-stalled project.

The apartments, part of a scheme to generate revenue for the upkeep of open space within the development, are the second key funding component sidelined in as many weeks.

The shelving of the market-rate units were slated to rise near the Atlantic Avenue and Old Fulton Street entrances to the 85-acre site.

The news comes one week after The Brooklyn Paper reported that development planners had postponed a 225-bed, revenue-generating hotel that had been planned for Pier 1.

The cutback in apartment and hotel units — which were included in the 1.3-mile-long development project in order to underwrite its annual maintenance budget — was blamed on the recession.

“Due to the present current economic climate, we don’t have a schedule for either of these development sites,” said Warner Johnston, a spokesman for the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, the state agency overseeing construction of the waterfront park-and-condo package.

When fully built, the project is supposed to include at least 1,210 apartments, the hotel, restaurants and retail inside the park’s footprint as part of a unique funding arrangement.

Instead of paying normal taxes, these parcels would contribute funds that are earmarked to cover the anticipated $15.2 million of operating and maintenance costs of open space on six piers and uplands areas. So far, about 500 apartments exist — though many remain empty — in One Brooklyn Bridge Park, a former Watchtower Bible and Tract Society complex at the corner of Furman and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights.

Without the additional housing and hotel, the park is confronted by questions of how it can pay its operating costs — costs that will kick in by the end of this year when some of the earliest portions of the open spaces are supposed to open.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation declined to address these pressing money problems resulting from the imperiled housing and hotel pieces:

• Without these sources of operating and maintenance revenue, how will the park cover its annual budget?

• How much has been spent on operating and maintenance so far?

• Are payments from the still-not-fully occupied One Brooklyn Bridge Park condo building covering those costs?

Supporters of the funding scheme say it protects the park from the whimsies of government budget cutters, though critics denigrate it for bringing large-scale private development onto park space — therefore making it not a “park” by the most-common definition.

The project’s spokespeople say the housing and lodge are halted, not abandoned, but critics were ecstatic about these casualties of the economic downturn.

“It’s obviously very welcome news,” said Judi Francis, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, a park advocacy group, which has sued to block development inside the project’s footprint. “It’s something we’ve been advocating for since day one — to avoid the anti-park precedent of putting housing inside a park.”

This setback only complicates the financial picture of the project. In 2002, Mayor Bloomberg and then-Gov. Pataki committed $150 million to transform the former Port Authority piers into a world-class park by 2012.

Now, the costs have soared to more than $300 million while several active recreational portions — playing fields on Pier Two, basketball and other hard-court activities on Pier Three and a kayaking area — have been shelved until authorities scrounge up additional government money.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation has cloaked a veil of secrecy over its finances. Officials from the group have made well-publicized presentations about its plans to complete recreational parts of the park by the end of the year, but clammed up when The Brooklyn Paper questioned how it would handle the rocky economic road.

“We continue to finalize these details and look forward to presenting them to the public later this month,” Johnston wrote in an e-mail. He was referring to an upcoming public meeting on Jan. 29 at NYU–Polytechnic in Metrotech.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation says it will present financial details about the development on Jan. 29 at NYU–Polytechnic’s Dibner Auditorium (5 Metrotech Center, near the corner of Jay and Johnson streets in Downtown), 6 pm. Call (718) 803-3100 for info.