The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will relocate some workers to an abandoned Downtown building this week, despite calls from the neighborhood’s leading business group to use the Jay Street office tower as a small-business incubator and a new shopping strip.
Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Joe Chan had asked the transportation agency to revitalize the area between Willoughby and Tillary streets — currently blighted by the dilapidated MTA building — by renting some space to small businesses and reserving the ground floor of the building for retail.
Such an arrangement, Chan argued, would save the cash-strapped MTA $121 million — money that Chan said could be diverted to repair the much-maligned Lawrence Street, Hoyt-Schermerhorn, and Borough Hall subway stations.
Instead, the MTA will spend $150 million to renovate the building and consolidate various departments under one roof.
And there will be no ground-floor retail.
The MTA says its consolidation on Jay Street would save as much as $40 million per year.
But that’s not part of Chan’s master plan to “diversify the local economy.”
He’d like to see “additional industries establish a presence in Downtown Brooklyn, which is primarily tenanted by banks and insurance companies and other larger companies. There is room for small businesses here, too.”
When he made his first pitch to the MTA last year, Chan wanted the entire 13-story building as a small-business incubator. This week, he asked the MTA to use only five stories and reserve the rest for small businesses.
Downtown business owners were happy to hear that there was at least activity at the building, which is in a booming area near the Marriott Hotel.
“Having that thing sitting vacant on Jay Street is hurting the businesses here,” said Michael Gold, owner of Sid’s Hardware. “Keeping it empty is jeopardizing the development of Downtown Brooklyn.”
That’s Chan’s point, exactly — though he drew a different conclusion.
“[The building] offers a different type of office space — one that is more amenable to smaller companies,” he said. “There’s really a dearth of that kind of space in Downtown Brooklyn.”
And Chan has the support of Councilman David Yassky.
“The MTA priority at this point has got to be improving subway and bus service,” said the Brooklyn Heights Democrat.
“The only way they can justify spending $150 million on new office space is if they can show that it’s going to save them even more money somewhere else. I want to see the detailed plan with addresses and numbers and dollar figures on that, and if not, then its just plain old bad judgment.
“I think [Chan’s plan] is a much smarter approach because it actually brings in money to the MTA rather than costing money, and it would help develop the downtown Brooklyn business district.”