Basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson is in talks with Councilwoman Letita James (D–Fort Greene) and a prominent Clinton Hill religious leader to build affordable housing in the fast-gentrifying neighborhood, The Brooklyn Paper has learned.
“We think that there are some opportunities for building [affordable housing] here,” Johnson said after a public appearance at the Brown Memorial Baptist Church last week.
Johnson came to Brown Memorial as part of his “I Stand with Magic” anti-AIDS campaign, but the hot local topic of housing couldn’t be avoided, according to the former LA Laker, and co-developer of the landmark Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, at One Hanson Place, which he is now converting into 189 luxury condos.
Johnson attracted the ire of James and Rev. Clinton Miller of Brown Memorial last year when he refused to reserve any space in the One Hanson Place tower — the borough’s tallest — for affordable housing.
He said that the two community advocates “reached out” to him as soon as they learned of his Brooklyn campaign stop.
“I told them, because of the cost of the [bank tower], [affordable units weren’t] feasible there,” Johnson said. “But we are open to exploring options where there is appropriate land.”
Johnson’s development company, Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, and its partner, Dermot Co., paid a reported $165 million for the 34-story, four-faced icon in 2005.
The athlete-mogul said he would consider pairing with a Brooklyn church — and building on its land — in order to keep expenses down this time.
“We are interested in talking with any Brooklyn church that has land,” he said.
Brown Memorial Baptist owns no vacant land, but it does have air rights over its sprawling, low-rise chapel. Miller said that he had spoken informally with Johnson about what it would take to build above the church, a historic landmark that can’t be altered without a rezoning.
Johnson’s affordable housing offensive has James back on the developer’s team after months of tense dealings over the all-luxury Hanson Place site.
“He has now given us assurance that he is going to do affordable housing somewhere in the neighborhood,” James said. “It’s a quid pro quo and I accept that.”
In 2003, Johnson’s group helped fund a condo conversion on the site of the former Brooklyn Tabernacle in Park Slope. The development fund recently began investing in a third Brooklyn project, in Greenpoint.
The Clinton Hill partnership would be the b-baller’s first affordable project in the borough.