Industry City supporters face off with activists at rezoning hearing

Sign off: Activists at the Dec. 9 meeting held up signs criticizing Industry City while unionized carpenters waved signs in support.
Photo by Craig Hubert

Advocates opposed to a planned $1 billion expansion of Industry City went head-to-head with supporters of the manufacturing complex during a Dec. 9 meeting inside Grand Prospect Hall, where unionized carpenters gathered in force to promote the controversial rezoning scheme.

“Any union who stands on the side with corporate developers is not on the side of the workers!” said protester Corbin Laedlein, following the testimonies of union members, who voiced their support for the Sunset Park complex’s rezoning plan. 

The public hearing came nearly two months after Industry City President and CEO Andrew Kimball submitted the rezoning proposal to the city, which jumpstarted the city’s seven-month land use review procedure. If approved, the rezoning would pave the way for a 12-year, $1-billion redevelopment of the 35-acre campus, which would add retail space, while permitting the construction of academic spaces and two hotels at the Third Avenue industrial complex, among other changes.

Critics have long argued that the plan would lure large corporations and gentrify the neighborhood — kicking out small businesses and low-income residents — while Industry City proponents claim that the plan would bring needed jobs. At the last major public hearing about the rezoning in Sept., protesters shouted down Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park) when he announced his conditional support of the rezoning, and several activist groups have since held rallies opposing the proposal. 

But Menchaca, who holds outsize power over the Industry City application, which affects the district he represents — now claims that he’s prepared to vote down the rezoning, since Kimball submitted the application before several of Menchaca’s conditions were met. Kimball has vowed to bend to some of Menchaca’s demands, such as removing hotels and reducing retail space — although Kimball conceded on Monday that the rezoning application includes both uses. Meanwhile, Menchaca’s two other requests mandating a legally-bound community benefits document and a written funding promise from the Mayor’s Office don’t exist yet. 

During Monday’s community board hearing, hundreds of protesters and supporters gathered in Park Slope’s Grand Prospect Hall, where Industry City reps began by presenting on the application. Before long, activists silently crowded the front of the auditorium, holding signs that criticized Industry City’s business practices, while dozens of union workers waved signs in favor of the development.

After the presentation, attendees took turns voicing their support or opposition to the rezoning, arguing that the redevelopment lacks green manufacturing, and that the increase in retail and office space will displace Sunset Park’s low-income, immigrant community.

“They want our homes and we’re not going to let them have it!” said Marcela Mitaynes, an organizer for Neighbors Helping Neighbors who’s running for the State Assembly in District 51.

Sunset Park CEO Andrew Kimball. Photo by Sara Hylton

But Industry City supporters — mostly members of the Carpenter’s Union and Industry City tenants — charged that the complex’s owners offer well-paying union jobs, and have demonstrated a history of working in collaboration with residents.

“They’ve made it possible for me to survive,” said Bob Mason, who owned a woodworking business in Industry City for 30 years. “The fact that Industry City is willing to set aside hundreds of thousands of square feet for manufacturing is very inspiring.” 

Throughout the hearing, attendees on either side hurled insults at each other, calling each other “gentrifiers” and claiming closer ties to Sunset Park. One sign, held up by the executive director of the activist organization Uprose, read, “How much did they pay you to sell out?”

At one point, Industry City supporters argued that the complex’s owners have helped eliminate prostitution and attract visitors to Sunset Park, which caused an uproar among critics. 

“I’m completely flabbergasted that the people representing Industry City that have come here are so racist,” said Reverend Samuel Cruz, the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. “I’d rather be around sex workers who are accepting than gentrifiers who aren’t very accepting.” 

Despite the controversy, the meeting continued without interruption, and some speakers tried to reach across the aisle.

“To the union brothers and sisters in the audience, they are trying to divide us. You guys also need homes, you need affordable homes. What’s being proposed is not for us,” Mitaynes said.