Walentas hotel gets its fed stimulus money

Walentas hotel gets its fed stimulus money
The Brooklyn Paper / Allyse Pulliam

DUMBO titans David and Jed Walentas have received $15 million in federal stimulus money to revive their stalled luxury hotel in Williamsburg — even though the city thinks that the project will create far few jobs than the developers promised.

The Walentases’ Two Trees Management, known for transforming the defunct manufacturing haven of DUMBO into a polished, manufactured haven for Yuppies, are expected today to receive the subsidy to build a 73-room boutique hotel on the corner of Wythe Avenue and N. 11th Street.

The project, which includes the renovation of the five-story, 100-year-old former textile factory, has been stalled for several years, after the city rejected the $3.6-million plan in 2008 that would have nearly doubled the existing building’s height.

But the Economic Development Corporation has reignited the “shovel-ready” project with its approval of the $15 million in stimulus financing.

The city designated the bond funding to the hotel project, but not a proposed film and video-production studio next to Newtown Creek in Greenpoint that asked for $13.5 million — since it was unable to get an environmental approval from the state due to ground contamination.

A spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation said the city hoped to award bond money to the Broadway Stages project before the end of the year, but “it’s out of our hands” until the state grants a permit.

The project would further transform Williamsburg’s industrial Northside, which has rapidly shifted from a mix of working factories and turn-of-the-century brick row houses to glossy residential towers and entertainment centers following the city’s rezoning of the waterfront.

Two Trees’ application claims that the project will create 75 construction jobs and 195 permanent jobs, some of which would be shifted from other Two Trees sites, though the city’s estimate calculated only 53 new construction jobs and 33 new permanent jobs.

Even with the lower numbers, city officials insisted that the hotel project and others bidding for the bond money would create new permanent jobs in the neighborhood if it receives the financing.

“We’re not passing judgment on the merits of the various uses of the projects in neighborhoods — they’re going to create jobs and make use of pool of money sitting on the table,” said Wood.

If erected, the Wythe Avenue hotel would join another luxury hotel on N. 12th Street, managed by Graves World Hospitality and set to open next year, creating a veritable hospitality district on the edge of McCarren Park and the Williamsburg waterfront.

Both exist within a zone that allows industrial use, but permits the hospitality industry as a proper use.

That doesn’t sit well with industrial business advocates such as Leah Archibald, who argues that the site is hemmed in by active manufacturing uses.

“The people who stay at that hotel will not be happy with refrigerated trucks idling under their windows and impositions an industrial area would represent,” said Archibald, executive director of the East Williamsburg Valley Industrial Development Corporation. “And it drives up the price with the other real estate that’s left.”

Ward Dennis, a Community Board 1 member, acknowledged the need for more hotels in the neighborhood, but questioned the city’s zoning policy that allows hotels to operate near existing industries in the first place.

“Our manufacturing zone is turning into an entertainment zone,” said Dennis. “That may be a good thing, but it’s certainly not the intended use.”

Developer Jed Walentas declined to comment, but in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he disagreed that the hotel is “not a productive thing to have there,” arguing, “I think a hotel is an amazingly complementary use.”

The Walentas family wants to build a luxury hotel at this industrial site on Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg.
Photo by Natalie Keyssar