A myriad of Downtown Brooklyn boosters rallied outside an empty and decrepit Metropolitan Transportation Authority office building on Jay Street on Monday to call for the cash-strapped agency to sell the building — but the MTA says it has a better idea.
Monday’s firefight in the raging “battle of the bureaucrats” pit Borough President Markowitz, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Joe Chan and Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights) — all of whom decried the blighted office building and rancid subway station between Willoughby Street and the Myrtle Avenue Promenade.
Chan has said that the building would work best as a small-business incubator, but the transportation agency says it would rather pump $150 million into a complete renovation of 370 Jay St. and then use the building for back office workers who are currently scattered at other sites that the MTA does not own.
“We have a need for the building and we can fill it with employees,” said MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin. “Financially, it makes sense to have them in a building where we don’t have rent, so that’s why the plan is to renovate it.”
Once renovations are complete, MTA back offices would return to the building. Currently, about 100 employees are stationed there, he said. There are also plans to open the ground-floor space for outside retail tenants.
That said, Soffin admitted that the building can’t even begin to be renovated until sometime between 2012 and 2016, when its funding is slated to be part of the MTA’s next five-year construction plan.
Given that fact, Chan and others say that it’s a bad idea to spend $150 million on a building that real-estate experts have valued at nearly $100 million, even as it has spent the last 10 years shrouded in black netting and scaffolding.
“We’re not asking for a lot here,” Chan said. “This building, which has been covered in a sidewalk shed for nearly a decade, casts a blight on what is otherwise an area that’s undergoing a huge renaissance.”
This week’s call to action echoes Chan’s long-waged war with the MTA to convert the behemoth into office space for other businesses that would better serve Downtown. He estimated in April that renting small space in the building, and using that ground-floor retail space could save the MTA $121 million.
Markowitz said he is skeptical about the MTA’s plan to convert it for offices.
“I think it’s bunk — there’s no answer they can give you, there’s no explanation. They need the money [instead],” he said.
“For nearly five years, this building has been vacant, an empty shell amid the teeming life of the neighborhood [and] devoid of people, the area around the building has become a magnet for trash,” he added. ”If people’s initial taste of Brooklyn is a smelly subway stop and a dark, empty, trash-strewn plaza, it can’t help but color their impression.”
The head of Brooklyn Friends School, which is located behind the MTA building, said parents often comment about the dirty station when they visit the school.
“It really detracts from the school and it gives parents second thoughts,” headmaster Michael Nill said. “There are different purposes for the building, or at least to take care of it. It’s just such an eyesore. The MTA does not make good neighbors.”