My Brooklyn Bridge Park advocacy journey… looking for “truth,” data, transparency, the business of politics and heartbreak

It’s been almost three years since I launched a change.org petition, “Stop Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6 Development — Gone Awry!” The petition aimed to stop additional, unnecessary, housing in NYC’s new, hugely popular, Brooklyn Bridge Park.

My petition arose because NYC’s current Mayor, Bill De Blasio, sought to change a promise to the community made at the park’s genesis. The promise? If dedicated to the park payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOTs) revenues were greater than the revenues needed to maintain park operations, the community could have more park space and less housing.

{Brooklyn Bridge Park operates under a public private partnership (PPP) with its Board largely appointed by the NYC Mayor and with NYS oversight. This organizational structure was developed in 2005, when the prior Bloomberg administration decided parks could no longer be paid for from General Fund revenues ‘the old fashioned way.’ Brooklyn Bridge Park’s construction and operations were financed under a deal ‘to build housing and commercial development as a necessary evil’ to fund the park. Under the PPP, Brooklyn Bridge Park is effectively a separate — and-thus-potentially-not-equal — park with a dedicated revenue stream, independent of the City’s General Fund. The commercial and residential real estate taxes, PILOTs, are derived from the ‘necessary evil’ development inside the park. At the time of the petition launch, the first round of housing, luxury condos, shopping, and a hotel were nearing completion}

Shortly after the petition’s launch, a ‘Save Pier 6’ advocacy group formed. We were unusally lucky with financial resources compared to many community groups. Our analyst, Ren Richmond, found an astonishing $800 million in excess revenues for the PPP over the 50-year projections, because the PPP’s own model failed to update for Brooklyn’s increasingly frothy real estate market and most importantly, the locked in, completed sales. Indeed, the developer, Tolls Brothers was well on its way to massive profits from these first condos (profits must by expected when you are selling one-and-only-views of the Brooklyn Bridge that had been in the public domain for generations) and the PILOT revenues, far exceeding the PPP’s model, were soon to be formalized by the City’s Finance Department.

Nevertheless, our little advocacy group endured mudslinging until the merits of our case and our data became too compelling to ignore. While we never stooped to personality attacks [ focusing on financial data, future park visitor projections, and Brooklyn’s own future ] members of the PPP’s Board purchased luxury condos they, themselves, voted to approve. These condos too broke a promise to the community because they block the view of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. This gave rise to a lawsuit, SavetheViewNow. Additionally, the PPP’s Board made sure those against unnecessary housing in Pier 6 (us) were labeled as elitists, against affordable housing by the media. The City Hall pulpit itself participated in not only misrepresenting the community’s true concerns, but also attacks on individuals, such as our financial analyst, while continuing to block financial transparency and obfuscating environmental impact statement data.

Save Pier 6 Townhall 2015

And then, the petition and the advocacy group, gave rise to a lawsuit, People for Green Space Foundation, Inc., Lori Schomp and Joseph Merz against New York State Urban Development Corporation d/b/a Empire State Development, Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation. Joe Merz is an architect who has lived in Brooklyn since the 1960s; the photo is his “You Gotta Have Park!” campaign pin.

Carrots are a lapel pin!

Eventually, the lawsuit came to be supported by every local elected official (except Mayor De Blasio): Brad Lander Stephen Levin Public Advocate Letitia James Scott M. Stringer Daniel Squadron Jo Anne Simon Eric Adams Nydia Velazquez, a long list community groups, and prominate urban planning leaders including Fred Kent of Project for Public Spaces.

Fred Kent noted, “In a city where development is king and active public space as major public destinations are rare, this change could be significant.

And yet, it appears Brooklyn is about to lose park space — and once lost — park space is lost forever.

It looks as if an entire community’s efforts to block unnecessary condos from Brooklyn Bridge Park are about to spectacularly fail. Mayor De Blasio never even acknowledged the community’s desire for park. Instead, he dismissed an entire community as “against his affordable housing policies.”

This is truly an insult to many of the passionate community activits I’ve met on this journey. These community members have been in Brooklyn for decades. The dream of a Brooklyn waterfront park started with the community, and this community for decades had selfishly donated their time and energy so that future generations may have a park.

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Right up the street, Barclays Center (which receives city subsidies and is considered to create “economic value” that Brooklyn Bridge Park does not get the “benefit” of including in a Pier 6 economic analysis) serves all sorts of unhealthy foods. Also, massive new housing projects are being built (with more future park visitors) everywhere, literally everywhere, in Brooklyn.

The original park-mission has been transformed into an “economic development project” with the purported De Blasio policy goals of “good jobs” and “workforce housing” with no acknowledgement of any other policy value. The construction jobs will only be for a year or two, and the workforce housing will be about 100 units…. in stark constract to likely over 10 million annual park vistors… already visiting the site today.

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