State officials have finally taken the blame for allowing a Civil War-era warehouse on the DUMBO waterfront to fall into such disrepair that the state park next to it had to be closed last month to prevent people from getting conked with bricks.
Empire–Fulton Ferry State Park, which is slated to be a central part of the so-called “Brooklyn Bridge Park,” has been closed since Dec. 19, when structural damage was discovered at the Empire Stores warehouse.
State planners have sought for two decades to transform Empire Stores into a cultural facility or shopping center — but all they have to show for it is a dilapidated structure now ringed by scaffolding.
Who’s to blame? Therein lies a great story.
DUMBO land baron David Walentas held the rights to develop the site from the 1980s until the state gave the site to his rival Shaya Boymelgreen in 2002, just as the neighborhood was getting hot.
Boymelgreen had planned to convert the warehouse into a shopping mall modeled after the Chelsea Market in Manhattan. But in 2006, the state took the building away from him, claiming that he let it “languish.”
Neither Boymelgreen, nor Walentas, who made a scene at a public meeting in November by publicly complaining that the state was “excluding” him from the process, would comment for this story.
This week, state officials said the buck stops with themselves, not those builders.
“For the past decade, both state Parks and the Empire State Development Corporation have tried to find a developer to restore the Empire Stores building,” said ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston. “It failed twice, but … we look forward to a successful development of the site.”
But the blame game didn’t end there. Judi Francis, president of a group that opposes the ESDC plan to put condos and commercial development in the park, blames the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, which is controlled by the ESDC, for allowing the building to disintegrate.
“Any finger-pointing has to be aimed at them,” said Francis, whose group sued the state to block the inclusion of condos inside the 85-acre open space and housing development.
For her part, Marianna Koval, the executive director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, which is allied with the development corporation, blamed other factors — including the lawsuit by Francis’s group.
“Neither the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, nor the Empire State Development Corporation own or control the Empire Stores,” Koval said. “It is owned and maintained by state Parks, which has a tiny budget for capital maintenance of facilities statewide.”
Meanwhile, Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, with its gorgeous views of Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, remains closed to the public indefinitely.
“Right now, our primary concern is keeping people safe,” said Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for state Parks.