‘Moving in the right direction’: Willoughby Square Park project progressing with original developer

Could this be the new green heart of Downtown?
Hargreaves Associates

This underground garage is not sunk yet!

A long-awaited project to build a vending-machine-style parking facility beneath a promised park on Willoughby Street Downtown is not on the rocks despite previous reports, according to its developer, who said his firm secured the cash it needs to break ground and may do so as early as this fall.

“I’m confident the financing is available and that we are able to do the project,” said Perry Finkelman, who runs the Long Island–based American Development Group. “Realistically, we’re looking at probably November.”

In March, news circulated that bigwigs at the city’s Economic Development Corporation — which is overseeing the creation of Willoughby Square Park, a green space officials promised to locals when they controversially upzoned much of the neighborhood in 2004 — doubted Finkelman’s firm’s ability to raise the funds needed for the project, roughly five years after the agency tapped the developer for it in 2013.

But the city corporation’s leaders are sticking with their chosen builder after it took positive steps forward that included expanding its construction team, bringing on a general contractor, and securing financing for the scheme, according to an agency spokesman.

“We see this as moving in the right direction,” the rep said on July 12. “We are continuing to work with the developer to close on the project and are committed to delivering it as soon as possible.”

The developer scaled back the scope of its underground garage to lock-in bank financing for the project, however, reducing the facility’s original 700 spots to 467, and shrinking it from three to two levels — changes that slashed the scheme’s budget from roughly $97 million to $82 million, $6 million of which is money from the city and other private builders for the park itself, according to Finkelman, who said he still is waiting on officials’ to sign off on the revised plan.

“The bank’s been informed, and is happy to continue the process,” he said. “All we’re doing is cutting off a level, but we had to go back and make adjustments, and now we’re waiting for city approval. It takes a couple of months apparently.”

The builder blamed the slow-going project on bureaucratic red-tape, claiming he could have designed and built the park and garage in half the time if it were just up to him.

“With a public works project, you’re getting approvals every step of the way, committees are looking over everything, it just takes its time,” Finkelman said. “If this was totally in the private sector, you’re probably looking at 18 months to two years of pre-development. But it has taken an awfully long time.”

Work on the park bounded by Fulton Mall and Willoughby, Duffield, and Gold streets — which the city tapped California-based landscape-architecture firm Hargreaves Associates to design back in 2010 — has inched along over the past decade, following the city’s use of eminent domain to purchase nearly a dozen once privately owned properties on the site for tens of millions of dollars in order to make way for the new meadow. Workers only finished demolishing the last of those buildings in February, after officials controversially started forcing out residents, some from rent-stabilized units, in 2009.

When finished, the garage will park cars using a system equipped with light sensors, machines, and other technology that automatically moves vehicles from an entry room, where clients drop them off, to one of its below-ground parking bays, according to a New York Times report. Customers will swipe credit cards at kiosks within the facility to identify a ride as their own when stowing it, and use that same card to retrieve their four-wheelers from the garage.

The Economic Development Corporation’s chief acknowledged the glacial progress of the park-and-garage project at a July 10 event hosted by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership — the business-boosting group charged with maintaining the lawn when it’s complete — but also suggested the years-in-the-making space is gaining forward momentum.

“It’s taken too long,” said James Patchett. “It’s an essential amenity for the developing Downtown commercial core, and it’s something that is needed. I hope to have positive news about it soon.”

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