Two influential and key figures related to Brooklyn’s waterfront have spoken out publicly to support the city’s housing plan for Pier 6. Michael O’Keeffe, founder of the world-famous and beloved River Café, and Henrik Krogius, an Emmy-Award winning producer from NBC, now retired, and author of history books about Brooklyn’s waterfront, have written statements to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle to support Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation’s plan for Pier 6 at the foot of Atlantic Avenue.
Currently, while the Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) ponders a decision on changes to the housing plan, with the inclusion of a number of units of affordable housing, a number of political and civic leaders have called for delays to ask for more impact studies before final approval. And on Monday, 17 community organizations joined Public Advocate Letitia James in submitting joint testimony to ESD in opposition to the proposed modification of the Brooklyn Bridge Park General Project Plan (GPP).
Writing In a letter to the editor in Brooklyn Daily Eagle below, Michael O’Keeffe refers to the small park he built as part of the ambience of the River Café, right under Brooklyn Bridge Tower in the mid-1970s. “I was here before anyone,” he writes, “ It was an empty, devastated area with it’s own raw beauty…”
O’Keeffe adds that if the restaurant had not succeeded to support the small garden park, “it would not be so beautiful and probably would not have existed at all…Love alone won’t do it. It takes money.” (For complete text of O’Keeffe’s letter, see page 4 inside.)
Henrik Krogius, author of a published history of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, is currently writing a history of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Krogius grew up in Brooklyn Heights as an avid photographer. He captured many images of the changing waterfront from the 1950’s to present day. The Brooklyn Bridge Park, one of the most ardently-vetted and transformative changes in Brooklyn since the Promenade was built, is being undercut by the current and recent leadership of the Brooklyn Heights Association, Krogius says in his letter.
(For complete text, see below)
These two prominent supporters of the Pier 6 plan are butting heads, however, against every elected official and more than a dozen community organizations in neighborhoods impacted by the park.
Groups including the Brooklyn Heights Association, Cobble Hill Association, Willowtown Association, Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association and the Park Slope Civic Council have issued a blistering eight-page argument describing the modification to the GPP as a breach of the city’s fundamental commitment to limit housing on Pier 6 to only that necessary to support the park. (The full text can be found at www.thebha.org)
The organizations point out that the proposed modification appears to be based on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s often-stated policy goal of building thousands of affordable housing units, rather than the need to support the park financially.
The community groups call for full and independent financial disclosure (NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer has called Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation less-than-forthcoming), and a new environmental impact statement in light of the many changes to the area, including the near-tripling of real estate values, since the first study was undertaken ten years ago.
It’s not just about the lost parkland and skyscrapers at the entrance to a grand park, the groups say. It’s about “protecting the integrity of the Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill Historic Districts, promoting access to the adjacent waterfront, enlivening the Atlantic Avenue Commercial strip, improving the Park itself with a park-appropriate entrance and minimizing the negative impact of over-development on our communities.”
Building and Sustaining a Park On Waterfront Takes Much More Than Ju$t Love
New York City’s parks are normally on the “last to be allocated list.” Over the years, as budgets became tight– and they will keep getting tighter — parks are the first to suffer as the city and state are so often caught with more urgent priorities. That’s been the history.
The greatest of all urban parks, Manhattan’s Central Park, fell into disarray until the Central Park Conservancy was founded in 1980 (by Betsy Barlow and Gordon Davis). The conservancy raised funds to look after the park and make it beautiful again. The same scenario followed with Brooklyn’s wonderful Prospect Park, but it was the additional funding that made this possible.
When I was a student, I spent quite a bit of time at the 42nd Street Library and had to walk by and sometimes into Bryant Park (9+ acres) to observe how absolutely degraded and dangerous it had become. The city government was ineffectual in revitalizing the park. It wasn’t until Dan Biederman (a rare find) came along with his effort for the private/civic Improvement Districts to fund the improvements needed to create a wonderful new life of beauty and refinement for Bryant Park that the park was revitalized. Again it took money.
Note that nothing is ever built in NY without bureaucratic obstacles and someone or many people objecting or complaining about something or other.
Battery Park (25 acres) once again regained vigor and became wonderful after it was funded by Battery Park City.
Brooklyn Bridge Park (85 acres) was made up from old rundown shipping piers, railroad tracks and decaying storage buildings. It was not virgin or pastoral. The park, wonderfully designed and maintained, is already beautiful even before it is totally finished. It is in a strategic location where so many wonderful things can take place – and they will all need money. Its location, on the river, with one of the most photographed views in America, brings not only beauty and opportunity but a lifelong battle with the elements. Nature brings the currents, waves and the storms, but the modern-day ferries bring a constant daily battering of mini-tsunamis, which are already taking their toll.
Maintaining this park and doing wonderful things will take money. The money will not fall from trees, as some think.
I am a tree, park and nature lover. I am the last one to say “allow buildings in a park” (well, it’s not parkland yet,) but in this tough environment on the river, the park will need all the money it can get.
I was here before anyone. It was an empty, devastated area with its own raw beauty — with the perfume of spices, infused into the bricks and mortar and the longleaf yellow-pine beams of the empty Empire Stores and the surrounding buildings, wafting through the air on Water Street; and then, “that view.”
I searched Manhattan for years to find a location to build a restaurant on the river, but found the most beautiful spot across the river by the bridge. Here there was room to build a small garden/park, which was crucial for me. It would be an oasis, an escape in this hard-edged city. I built it and people came to visit from around the world – and maintaining the grounds takes a lot of money, an awful lot. If the restaurant couldn’t pay the bills, the garden wouldn’t be so beautiful or might not exist at all. Love alone won’t do it. It takes money.
And so it is with Brooklyn Bridge Park. Maintaining it properly will take a lot of love and money, but money will be its lifeblood. If I had to choose between a tiny bit more space at the end of the park or yielding a small plot (less than a half-acre) for two buildings that would provide a real funding stream for the life of the park, I would absolutely choose the buildings and funding stream to provide the funds that it will absolutely need to grow ever more beautiful and produce wonderful things.
The proposed buildings are vital.
Michael O’Keeffe, The River Café
THE BHA MISINFORMS ON PIER 6 HOUSING
What’s gotten into the Brooklyn Heights Association? Until quite recently the BHA had taken a responsible and reasonable position in regard to the Pier 6 housing at Brooklyn Bridge Park, recognizing that it’s needed if we are to guarantee that our beautiful park is well kept up far into the future, but asking only that the housing be limited to as much as is needed.
In the past month, however, the BHA was urging its members to write to the authorities on the fantastic claim that the housing is little more than a gimmick to enrich developers and the city’s coffers rather than to support the park. The BHA has thereby been waging a destructive misinformation campaign (the polite word for lies) that will only cheat the park.
The germ of the park idea began with the BHA more than 25 years ago. Over the years since then, the BHA has blown hot and cold over various park developments but has never before descended to the current low. It would seem that the new people running the BHA have no appreciation of the park’s history — indeed have no appreciation of how many people put how much effort into achieving the very remarkable park we now have, or of the sincerity and dedication of the people in charge of seeing the park completed. The housing plan was adopted out of a clear financial need (which still remains) if the park was to meet the agreed-on condition of self-sustainability. Let’s not allow the park’s future fall victim to the BHA’s myopic new disregard.
One wonders: do those now running the BHA actually care about the park?