Work on long-awaited Downtown park and garage beneath it will begin in Jan, city says

Work on long-awaited Downtown park and garage beneath it will begin in Jan, city says
Economic Development Corporation

It’s about to go down.

The city will break ground on its long-delayed scheme to build a new Downtown park and vending-machine-style parking facility beneath the green space in January, according to officials.

Economic Development Corporation bigwigs — who are overseeing the creation of Willoughby Square Park and the garage below it, both of which the city promised to build when it controversially upzoned much of the neighborhood in 2004 — said they plan to quickly advance the project after the local community board on Wednesday issued its second and final approval for a special permit first authorized 14 years ago, which officials need to construct the larger-than-as-of-right four-wheeler storage.

“I want to reiterate how excited the city is to make this real, we understand it’s been long-awaited for since 2004,” Brooke Wieczorek, who works for the economic agency, told Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee after its members ultimately voted to approve the special permit eight to two, with one abstention. “We see bringing the new plaza and green space as a key piece of infrastructure for the community district and Downtown Brooklyn.”

The forward march came months after reports alleged that officials worried the developer they tapped in 2013 to build the high-tech garage wouldn’t come through with the cash needed to create it — claims the city cagily rebuked by vaguely assuring the scheme was “moving in the right direction” after the news circulated.

The head honcho of the parking facility’s chosen builder, American Development Group, however, more bullishly rebuked the doubts about his finances, telling this newspaper in July that everything was sound on his end, and that he was just waiting for officials to sign-off on a slightly smaller garage than initially proposed.

The scaled-back facility shrunk from three to two levels, reducing its parking spaces from 694 to 467, and dropping its cost from roughly $97 million to $82 million, $6 million of which is money for the park itself from the city and other private builders, developer Perry Finkelman said at the time.

When finished, the garage will park cars using a system equipped with light sensors, machines, and other technology that automatically moves vehicles from an entry room, where drivers drop them off, to one of its below-ground parking bays, according to reports. Customers will swipe credit cards at kiosks within the facility to identify a ride as their own when stowing it, and use that same card to retrieve their four-wheelers from the garage.

Following the board’s approval of the special permit, officials plan to officially close the deal with Finkelman later this year, so they can begin work in the first month of 2019, with the goal of finishing both the garage and the green space above it — which will be bounded by Fulton Mall, Willoughby, Duffield, and Gold streets — by the summer of 2021, according to Wieczorek.

But some civic gurus questioned that timeline, especially because workers only this year finished bulldozing buildings the city controversially kicked residents out of — some of whom were booted from rent-stabilized units — in 2009 to make way for the park, which business-boosting group Downtown Brooklyn Partnership will be charged with maintaining once it’s complete.

“What’s your confidence level that 2021 will actually happen?” asked board and Land Use Committee member Alan Washington.

Officials, in response, assured the panel the project would proceed at a steady clip — but stopped short of any guarantees.

“I’m not going to put a percentage on it, but we are very optimistic that we have a project that we really believe we could do by 2021,” said economic-agency employee Ricky Da Costa. “The EDC is committed to delivering open space.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.