Developers of the controversial Dock Street high-rise project will make good by their promise to build a middle school inside their tower, inking a deal with the city this week for a 300-seat facility.
Two Trees Management — which owns the site under the Brooklyn Bridge — will swallow the cost of constructing the school, a move that the city says will save millions of dollars while providing a new option for District 13 families in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights.
“We couldn’t be prouder or more excited,” said head developer Jed Walentas, adding that construction of the 17-story building will begin next spring and be completed in time for the 2014 school year.
From the outset, Walentas and his development team had promised the middle school as a sweetener to get the often-assailed project through the city’s public review process. Critics, including celebrities Ken Burns, historian David McCullough and actress Helen Hunt, attacked the promise as a sham to deflect attention from the project’s main flaw: Its proximity to the bridge and its size would destroy some views of the fabled span.
As such, this week’s contract between Two Trees and the School Construction Authority didn’t satisfy some.
“The school is a red herring,” said Gus Sheha of the DUMBO Neighborhood Foundation, which sued the city claiming that it colluded with Walentas because he promised the money-saving school. “It was used as a way to jam through this very unpopular project.”
The lawsuit came just weeks after internal city e-mails emerged that suggested that the city was simply pretending to consider other site options.
“I think we have to follow up on this [other site] just so we can say that the Walentas project is such a good deal,” read one smoking gun e-mail.
One member of the City Council called the memo “the most disturbing document that I have seen,” but the project was nonetheless approved by a large margin.
Even so, many politicians have supported it for years. Borough President Markowitz hailed this week’s contract as the first step towards adding a “much needed” school in Downtown.
He also praised the project overall, citing its affordable housing units, retail and 465 parking spaces.
“I am thrilled,” he said.