Brooklyn Bridge Park, the planned commercial-recreational development
along the Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO waterfront, may need even more housing
than has already been proposed if it is to remain financially independent.
That’s the news several attendees of a closed-door meeting with the
park’s planners say they were told this week during a financial analysis
of the 1.3-mile open space and commercial plan for the waterfront between
the Manhattan Bridge and Atlantic Avenue.
Sandy Balboza, president of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association,
said she got the impression housing was the only revenue source.
“They finally said what we’ve been saying all along, which is
if you start to put luxury housing on the waterfront, it’s never
going to stop,” she said.
The Brooklyn Papers was barred from entering the invitation-only meeting
on Feb. 11, but several attendees said an analysis of Brooklyn Bridge
Park’s current revenue generators, which are largely housing-related,
showed that the park would likely not be able to remain self-sustaining
past 35 years.
Several of the people who attended said that at the meeting Brooklyn Bridge
Park Development Corporation (BBPDC) officials discussed what other potential
revenue generators they’d looked at, including six types of development
in the park. Three of those — offices, parking and local retail —
were, according to Cobble Hill resident Franklin Stone, “deemed not
feasible for a variety of reasons, so the planners focused on the three
that were viable: large and medium format retail, hotel and residential
The BBPDC is a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation
that is charged with planning and building the park.
“They have no solution for this,” Stone said of the 35-year
threat, except to hope that a park investment fund earns more than the
5 percent they have projected, and to use revenue that comes from “other
“The people on the board should be embarrassed,” said Stone.
“It’s so needless. Most of us accept the fact that there’s
got to be some kind of moneymaking ventures in the park. I’ve said
at every meeting, ‘Show me why it has to be this way. Show me why
it is a better choice. Show me why the answers have changed since three
years ago.’ And they just don’t do it.”
Following the first meeting in which the finances of the drastically revised
park plans were revealed to members of the community, several attendees
told The Papers they thought the BBPDC might ultimately seek more housing
on the 80-acre site.
The plans currently call for 740 units of co-op housing in four high-rises,
planned at either end of the park, and a hotel near Pier 1. The tallest
would rise to 30 stories near Atlantic Avenue.
But within 35 years, residents learned at the Feb. 11 meeting, the park
would start accruing an operational deficit.
Otis Pearsall, a preservationist and member of the Brooklyn Heights Association’s
park committee, believes the planners should just add more housing now.
“If, on their own assumptions, they’re going to run out of money
in 35 years, maybe they should be providing additional apartments to create
a revenue stream that would assuredly not run out, and not be exhausted,”
he told The Papers.
Pearsall believes that ideally the park could be sustainable “forever.”
“You have no way of knowing as time goes forward if any of this is
going to work,” he said.
The Feb. 11 meeting, at lead designer Michael Van Valkenburgh’s office
in Manhattan, was held in response to requests from community members
to review how the park planners arrived at the conclusion that housing
— which activists had originally believed construction of the park
would prevent from being built on the waterfront — was the only way
the park could pay for its annual operating expenses.
Nancy Bowe, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said that all
the numbers presented at the meeting had an element of fragility to them.
“Anytime you’re trying to forecast financial information with
the number of variables that you have here you always do the best you
can, but you’re still doing something theoretical,” Bowe said.
“There’s a huge margin of error. There’s a huge number
of factors that could upset it. All sorts of things could happen in the
next two or three decades that can prove these numbers right or prove
these numbers wrong.”
In the current funding scheme, a portion of the co-op owners’ maintenance
fees would go to the park’s budget and developers of the buildings
would pay a “pilot fee” in lieu of the annual property taxes
they would normally have to pay. Because of standard tax abatement programs
offered for new developments these would be scaled back to only a fraction
of the full price for the first 15 years.
Further, any developer selected for a part of the park “would make
an up-front payment,” explained Pearsall, “in order to be allowed
to do the job, to do the deal.
“It becomes a ‘fund of principal,’ which can be drawn upon
over time to make up any deficit, and to make up revenue streams,”
“We’ve looked at their assumptions and they all sort of pass
the smell test in terms of today’s financial environment,” said
Bowe. But she noted, “If we have another 9-11 or have some huge economic
or real estate [down-turn] it could change dramatically.”
But Bowe cautioned that 35 years was a long time away to worry about now
and said the residential units would still be producing yearly income
for the park even “after the kitty runs out.”
“They’re still running small deficits,” she said, referring
to the dire predictions three decades down the line. “It’s not
like they’ll still be getting less revenue, it’s just a gap.
And it’s a gap I’m just not willing to worry about 35 years
down the road.”
Councilman David Yassky echoed Bowe’s sentiment, saying, “Thirty
five years … that’s a long ways away.”
“I’m still waiting for the full set of final estimates, to see
if everything they say they need is actually necessary,” the councilman
said Wednesday, but added he was sure community input would be taken seriously.
“I’m confident it will all be taken into consideration,”
he said. “It is still eight or nine months until the development
corporation is scheduled to adopt that plan. There will be ample opportunity
for public input and that input will be taken into account.”
Stone, whose main concern is bringing year-round recreation to the park
— a Chelsea Piers-like sports and recreation center had been a major
part of the original park plan — said she asked why the BBPDC had
scrapped the recreational facility.
“Wendy [Leventer, president of the BBPDC] said she had done an analysis,
and creation [of a sports facility] was not viable enough to even consider
seriously,” said Stone.
“I was again promised written information about that analysis,”
said Stone, who has asked on several occasions for such a study.
Pearsall didn’t seem very convinced of viability of other revenue
“They’ve got other possibilities that were mentioned, other
possible revenue sources that could emerge,” said Pearsall, “but
they sounded unlikely to me, and it did seem to me if adding some more
housing units would generate the money, why not resolve the problem?”
Leventer referred all questions to the Empire State Development Corporation
Asked about the possibility of more housing being added down the line,
an ESDC spokeswoman said that what has been shown thus far was all that
“The program of development that is now included in the master plan
will be the maximum amount of development in the park,” said ESDC
spokeswoman Deborah Wetzel. “We believe that the program most efficiently
maximizes the amount of open space while creating a revenue stream to
maintain and operate the park.”
But Roy Sloane, a member of the park’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee,
said that maybe the planners should cut down on some of the open space
so they could reduce the amount of revenue needed.
“I think people would go for more development if it was the kind
people could use,” said Sloane. “The idea of keeping 10 percent
[down from the 20 percent of the site designated for revenue-generating
structures in 2000] was never mine. I think if people viewed the developments
as an asset, they wouldn’t mind if it took up more space.”
“The tradeoff was always that we weren’t being given all the
land as parkland, we were getting 80 percent of it,” she said. “In
my view I have never looked at that other land as parkland.”
©2005 Community News Group