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Man on a mission: ‘Americans’ studio owner fights city land grab

On a mission: Eastern Effects owner Scott Levy is trying to convince the city not to sieze his studio during the Gownaus Canal cleanup, and use a different lot instead.
Photo by Louise Wateridge

The Gowanus studio where cable network FX films its sexy Cold War spy drama “The Americans” is on a not-so-secret mission to stop the city seizing its land as part of the federal Canal cleanup.

The owner of Eastern Effects Studios on Nevins Street has mounted a public relations assault to convince city officials that there are several better lots nearby, after they told him last month that they plan to take the soundstage via eminent domain and pulverize it to make way for construction equipment while building a giant sewage tank nearby.

“There are alternative sites that are vacant, available, and serve the same purpose or better,” said Scott Levy, who owns the studio between Degraw and Sackett streets.

Levy — who says he has sunk $5 million into building his studio and is only five years into a 20-year lease on the property — claims losing his studio would also pulverize his business and hundreds of jobs.

Eastern Effects has two other properties along the canal, but the Nevins Street one — the site of all the interior sets for “The Americans” — is its largest and most lucrative. If it closes, the business couldn’t survive on the backs of the others, he said.

“If this studio goes, it takes down the other studio locations along with it,” he said.

There had to be another way — and there is, Levy says.

There are two already-vacant lots of the same size right near the tank site, and another that has been on the market for years, according to a website he set up to argue his case.

And many locals and Hollywood types are rallying around Levy’s cause — nearly 1,800 residents, community groups, businesses, and pols have sent letters or signed petitions urging the city and Feds to at least look at the alternative sites, according to a spokesman for the studio.

“It is worthwhile from a public policy perspective to explore alternatives that would not unnecessarily harm a young and thriving business,” Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill) wrote in his submission.

“The Americans” stars — including Brooklyn Heights residents Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys — haven’t come out fighting because their contracts prevent them from talking to the press about such things, according to Levy, but FX parent company Fox Entertainment Group submitted a letter of support.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency said the city will make the final call on what slices of land it seizes for the tank project, but there is some hope that the studio will live to see a clean canal — a spokesman for Mayor DeBlasio said City Hall is taking the Eastern Effects’ case into account.

“We will continue to work diligently and creatively to find the best path forward,” said spokesman Raul Contreras.

If the city goes ahead with the plan to use eminent domain to take the Eastern Effects lot, Levy said he can still try to fight it in court, but judges’ rulings in similar cases do not bode well.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Backup plan: These are the sites that Levy thinks would be better suited for the job.
Sam Figueroa

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