‘Sabotage’: Snubbed Willoughby Square Park developer sues city

Work on long-awaited Downtown park and garage beneath it will begin in Jan, city says
Economic Development Corporation

They couldn’t build a park, so they’re building a case!

The former developer of the recently-revived Willoughby Square Park is suing the city for allegedly thwarting their construction of the long-delayed green space Downtown on Willoughby Street, according to court documents filed on May 24.

The Long Island-based developer American Development Group’s head Perry Finkleman is taking the city to court for working to “sabotage” his group’s efforts to construct the park with a high-tech underground garage beneath it, before cancelling communications with the firm on Jan. 30, according to an affidavit first reported on by Curbed.

The organization filed the legal documents with the state’s supreme court one day after the development agency revealed its plans to revive the years-in-the-making 1.15-acre park between Gold and Duffield streets, with construction beginning in 2020 without subterranean parking and with a monument dedicated to the area’s abolitionist history — at a fraction of the original cost.

The city’s economic development arm will finish construction by 2022 while footing the $15 million cost itself instead of the previous $80 million it had arranged with Finkleman’s firm, according to an agency spokesman.

They will also open a third of its space within a month while they finish the park’s final design, according to Christian Ficara.

In January, officials announced the city had failed to close a deal with the developer, whom they chose for the project in 2013, and a May 23 press release for the project’s second coming described the original proposal as financially unfeasible.

“The previous proposal involved a financially unfeasible underground garage whose rampways will now be converted into useable green space,” it read.

Finkleman alleges that even though his company invested some $7 million in the project over the years, the agency did not play fair by making unreasonable demands within a tight six-week timeframe between Dec. 10 of last year and a Jan. 27 deadline in anticipation of cutting its ties with the company.

His lawsuit demands the city reinstate the previous agreement for them to construct the park.

The city agency allegedly demanded a bond in early January to finance the project, even though the developer had already gotten a written commitment for a $75 million loan on Dec. 31, which Finkleman says was an unfeasible demand at such short notice.

“NYCEDC had to have known that it would be impossible to obtain a bond on such short notice. [Finkleman’s company] did its best to satisfy NYCEDC’s 11th-hour request for a bond, but it was simply not feasible,” the filings read.

The project was also set back by the nearby 34-story office tower — One Willoughby Square — which did not remove support pylons to make room for the park’s construction, as well as the failure to reach a final agreement between the Finkleman and the quasi-governmental business-boosting organization the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership to negotiate the handover of the space to the latter group upon completion, the filings show.

Another spokesman for EDC spoke a recent community meeting, revealing that his agency was disappointed with the developer’s actions but that they would continue with their new plan regardless.

“We wished that things would have worked out but we are moving forward with the plan that we worked out,” Ricky Da Costa told Community Board 2’s Economic Development and Employment committee on June 4.

The park was one of the main selling points of a controversial 2004 rezoning of the area that allowed for officials to raze residences there, some of which were rent-stabilized while others were believed to once have been stops on the Underground Railroad network which ushered slaves to freedom during the first half of the 19th century.

Ever since, glitzy high-rises — including the Kings County’s tallest tower, the 68-story Brooklyn Point — have spruced up around America’s Downtown in the last 15 years.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Revived: Builders were working on site when this reporter visited the square on June 5. One third of the space will be open to the public within a month, according to EDC spokesman Christian Ficara.
Photo by Kevin Duggan