The ongoing transformation of Downtown is not the uniform success story that some big developers and their cheerleaders would like us to believe.
Since the 2004 rezoning, more than 100 small businesses in Downtown have been lost and there has been an explosion of luxury condos. Meanwhile, almost zero affordable housing has been built.
The primary architect of this transformation — the Bloomberg-created Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and the interests it represents — is largely to blame for this unbalanced development model. It has prioritized profits for property owners over the needs of people of color and modest means who shop here, mom and pop business owners, and long-term area residents that helped turn the area into the city’s third most-profitable shopping district, long before the Partnership was created.
I was one of the small-business owners that was displaced from the area, first when developers tore down the Albee Square Mall, where my store once thrived, and later when my next landlord on Willoughby Street sent the rents skyrocketing. My story is not unique, but it’s one that the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership would like to ignore.
As it brings in corporate chain stores and higher-end restaurants, it’s obvious that the Partnership continues to disregard local mom and pop businesses and area costumers like those I used to serve. Most people who work in Downtown are city, state and federal workers, or have jobs in retail. They will not be able to afford the $8 grilled cheese sandwiches or $6 eggs on the menu at Sugar and Plumm, a fancy new eatery slated to open next year. Give me a break!
The Partnership claims that it has helped attract over $3.4 billion of private investment and $300 million of taxpayer funds to the area. Our tax money shouldn’t be subsidizing luxury development! The public has a right to expect more community benefits from this money in the form of good-paying jobs with benefits, new schools, or affordable housing and retail space for small-business owners.
For years, Families United for Racial & Economic Equality has fought to hold the Partnership and area developers accountable. I joined the organization because I wanted to unite with others fighting for fair development, and to have a seat at the table in shaping our communities. We know what happens when powerful interests with deep pockets run the show and shut us out.
A few months ago, FUREE got state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D–Park Slope), Assemblymen Hakeem Jeffries (D–Fort Greene) and Joe Lentol (D–Greenpoint), and Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) to sign a joint letter to the Partnership board calling on it to engage community stakeholders in their search to replace its former president, Joe Chan. The Partnership snubbed us, and did not dignify our request with a meaningful response.
The Partnership just announced that Tucker Reed will now head the organization. Welcome to the neighborhood, Tucker. This is your chance to shift course, and advance a more participatory and inclusive style of development. We look forward to meeting with you.
Maisha Morales is a board member at Families United for Racial & Economic Equality (FUREE).