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Terminal velocity: City moves forward with plans for Sunset Park waterfront site

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The city is planning to cede the publicly-owned South Brooklyn Marine Terminal to an outside group to stimulate business development at the mostly unused 88-acre Sunset Park shipping hub.

Under a new deal — which must be approved by the Council — the city’s quasi-governmental Economic Development Corporation would control the land under a 39-year lease, find a tenant to rent the waterfront transport hub, and create a task force to provide locals with training and access to jobs at the facility. Critics say the plan is a land grab, but the corporation says the site is safer in their hands.

“[Thirty-nine] years of loss of oversight by the City Council is unacceptab­le,” said Tony Giordano, who heads the preservationist group Sunset Park Restoration.

But the Economic Development Corporation says the arrangement will allow it to protect the property.

The terminal’s previous tenant — automotive logistics firm Axis Group, Inc. — signed a 15-year lease with the city in 2007, but went bankrupt in 2012 — before it began operations at the site, according to a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation. During bankruptcy proceedings, the land almost went to Axis’ creditors, but the city intervened and retained the site, the spokeswoman said. Sub-leasing the land through the Economic Development Corporation will prevent future loss if another tenant goes belly-up, she said.

And the city is pledging more community input than previous iterations of the plan.

The city and the corporation nearly struck a deal in December, but Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) walked away from the negotiating table, citing a lack of community involvement — a move that may have cost him his leadership position in the Council. The freshman councilman returned to talks earlier this year, saying that community groups had finally been invited to the table.

Menchaca’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

If the plan goes through, the corporation and an as-yet unnamed community group will create a community task force to provide job training and help residents land work at the Terminal.

A similar agreement existed in 2007 between Axis and the Fifth Avenue Committee, a social justice group, wherein the committee was supposed to refer potential local hires to Axis. But the scheme lacked oversight, and there was no mechanism to ensure that Axis followed up on job-seekers the committee sent its way, the group’s director said.

“We referred folks to them, but our arrangement with them wasn’t a formal one,” said Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee.

Moving forward, the city needs to establish way to ensure that businesses make good on local hiring promises, she said.

“I think we have learned a lot about these claims over time, and the need to ensure that they come true,” de la Uz said. “Oftentimes, private companies are asking for some kind of special consideration in exchange for their promises, and if they’re going to get special consideration, then the public benefits need to materialize.”

City Council has 45 days to approve the plan, a corporation spokeswoman said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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