Grass dismissed: City abandons deal with developer of Willoughby Square Park and garage

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

Willoughby Square Park is officially sunk!

A plan hatched more than a decade ago to build a new green space above a high-tech parking facility on Willoughby Street Downtown is officially dead, according to city officials, who on Wednesday said they failed to close the deal with the developer they chose for the job back in 2013.

“Following several years of working in good faith, we are disappointed that the developer did not meet critical closing conditions on the Willoughby Square project,” said a spokesman for the Economic Development Corporation, the agency overseeing the project.

Agency leaders blamed their decision on the developer’s inability to secure financing and resolve other business issues, according to a letter they sent to the builder’s attorney today.

Last October, Economic Development Corporation bigwigs announced they planned to finally break ground on the subterranean, vending-machine-style parking lot and park above it this month, more than 15 years after the city promised to create the green space in exchange for upzoning much of Downtown — and a decade after officials booted some residents out of their area homes to raze the residences, some of which were rent-stabilized, while others were believed to once be stops on the Underground Railroad network that ushered slaves to freedom during the first half of the 19th century.

The news of the deal’s collapse comes just weeks after the local Community Board 2 shared an internal memo suggesting the city was looking to sever ties with the project’s chosen builder, Long Island–based American Development Group, and issue a new bid for the job.

That memo came as a surprise to American Development Group’s head Perry Finkleman, who told this newspaper he still expected to close the deal by the end of January despite officials’ apparent readiness to abandon his firm.

But the city memo wasn’t the first sign that suggested the long-in-the-works project could collapse.

Rumors started swirling last March that Finkleman lacked the cash to move the project forward, leading him to downsize the underground garage that would have automatically parked cars using a system of light sensors and other technology from 700 to 467 spots, and three to two levels, which cut the project’s budget from roughly $97 to $82 million, he previously told this newspaper.

The failure to seal the deal on Willoughby Square Park after all this time is devastating to the community, particularly those residents kicked out of their homes to make way for construction, according to a local pol.

“The entire process has been unacceptable to myself and the greater Downtown community, this is a clear example of how not to do public planning,” said Downtown Councilman Stephen Levin, who took office nearly a decade ago, well after the city announced the Willoughby Square Park and garage project. “I realize it’s complicated because of the underground parking, but it shouldn’t be that complicated to build a park on city-owned land. It’s totally unacceptable, there’s no excuse.”

But starting from scratch presents an opportunity to even further reduce the size of the garage, according to Levin, who said he is willing to consider a facility with even less spots after some critics argued the city should not cater to motorists in such a public-transit-rich neighborhood — especially given the push to make much of Brooklyn more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly in the years since the project was conceived.

“I’m all in favor of decreasing parking requirements, I don’t think we should be going off 2004 assumptions, it’s 2019,” Levin said. “Ultimately this park has to get done. I don’t want to allocate blame, I want to figure out a way forward.”

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