Brooklyn Bridge bark! Local anger spills over at ‘park’ meeting

The Brooklyn Paper
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Mounting costs to build Brooklyn Bridge Park with no completion date in sight incensed critics during a presentation of long-sought budget figures for the controversial park-and-condo project on Thursday night.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation revealed that it would cost “about $350 million” to build the open space component of the project along the Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO waterfront, $200 million more than Mayor Bloomberg and then-Gov. Pataki set aside in 2002.

The current construction allocation — now closer to $230 million — is not enough to build all the parkland, leaving several key components in limbo until more government funds can be scrounged up for a project that has been in the planning stages since the 1980s.

“I’m getting furious. You got more money than you asked for,” but can’t build what was designed, blasted Dorothy Siegel, a neighborhood activist. “Why didn’t you say, ‘I have $150 million. What can I build for $150 million?’”

The meeting revealed more than just local anger, but some of the nuts-and-bolts financials of the long-stalled project:

• So-called “base costs” would gobble up $194.3 million for things like installing utilities, bulkhead repairs, demolition of existing structures from the bygone shipping era, legal fees and architects’ contracts.

• “Core costs” — building the lawns, ball courts and playgrounds — $121.6 million.

• “Unique costs,” like wave attenuators, other landscaping such as sound-proofing berms, and a wetland require about $32.9 million.

It all adds up to the current $348.8-million budget — and it’s viewable on the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation Web site.

Ballooning costs aside, city Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benape called the park “a bargain” compared to many city-built open spaces.

Regina Myer, president of the state agency constructing the park, said costs partially swelled because the proposed park has been expanded to include Pier 6, near the foot of Atlantic Avenue, and the conversion of a Con Edison site on John Street— though the enlargement does not nearly amount for the total increase.

The park builders also disclosed that the annual upkeep expenses grew to $16.1 million from $15.2 million. But they say that when adjusted for inflation, they’ve actually trimmed money from the yearly operation costs compared to the original total, by belt-tightening measures like paring its rider lawnmower fleet from 40 to 20, as the New York Post reported this week.

The annual maintenance and operations budget is crucial because of the unique financial model of the park. Bloomberg and Pataki mandated that the park generate revenue within its borders to cover that yearly upkeep and subsequently — and, as a result, approved plans to build 1,210 luxury apartments, a 225-bed hotel and retail inside the 1.3-mile strip.

These private areas would pay fees to the park’s managers instead of normal property taxes and have been the heart of the contention surrounding the park since they were introduced in a bombshell just before Christmas 2004.

One woman in the audience on Thursday night panned the funding arrangement as “a developers’ plan” because the current scheme favors real-estate developers and their future residents rather than park’s future users.

“You still need $120 million [to build the park] — and that’s only going to go up,” added Judi Francis, who has spearheaded opposition, including a lawsuit, against the current park plan. Her group, Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, has been calling for a park without any revenue-producing elements.

“Where are you going to go to get it?”

Others reminded that many elements of it are stalled or off the table.

Currently, development officials are only building Pier 1, at the foot of Old Fulton Street, and Pier 6, at the foot of Atlantic Avenue, and turning them into passive recreation space. And aside from the 449-unit One Brooklyn Bridge Park on Furman Street, which is slowly being occupied, there is no plan to build the rest of the housing or hotel.

But David Lowin, a vice president of the development corporation, said the fees from One Brooklyn Bridge Park would provide $3 million a year.

“We can last through mid-2012,” before other revenue streams will be needed to fund the growing park. At that point, the construction of the entire park should be two-thirds complete he said.

At that point, he said, new revenue will have to be in place to maintain the newly completed segments.

Updated 5:11 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

David from DUMBO says:
Thank you Brooklyn Paper, Gersh Kunzman, Mike McLaughlin and the entire news staff for "getting it" and reporting it. We want and need a park. A park with the kinds of things the communities have been clammoring for, for decades. That group of Heights millionaires on the Development Corp. Board and their toadies, the Conservancy, have totally screwed the public. The construction dollars are now entirely committed for utilities (who are they kidding? $61 million for park utilities??? It is for the condos!!! Do they thing we are complete nimcompoops???), big berms blocking entrances, and tot lots to appeal to those new millionaires who will live inside our public park. There is no more money left to build even the pathetic minimal recreational features that were promised - the pier 2 basketball courts. Oh, and Gersh's beloved tetherball is also left out until they come up with yet another $120 million!!! Wonder how much that comes to per tetherball match, Gersh? Calling Andrew Cuomo.....
Jan. 30, 2009, 1:28 pm
ph from dumbo says:
where is sarah portlock this week, taking time off?
Jan. 30, 2009, 1:50 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
I attended the briefing on Brooklyn Bridge Park last night and I heard a thoughtful presentation on the costs and the budget. Commissioner Benape particular make interesting comparisons as to costs at other parks. What he didn't say was that the City parks Department has also had considerable cost over runs from initial estimates particularly at the parks that are being built around Yankee Stadium(see post article on overruns).

What I heard from what can be best described as the Anti group(whatever it is they are against it) was at best drivel.

When Brooklyn Bridge park was announced 10 years ago 150 million dollars was promised for construction. No Politician I know expected that would be the final cost. The park hadn't been studied yet and to assume that was it is to fly in the face of political reality. When the Intrepid was being renovated last year the estimated initial cost including redoing the pier was about $35 million dollars. It cost in excess of $110 million(most of the money supplied by the City through Hudson River Park trust---and where did that money come from mostly from the residential development known as Battery park City-built on parkland on the water). The Transit Hub at Fulton street in Manhattan is also a good example. The cost estimate was original about 600 million dollars that plan grew to do the same thing to 1.2 billion dollars(for ONE transit hub). the latest plan is 900 million and it looks even though there were plans to scale it back as too costsly that it will be built with about a 500 million dollar glass roof as originally planned. When Politicians really want to find capital money that normally can. The City and the State(including the current governor) have pledged to find the money to build a world class park(although after that we are our own...although I have no doubt that some capital money will be made available from time to time especially when the economy is good. So far the State has come up with another 80 million or so....I have no doubt that over the next 10-20 years the rest of the capital monies will be "found"

When Brooklyn bridge park was announced the City and State through the Port Authority who had stewardship on the piers, it was to be built on "land" that because it was owned by the City never paid real estate taxes. The City and the State agreed to the park on a condition that it be self sustaining that it would use the "newly" generated real estate taxes on development within its borders to pay for its maintenance. These monies from a tax exempt entity where never before available to the city to build anything and it had been more than 50 years ago that the piers themselves had shown a profit for the fees received on the docks. So its really dis-engenuous to say this real estate taxes should go to build schools. There have never been taxes collected from the piers for that purpose.Making the park self sufficient was a way of protecting the park from the ups and down of the city's economy. Not the negative the anti's try to make it out to be a positive way to ensure that the park isn't starved for needed funds because the priorities are elsewhere. Yes there may be delays in the residential/ hotel development sites that may cause delay in the current plan but does that mean the current construction which they have the money for should stop? Not in my book. If you plan on every possible eventuality and hold until everything is complete nothing will ever get built. I think the current park people have made a wise choice and if the economy doesn't turn around in 3-4 years the plan will have to be changed but then again it probably will change anyway.

A school at the site is a really nice idea. The problem with it is that schools don't pay taxes, so pilots(payment in lieu of taxes) are not possible and a ground lease that approximates the land use and the equivalent of real estate taxes would have a very high annual cost(and if the city defaults is anyone going to foreclose). I support the school idea. The additional problem is that a hotel brings much more jobs and income to the city(in the form of use taxes), than a school does. A school there would bring buses etc into the area and has it own set of pluses and minuses. The BBP doesn't want the school since its wouldn't pay pilots and the income would have to be made up by an additional development site.

Parking on the site as an income producer. While as pointed out there is some/considerable parking already planned for the site as part of the development site(for use by the hotel and residential development) a separate parking lot is against every thing the city has proposed as part of its 2020 plan and opposed by everyone else except people who want to come up with unworkable solutions that scuttle the park. Do you really want to use this world class site as a parking lot? How about we build a six story parking garage next to your house instead? While it is possible that a temporary parking facility will have to be built if the residential/hotel developments fail to materialize as a result of the current financial climate, no one thinks that parking qua parking on the site is a permanent solution. Those of us who really think long term of the park are willing to consider parking as a temporary solution- no one believes it should be a permanent solution. Parking lots through out the city have been replaced by hotels and residential developments. Its because they generate much higher incomes to the owner of the land and will require less total land that a permanent parking lot.

But the one I think is the most assinine was the person who said throw out the whole plan have the parks commissioner take the 150 million and himself on the back of an envelope design a new park within that money. Forget that some money has already been spent on design, forget that the community and not just a few self described activists have planned this park just do it for 150 million without any concern for the engineering and actual costs, and if he designs a park that is the same as planned that would be ok? Not likely....

Yes you can build a flat park cheaper. Just like central park and prospect park a park with character requires more than a lawn.

Finally I am not saying that there has been money wasted -there has been- but that really is water over the dam. Its not coming back. I am not saying that community input and tweaking of the current plan wouldn't improve it but what I heard from the anti's for the most part was not hopeful or frankly useful. It was the same bunch of people who just need to hear themselves talk.

Sid from Boerum Hill
Jan. 30, 2009, 1:51 pm
Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
Sid, you just don't seem to get it.

We pay taxes (and quite a hefty amount of taxes) in order to fund the operations of government, a portion of which includes public amenities like parks.

But increasingly, those tax dollars are hijacked by politicians and bureaucrats and handed over to profitable private enterprises like the New York Yankees and Forest City Ratner. The cost overruns you cite in the Bronx have occurred precisely because our elected officials allowed the Yankees to hijack existing parkland in the Bronx to build an unneeded new stadium, and they then subsidized it further to the tune of several hundred million more dollars. We wouldn't have any cost overruns if the existing parks weren't seized for the Yankees' boondoggle.

Which begs the question -- why should public parks have to be "self-sustaining" rather than supported by tax dollars, when private ballparks and arenas are built with ample amounts of public money?

It's high time to return government -- and public parks -- to the people.

[One thing we sort of agree on is parking -- there shouldn't be any. The site is highly accessible by transit, and parking lots will only serve to encourage people to drive. Parks are for people -- not cars.]
Jan. 30, 2009, 5:59 pm
William Harris from Boerum Hill says:
ph from dumbo comment: the wonderful sarah port-lock was pinkslipped owing to $$$ at the other-wise wonderful Brooklyn Paper.

Which, in spite of Gersh in his birthday suit and other distractions has the "park" down just about right. Sid from Boerum Hill makes some good points, as does Eric from Park Slope. My thanks to them. But in all the heat about this project let us please remember that a good chunk of the acres cannot be built on until the BQE "triple decker" rebuild is complete, now scheduled for 2023-5.

So, let us focus on that fact of life and all the pain it will bring and try to concentrate on what CAN reasonably be achieved. Let us not undermine the good work and intentions of our neighbors who are sweating out this project. Let us be realistic, painful though it be.

With another 15 years to plan, let us find the funds and find a way to make this a park that works for everyone, not a "park." Brooklyn Paper, you've got it right. A "park" is not a park.

Bill Harris, member CB2, 718 875-5650
Jan. 31, 2009, 7:04 pm
sid from boerum hill says:
what happened to three other posts that were removed?
Jan. 31, 2009, 7:25 pm
Ed Weintrob (Brooklyn Paper) says:
Because of a technical problem with our servers, some comments posted on Friday were dropped. They should be restored sometime on Monday.

Ed Weintrob
Feb. 1, 2009, 11:49 am
Jen from Park Slope says:
The parks $spending process is so corrupt. Look into who gets the bids and how. There are only 5 companies even allowed to bid and design, and none women or minority owned.
Feb. 2, 2009, 11:59 am
pierce from brooklyn Heights says:
I agree that Andrew Como needs to look into the finances of this fiasco. Memories are short, it has been much longer than ten years that the public has been promised a park. There have been nothing but lies coming from the EDC and the politicians for so many years, that I cannot believe anything they say any longer. Who knows what will really happen down there and how many hundreds of millions more will be spent on empty and cruel promises?
Feb. 2, 2009, 3:32 pm

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