Foes decry Park ‘tax’ scheme, push for revenue from Witness buildings

Foes decry Park ‘tax’ scheme, push for revenue from Witness buildings

Brooklyn Bridge Park could raise one-quarter of its massive maintenance budget through a new tax on local businesses and residents — but that idea is dead in the water, say critics, who think there are better ways to raise the money.

A consultant hired last year to search for revenue to maintain the park without building residences within its waterfront footprint released a draft report on Tuesday that predicted that $1 million to $4 million towards the park’s $16-million maintenance budget could come from a new tax on residents and business owners within a quarter-mile of the park.

But the scheme — called a “Park Improvement District” — is so unpopular that before the ink dried on the study, the proposal was already being blasted as “insulting” and “a scare tactic.”

“The Park Improvement District they proposed is not going to happen,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights). “There are viable alternatives to the current plan” to include housing in the park.

The construction of housing and other revenue-generating uses stem from a 2002 agreement between the city and state that the $350-million park raise its own maintenance budget so it would not be a drain on city coffers.

But the proposed 20- to 30-floor luxury high-rises have long been the 1.3-mile waterfront development’s most controversial feature, so last year, park planners created a Committee on Alternatives to Housing.

On Tuesday, the committee’s consultant issued a draft report that found $2.5 million to $7 million in new revenues, including the controversial new park improvement district, which would extend from Furman Street to as far east as Henry Street and as far north as Bridge Street in DUMBO.

The consultant, however, did not consider a proposal being pushed by Squadron that would capture tax revenue created when several currently tax-exempt Jehovah’s Witness-owned buildings are sold and return to the rolls.

Squadron is pushing the consultant to consider such revenue before the end of the report’s 60-day “public comment period.”

“The most-important alternative revenue source has not yet been studied: tapping into the 2.8-million-square feet of nearby Watchtower properties,” he said.

Like Squadron, other opponents of housing inside the park dismissed the park improvement district tax.

“We already pay our taxes,” said Judi Francis, president of Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, which has sued to keep housing out of Brooklyn Bridge Park and to maintain the open space in the same way that normal city parks are maintained: through the Parks Department budget. “Dedicate more of those dollars to parks and then we’ll talk.”

Despite the derision, the idea of creating a Business Improvement District for a park is not without precedent. The High Line and Hudson River Park, both in Manhattan, have considered BIDs to generate revenue, though neither did. Bryant Park is supported by a massive BID that manages more than $5 million a year to supplement city services.

In addition to the $4 million maximum revenue raised by the park improvement district, the consultant identified $3 million in revenues that could be raised by:

• Parking fees — $230,000 to $440,000.

• Creating more concessions beyond the soon-to-open wine bar at Pier 6 and cart food on Pier 1 — $40,000 to $365,000. It’ll likely be the lower number, the consultant admitted.

• Changing the proposed residential buildings to retail space — $250,000. Even that figure is unlikely because limited public transportation would make the park a poor location for retail.

• Charging sports enthusiasts more to use proposed recreation facilities inside the park — $600,000.

The report did not mention cuts to the ballooning maintenance budget, which is being discussed by city and state officials, sources said.

Despite such paltry numbers, Squadron was energized.

“Between what’s included and what’s been left out, this draft shows it’s possible to fund the park without … building new on-site luxury housing,” he said.

A public hearing on the report will be held at St. Francis College [180 Remsen St. between Clinton and Court streets in DUMBO, (718) 222-9216] on March 31 at 6 pm. For info, visit www.brooklynbridgeparknyc.org.