Cats out of the bag; Locals say mayoral wannabe failed them on Myrtle

Downturn! Big D’Town project hits the brakes
The Brooklyn Paper / Noelle D’Arrigo

An embattled condo project on Myrtle Avenue will come back to haunt its billionaire developer if he goes ahead and runs for mayor, his critics say.

Supermarket magnate and likely mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis’s project to build 650 apartments has become the bane of Downtown Brooklyn for some residents and elected officials because it flattened a neighborhood supermarket, pharmacy and Laundromat — and now no longer includes 215 below-market rate units that had been promised.

Neighbors rallied at the stalled project last Thursday afternoon and reminded Catsimatidis that his mayoral run starts on Myrtle Avenue.

“If you’re running for mayor of the city of New York, you have to address the issue of affordable housing,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene), backed by anti-Catsimatidis protestors chanting, “You won’t win” across the street from the construction site, between Prince Street and Ashland Place.

Catsimatidis was traveling and could not be reached for comment. But in the past he has said the economy is the villain, not him.

“It’s a $500-million project, except that no bank has $500 million to loan,” he told The Brooklyn Paper in May.

And a spokesman for Red Apple Group, Catsimatidis’s development company, said the pols were grandstanding.

“I’m shocked; these are cynical, career politicians in search of free press. If you read a newspaper, you know that there is no financing available for this type of project,” said Rob Ryan.

The tightened credit market is so bad that the owner of Gristedes has put up his own money to help finance the first building in the project, which will include a ground-floor supermarket and drug store.

The three other buildings are postponed until Catsimatidis finds outside financing — if city bonds for sub-market rate housing become available the developer says he would include the 215 “affordable” units again.

Neighborhood activists were unsympathetic and sarcastically rebuked Catsimatidis for tearing down a supermarket frequented by residents of the nearby public housing complexes, the Ingersoll and Whitman houses, only to see his construction project delayed.

“They were all destroyed to make that empty lot across the street,” said Diane Smith, a board member of Families United for Racial and Economic Equality.

State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D–Park Slope) said the goal of the rally was to shatter Catsimatidis’s political ambitions by reminding the man on the street that the billionaire supermarket mogul is no man of the people.

“We certainly don’t want him,” said Montgomery.