At Brooklyn Bridge Park meeting, focus on transparency

Despite its absence from the official agenda, the development of two residential towers inside Brooklyn Bridge Park at Pier 6 raised heated comments at a Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC) board meeting on Friday.

The meeting was held in the crowded first-floor gallery space at St. Francis College.

Members of the public, given two minutes each to present their viewpoints, argued that the proposed towers – one roughly 15 stories and the other about 30 stories — not only didn’t belong in a park, but were not financially necessary.

Brooklyn Bridge Park is mandated to support itself with income from in-park developments. BBPC maintains that revenue from the Pier 6 development is necessary to support maintenance, operations and pier (“maritime”) repairs.

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Henry Richmond, People for Green Space. Photo by Mary Frost

Fourteen developers have presented proposals in response to an RFP issued by the park, but the project is on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit.

“Without revenue from Pier 6 development sites, BBP will fail to meet its financial obligations in 10 to 15 years,” BBPC says in their financial model.

Financial analyst Henry Richmond, a member of the advocacy group People for Green Space Foundation, told the board that their projections are flawed.

“There are real issues with the figures presented by Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation in August,” Richmond said. The park’s financial analysis “presented only one year of revenue,” and has not provided information on expiring tax breaks for other park buildings that will increase park revenue.

“They presented $11 million dollars in recurring revenue — when just a few years later, tax breaks at 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park expire, increasing that figure by $4 million dollars a year to $15 million a year,” he said.

“In addition, there’s another $5 million of tax breaks that expire in later years,” Richmond said. “If you put in these tax breaks that expire, the park is actually fully-funded — and is actually over-funded today.”

Show us the numbers

Many of the speakers expressed frustration with what they call the board’s lack of transparency.

Roy Sloane, first vice-president of the Cobble Hill Association, said the public had been promised that the park would build no more housing than financially necessary. “There are multiple suggestions that there is more than enough money to pay for the park. We’re requesting third-party verification of those numbers,” he said.

Sandy Balboza, President of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association and a member of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council (CAC), requested additional financial information “that would address the concerns of both the CAC and other community members of the park’s financial model. The financial information provided by the BBPC has been contradicted and challenged by financial experts from the community.”

Heights resident Zoltan Hankovszky said he was disappointed that the board had refused to supply a “detailed line by line” financial analysis. “You refuse to give us and the public information.”

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Regina Myers, left, board president, and Alicia Glenn, board chair. Photo by Mary Frost

In September, the CAC passed a resolution, backed by all six of the area’s elected officials and the Public Advocate, asking the board not to approve a Pier 6 developer until it had provided a 50-year cash flow projection.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation has given “a great deal of information to the public,” BBPC President Regina Myer told the Brooklyn Eagle. “These two buildings are necessary,” she declared.

“At the last meeting, in August, we went through a very thorough Powerpoint at the request of our board, which explains our cash flow for the next five years up until a stabilized time,” she said. “And at that stabilized rate, we show that with the development of Pier 6, we would be able to fund all the maintenance and operation needs of the park, as well as the infrastructure that is so necessary for the park’s well-being.

“We further took a number of questions at the September CAC meeting and worked very, very hard to answer those questions with those community members at the meeting,” she said.

Richmond believes there’s “an issue with transparency” with BBPC. “I presented this analysis to the park staff in September, and as you saw today, there’s absolutely no response.”

Myer, however, says the board is acting in a fully transparent manner.

“As you saw today, the board saw our full audited financials,” she said. “The board is fully apprised of our current financials and in August, when we were asked about the five-year cash flows, we were happy to give that presentation. At that time there were no questions and the board seemed satisfied. All of that information is available on our website.”

Because real estate values have ballooned since the original park plan was written, fewer luxury units are needed to fund the park. Rather than reduce the size of the towers, however, the city seeks to include 30 percent moderate- and middle-income housing in the project, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.

“As you know, we announced in the summer we also have the ability to provide affordable housing within the project site,” Myer told the Eagle. “We believe it’s great that we can address a second public policy goal of not just maintaining the park, but to have a more diverse range of incomes living within the project site.”

Masked workers: ‘What’s the big secret?’

Also in the audience were 14 men and women wearing Lone Ranger-style masks. As members of Build Up NYC, which represents union workers, the men pressed for the disclosure of the names of the 14 developers who bid on the Pier 6 projects.

At the last meeting, in August, we went through a very thorough Powerpoint at the request of our board, which explains our cash flow for the next five years up until a stabilized time,” she said. “And at that stabilized rate, we show that with the development of Pier 6, we would be able to fund all the maintenance and operation needs of the park, as well as the infrastructure that is so necessary for the park’s well-being.

“We further took a number of questions at the September CAC meeting and worked very, very hard to answer those questions with those community members at the meeting,” she said.

Richmond believes there’s “an issue with transparency” with BBPC. “I presented this analysis to the park staff in September, and as you saw today, there’s absolutely no response.”

Myer, however, says the board is acting in a fully transparent manner.

“As you saw today, the board saw our full audited financials,” she said. “The board is fully apprised of our current financials and in August, when we were asked about the five-year cash flows, we were happy to give that presentation. At that time there were no questions and the board seemed satisfied. All of that information is available on our website.”

Because real estate values have ballooned since the original park plan was written, fewer luxury units are needed to fund the park. Rather than reduce the size of the towers, however, the city seeks to include 30 percent moderate- and middle-income housing in the project, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.

“As you know, we announced in the summer we also have the ability to provide affordable housing within the project site,” Myer told the Eagle. “We believe it’s great that we can address a second public policy goal of not just maintaining the park, but to have a more diverse range of incomes living within the project site.”

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Members of Build Up NYC. Photo by Mary Frost

“These 14 Build Up NYC members are wearing masks to represent the 14 undisclosed developers,” said Ethier Lopez.

Lopez said that the Pier 6 RFP stated that developers would only be considered if they had a track record of labor harmony.

“Who are these developers? What is the big secret? Why are their identities being concealed?” he asked.

Environmental analysis and other issues

In August, the board agreed to undertake an analysis to determine if a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) is required. Zeeshan Ott, recently appointed to the CAC by state Sen. Daniel Squadron, asked if the public would have input into the process.

Myer told Ott that the board would follow the law in going through the assessment, but the law did not require public review or comment. She said the results would be posted online.

Myer also reported that a TRO remains in effect on Pier 6 development until the hearing, scheduled for early December.

City Councilmember Steve Levin was thanked by the board for his obtaining $163,000 in funding for the environmental education and community center going up in the park at 99 Plymouth Street.

Nancy Webster, the executive director at Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, said the building will serve as a classroom, serving more than 8,000 students a year. She said it will house a 600-gallon “touch” water tank so students can interact with marine flora and fauna.

Also presented at the meeting was a description of a number of changes planned for the Loop Road near Pier 6, following a study carried out by Sam Schwartz Engineering. The changes, which will be tested on a temporary basis in the spring, are designed to address problems such as long lines outside the parking garage at 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park and dangerous pedestrian crossings.

Approvals from DOT are still needed. The proposed changes can be found at www.brooklynbridgepark.org.

 

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