City: Willoughby Square Park project starting from scratch if developer can’t close deal this month

Work on long-awaited Downtown park and garage beneath it will begin in Jan, city says
Economic Development Corporation

Willoughby Square Park may be heading back to square one.

A years-in-the-making plan to build a new green space above a vending-machine-style parking facility on Willoughby Street Downtown will start from scratch at the end of the month, if the city and its chosen developer can’t wrap up their deal for the project, according to a rep for the agency overseeing the job.

“The developer has until Jan. 27 to close on an agreement to develop the site,” said an Economic Development Corporation spokesman, who admitted “it’s possible” another builder may be chosen. “EDC is working diligently to find a path forward with the developer, and deliver this long-awaited project that will benefit the community.”

The rep told this newspaper the deadline for the deal — which agency leaders previously said would close in 2018 — days after the local Community Board 2 circulated documents suggesting the city might sever ties with Long Island–based American Development Group, which it tapped to build both Willoughby Square Park and the garage beneath it back in 2013.

“Learned by phone from the (city) that it is going to default the developer of the Willoughby Square garage and issue a fourth (Request For Proposals), possibly for a garage no larger than is permissible as-of-right,” CB2 District Manager Rob Perris wrote in notes dated Dec. 4, which he shared with the public at a Jan. 9 meeting.

But American Development Group’s head ensured his firm will proceed with the long in-the-works project, claiming he’s set to sign on the dotted line days before the city’s deadline, and that he’ll break ground weeks later.

“We’re scheduled to close with EDC on Jan. 22,” said Perry Finkelman. “The work will commence on March 1.”

In October, Economic Development Corporation bigwigs said they would break ground on the job this month — 15 years after the city promised to build the new meadow in exchange for upzoning much of Downtown, and a decade after officials controversially kicked some residents out of their homes in the area, some of which were rent-stabilized, to make way for construction.

And it’s not the first time doubts swirled around the future of Willoughby Square Park and the garage, which will park cars using a system equipped with light sensors, machines, and other technology that automatically moves vehicles from an entry room, where drivers drop them off, to one of its below-ground parking bays.

Last year, city officials doubted that Finkleman could come up with enough cash to fund the job, leading him to scale back the underground facility in order to secure the necessary financing.

That downsizing included cutting the garage’s original 700 spots to 467, and shrinking it from three to two levels, which cut the project’s budget from roughly $97 to $82 million, Finkleman told this newspaper at the time.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.