Cleaning up a patch of toxic land near the Gowanus Canal and turning it into residential condos and open space is all well and good — but what’s going to happen to the cement man?
That’s what Joseph Ferrara — a.k.a. the cement man — wanted to know the other day when he interrupted a Community Board 6 meeting on the fate of the canal-front, city-owned development site known as Public Place to demand for payback for a piece of the site that once belonged to him.
“I want someone to tell me why [the city] condemned my land 35 years ago and just now needs to use it to build residential,” he said to a rapt auditorium filled with community members and City Planning officials.
Ferrara’s company, Ferrara Brothers Building Materials, has manufactured concrete on Hoyt Street between Fifth Street and the Canal since the early 1970s. But in 1975, his property was condemned as part of a larger plan to create parkland on the contaminated former manufacturing gas plant. Since then, he’s had to rent his own land back from the city on a month-to-month basis.
But now, as the city moves forward with a plan to build residential towers and parkland on the 5.8-acre Public Place site, the 35-year-old company could be evicted within the year, with not a cent of reimbursement.
“[The city] said that it would help us find a new location, but [it] has made no offers to reimburse us,” said the concrete maker, estimating that relocating his massive waterfront mixers and barges could cost “in the millions — if a [suitable] location can be found.”
A spokeswoman for the Southwest Brooklyn Development Corporation said that the city is working with Ferrara to find a new home for his business, which also has two facilities in Queens.
Location is no small matter when it comes to fresh concrete, which must get to construction sites within 90 minutes of production — not an easy feat in the traffic-choked “new Brooklyn.”
Over the past few years, Ferrara’s Hoyt Street facility has chugged out concrete for the foundation of the World Trade Center Memorial, the city’s massive Third Water Tunnel project, and even starchitect Richard Meier’s glassy On Prospect Park tower, according to Ferrara.
“We picked the Gowanus [area] because of its proximity to Lower Manhattan,” he said. “Show me another place to make concrete that close to the city.”
The redevelopment of the Public Place site is one part of the city’s larger plan to bring new homes, shops and parks to the oil-soaked industrial corridor that separates posh Park Slope from brownstone Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens.
Ferrara Brothers is the only business that will be directly displaced by the Public Place project.
Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said the city planned to develop an “appropriate relocation assistance plan” to aid the company.
“The city recognizes the importance of Ferrara Brothers and its contribution to the construction industry of New York City,” she said.
©2007 Community News Group
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