Foes say ‘No Housing’ committee report is lowballing them

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

Show us the money!

Community members and elected officials are furious that a report studying ways to fund Brooklyn Bridge Park’s massive maintenance budget may be leaving good cash on the table.

A consultant hired to search for revenue to maintain the park without building residences within its waterfront footprint released a draft report last month that predicted non-housing options could generate $2.5 million to $7 million — not even half of the ballooning $16-million maintenance budget.

And more than half of that estimate comes from a new tax on residents and business owners within a quarter-mile of the park — a tax proposal that has been called “dead on arrival.”

In the face of these paltry figures, some residents and elected officials believe that the committee is not taking its job seriously.

“All the numbers are to justify one goal: building high on the waterfront,” said Judi Francis, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, which has sued to keep housing out of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The most-lucrative option left off the table is a proposal being pushed by state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights) to capture tax revenue created when dozens of currently tax-exempt Jehovah’s Witness-owned buildings are sold and return to the tax rolls.

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

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, which voted unanimously in December to consider studying the Witness buildings as sources of possible revenue.

Yet, the draft report did not end up studying Squadron’s tax capture proposal due to city objections — a turnaround that has some doubting the committee has any real power.

“I have very little confidence in the objectivity of this process,” said Tony Manheim, one of the biggest proponents of using the Watchtower buildings to fund the park.

Others agree, doubting even the independence of the accounting.

“Hopefully someone will see that something is wrong here,” said Doreen Gallo, executive director of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association. “They are crunching the numbers, but it looks like one of those things that [Comptroller] John Liu would audit.”

In lieu of Liu, community members believe that the report lowballed estimates for the following revenue sources:

• Filming rights: The report accounted for only the $300 city permit for each shoot for a total of $1,500 to $4,500 annually, but Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation also charges a much larger, additional fee to take advantage of those gorgeous views of Lower Manhattan, a neighboring city. Last year, the park made $30,000 from one major shoot alone, and multiple other location scouts were quoted a rate of $15,000 a day.

• Parking: The report found that a new 200-space parking lot and an additional 80 metered spaces on Furman Street could generate $233,000 to $438,000, but the report didn’t consider charging for the other 1,120 spaces in the park plan. Most of those 1,120 spots are set for the new residential towers, with 500 already in One Brooklyn Bridge Park. But the park could still charge additional fees for those spots, which could add up to another $1 million.

• Concessions: New snack cars and restaurants could add $40,000 to $365,000, according to the report — figures that pale in comparison to the $1.5 million in revenue generated by Loeb Boathouse in Central Park or the $400,000 coming from Battery Park Restaurant. Moreover, the high-end River Café currently pays nothing, but the lease can be renegotiated in 15 years, potentially adding hundreds of thousands more.

Park officials declined to comment on the specifics, but said they were pleased with the report and have confidence in its accuracy.

“The good news is that the consultants delivered to the committee a very unbiased report that shows us a range of alternatives to assess,” said Regina Myer, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park development agency. “That was the city’s commitment to elected officials.”

Still, even if these numbers were higher, hitting the $16-million target in order to supplant housing at Jay Street, Pier 1 and Pier 6 looks like it will require the Witnesses — a reality that has many praying that the consultant will study the buildings before the final draft.

“The Watchtower is the magic bullet,” said Paul Nelson, who is Carroll Gardens Assemblywoman Joan Millman’s appointee on the six-member Committee for Alternatives to Housing.

“The study would be incomplete if it doesn’t look at it,” 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.

Towers like this are still part of Brooklyn Bridge Park — but foes say it doesn't have to be that way.