Advocates demand city pause plans for Steiner Studios film hub in Sunset Park

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Sunset Park’s presumptive assemblywoman elect, Marcela Mitaynes, spoke out against the Made in New York project on Sept. 28.
Photo by Rose Adams

Sunset Park advocates are urging the city to pause its plans to turn a large swath of public waterfront land into a massive film hub operated by Steiner Studios — arguing that the community has had no say in the project.

“Too many times developers with a bunch of money get to dictate what the community looks like,” said Sunset Park’s presumptive assemblywoman elect, Marcela Mitaynes, at a Sept. 28 press conference. [They call] us rebel rousers, [call] us unreasonable, when the truth is that this is our community, and we have a right to ask questions, we have a right to decisions that are going to be made that are going to impact our community, our families for generations.”  

The city plans to give the Brooklyn-based film company Steiner Studios a 49-year lease on a 500,000-square-foot plot of city-owned land south of Industry City. The company will use the space to erect its second Brooklyn film complex following their first location in the Navy Yard, which opened in 2004.  

The project is part of the city’s Made in New York Campus at Bush Terminal, which aims to convert about 750,000 square feet of old factory space and empty lots into garment manufacturing, film studios, and other light industrial uses. The whole project, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private funding, will create thousands of jobs and revitalize the industrial waterfront, officials claim.

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A rendering of the planned Steiner Studios complex.Steiner Studios

The Economic Development Corporation — a quasi-governmental business-boosting agency tasked with overseeing the Made in New York program — voted unanimously to authorize its 49-year sublease agreement with Steiner Studios during its board meeting on Wednesday morning. 

Locals are still hoping to stop the deal before it’s finalized, claiming that while they don’t necessarily oppose the Steiner Studios deal, the community has had little to no opportunity to voice their views or ask questions about the plan. 

“In three and half years, this project has been discussed publicly on only four occasions,” said John Santore, a member of the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s county committee in Sunset Park, two days before the board voted to authorize the deal. “This is public land, it involves public money. We want a say in it; this community deserves a say.” 

EDC’s Sept. 30 vote also goes against a local community board resolution passed on Sept. 17 calling on EDC to pause the Made in New York Campus until locals could analyze the project’s impact. 

“CB7/Brooklyn requests EDC … delay bringing the Steiner Studios proposal for the Made in NY Campus (MiNY), and any other major deals relating to the campus, before EDC’s Board of Directors until the agency has worked with the Sunset Park community to analyze the plan’s latest details and to establish and monitor ways to measure and monitor its future impacts,” the resolution reads. 

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Protect Sunset Park activist Antoinette Martinez spoke at the Sept. 28 press conference by the proposed Steiner Studios site.Photo by Rose Adams

The pushback comes nearly four years after city announced its plans for the Made in New York Campus in early 2017. Following the announcement, four Sunset Park elected officials sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio welcoming the project, but calling for a “robust community engagement process.” 

EDC president James Patchett promised to engage the community, and the agency has since held two public meetings about Made in New York, and has presented the proposal only twice at meetings with the local community board. The agency has also discussed the project with the Sunset Park Task Force, a group of appointed local business owners, politicos, and community organizations that does not publicly disclose its minutes, according to a letter from local stakeholders

Although advocates complain that those public presentations failed to gather public input, an EDC spokesman said that the Made in New York project already includes community benefits. The project commits to creating a job training program for local high schoolers, offering two summer internships, and prioritizing Sunset Parkers in its hiring decisions, among other benefits, he said.  

“The Made in NY Campus will be another signature project within this vision that has been shaped by engaging with and listening to community needs: the creation of a new jobs hub with workforce development programs for high schoolers and local job seekers, opening an additional 2.5 acres of the park and a new playground, and investing in organizations that promote diversity and inclusion in the television and film industry,” said Christopher Singleton. 

Because of these benefits and support from local officials — including Velazquez and Adams — the Sept. 30 vote will move forward, Singleton said.

Local stakeholders, however, charge that a handful of internships and programs do not constitute community engagement, and pushed for a more transparent, “community-led” process. 

“It’s really about process. I don’t think any of us have any problem with Steiner Studios; in fact, many of us as small business owners and creatives love Steiner Studios,” said Brooklyn-based fashion designer Bob Bland at the Sept. 28 protest. “I don’t think we necessarily have any problem with the film industry or the fashion industry … having a place within Sunset Park, as long as its part of a comprehensive, community-led planning process.”

Update [Sept. 30, 1:10 pm]: This article has been updated to include the results of the Economic Development Corporation’s Sept. 30 vote on the sublease agreement with Steiner Studios.

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The proposed Steiner Studios site includes empty lots, a building that will be demolished, and old factory space currently used by a mix of businesses.Photo by Rose Adams