Joe Sitt is stirring the pot again. The developer — who once fashioned himself as the savior of both Downtown and Coney Island, yet ended up selling his holdings in those neighborhoods at a huge profit — is now talking up a plan to turn some vacant land on the Red Hook waterfront into dormitories for metro-area college students.
The land, which sits between the Ikea superstore and the Fairway supermarket, used to be the home of the Revere Sugar refinery, which Sitt bought in 2005. He promptly tore down the historic plant in that industrial area and set out in search of a zoning change that would let him build a mini-city of housing, entertainment venues, a restaurant, a mall and a marina.
Even in better economic times, that plan went nowhere.
Then Sitt talked about a mega-mall on the site, bringing a BJs Wholesale Club to Red Hook. That plan also went nowhere.
Now Sitt is talking about dorms.
We see where this is going.
Under the guise of providing a much-needed amenity — student housing is in great demand — Sitt wants the city to rezone his largely unusable land for residential construction.
That’s exactly what he’s wanted since he bought the land for $40 million in 2005.
Of course, a switch to residential zoning could increase the value of that land by tens of millions.
Given his track record, that’s what Sitt the speculator really wants.
Make no mistake, we have long cheered Sitt for the role he has played in development in this city. In both Coney Island and Albee Square, areas that were dormant for years suddenly became hot properties after Sitt bought land and floated gradiose plans. In Coney, the city would not likely have moved forward with its plan for a 24-7-365 theme park and entertainment zone had Sitt not proposed just such a thing. And would the 70-story CityPoint tower have ever gotten off an architect’s drafting table had Sitt not bought the former Albee Square mall site and proposed just such a tower?
To some, Joe Sitt is full of big talk and few accomplishments. But he has shown a willingness to buy land that no one else wants to do anything with — and in doing so, jumpstart the process of revitalization.
In the case of Red Hook, however, Sitt is merely latching onto the well-known demand for student housing to make a new push for a lucrative residential rezoning.
And once he gets it, he’ll plan something much different — or sell the property. That’s been his pattern. And while that’s led to some successes for both he and the city, Sitt should be a bit more honest about his intentions.
After all, they could benefit everyone.