House training! Bridge Park supporters say condos are the best way to raise dough

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

Supporters of housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park brought out the big guns last week to support residential units inside the park as the best way to meet a state mandate that the park generate enough revenue to cover its maintenance budget.

At a hearing last week, the head of the private Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy and the former head of the Prospect Park Alliance testified that condos within the park footprint are more reliable sources of cash — and better for the public — than charging fees to use the park’s facilities, hoping for money from film crews permits and renting out space to more snack carts.

“Limited residential development actually privatizes the park less,” Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy Executive Director Nancy Webster told a crowd of 100 at the hearing last Thursday at St. Francis College.

Tupper Thomas, who until this year was Webster’s counterpart at the venerable Prospect Park Alliance, also backed housing as the most stable option, explaining the woes maintaining cash-strapped open space.

“All of these gray hairs on my head will show you how hard it is to raise private money for a public park,” said Thomas, who retired in January. “[Housing is] a great mechanism to maintain the park in the future.”

That assertion didn’t convince neighbors like Roy Sloane of the Cobble Hill Association.

“I will never support housing in this park until there are high-rises in Prospect Park, Central Park and every other major park in this city,” he said.

Sloane and other foes of housing have been on their own campaign since February, when the Park’s Committee on Alternatives to Housing unveiled a study that predicted that non-housing options could at most generate $7 million, not even half of the ballooning $16-million maintenance budget. And half of that revenue would come from a new tax on residents and businesses inside a “park improvement district” whose borders would comprise all properties within one-quarter mile of the park — as such, it is unlikely to gain political traction.

Opponents of housing say that the consultant report low-balled the figures to make it seem like high-rises were the best option.

For example, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund claims that the report only accounted for the $300 cost of a city film permit for a total of $1,500 to $4,500 annually. Yet park officials charge an additional fee to film in the park — to the tune of $30,000 for a single major shoot. The group also said $1 million more could be generated from parking and $365,000 more could be generated from concessions.

Most important, committee rules forbade it from considering the largest pot of money: the revenue generated after the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society sells dozens of currently tax-exempt properties that it owns in Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO.

“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 construction of housing and other revenue-generating uses stems 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 waterfront development’s most-controversial feature, so park officials created the committee to search for alternatives to housing.

Towers like this are still part of Brooklyn Bridge Park — and supporters say they are the best way to raise enough revenue to maintain the park.