Still not a park! New city board has only two open space pros

A state Senate upset
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

Only two members of the city’s new 17-person team overseeing the rest of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s build-out are parks professionals — evidence that the new agency remains a waterfront development, not a park, critics said this week.

Park advocates weren’t surprised by the makeup of the new member board, but some said that it puts their worst fears in motion — that the rest of the $350-million waterfront “park” will continue to be anchored by housing to underwrite its substantial maintenance budget.

“We said it before and we’ll say it again — these committees are designed to keep public input out,” said Judi Francis, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense fund, an advocacy group. “It isn’t a public park at all.”

With 10 mayoral appointees, four designated by the governor and three by other elected officials, the board has only two “park” people: Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the Parks Department; and Peter Aschkenasy, who used to be the agency’s deputy commissioner.

The rest of the board consists of development and real estate officials, a cultural and arts appointee, and designees by elected officials — some of whom sources told us will lead some “interesting debates” over housing, the expected hot topic of the coming months.

Former state Sen. Marty Connor (D-Brooklyn Heights), who lost his seat to Daniel Squadron in 2008, will sit across the table from Squadron’s chief of staff on the board. Plus, Councilman Steve Levin (D-Williamsburg) turned a few heads when he appointed Debra Feinberg, a Manhattanite who is the top aide to Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez.

Insiders fretted that the Feinberg appointment was some sort of tactic to give Lopez a hand in the development of the park. Others said that Levin wanted to give Feinberg some local experience before she plans to take on Squadron in two years.

Levin said it’s all about her experience.

“She understands the issues, she understands the needs and desires of the community, and she is someone I trust completely,” Levin said, adding that she supports his position against the housing model of funding.

The developer-heavy makeup has fueled the ongoing debate that, despite the city takeover of the park’s operation and construction from a state agency, nothing much has changed in terms of public involvement.

But the board’s real test of transparency will come in the next few months, when Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) — both of whom have appointees on the main board and oppose housing in the park — lead a sub-committee that will decide whether there are other ways to fund the park’s maintenance and operations.

Squadron — who designated his chief of staff, John Raskin, to the main park board — has said in the past that the sub-committee on housing will give the public a voice — if only because he and Millman will represent them.

“I am sympathetic to those who are frustrated that the new governance structure creates another public authority with a complicated operating board,” Squadron said. “But with its composition of representatives from a greater number of elected officials … the [new entity] represents a more transparent and open process.”

Squadron also has veto power over the sub-committee’s decision, which should come within a year of its creation. Raskin said that the sub-committee should be formed by the board’s next meeting in the coming months.

The other board members are:

• Anita Contini — Served as vice president and Director of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

• Peter Davidson — Executive director of the Empire State Development Corporation.

• Henry Gutman — Partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, where he works on property litigation. Also served as president of the board of the Downtown Brooklyn Local Development Corporation.

• Paul Nelson — Chief of staff to Assemblywoman Joan Millman.

• David Offensend — Chief operating officer of the New York Public Library, and past president of the Brooklyn Heights Association.

• Seth Pinsky — President of the Economic Development Corporation.

• Daniel Simmons, Jr. — Co-founder of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, a New York-based foundation dedicated to providing disadvantaged urban youth with significant exposure and access to the arts

• Nanette Smith — Special Assistant to the mayor and chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris.

• Robert Steel (Chairman) — Deputy Mayor for Economic Development.

• Matthew Wambua — Executive vice president of real estate and external relations for the city Housing Development Corporation.

• Joanne Witty — Lawyer and community activist who served as the president of the Downtown Brooklyn Waterfront Local Development Corporation.

One appointee of Gov. Paterson has yet to be named.