Brooklyn Bridge Park consultant: Alternatives to housing? What alternatives to housing?

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Opponents of luxury condos in Brooklyn Bridge Park were dealt a blow on Thursday, when a consultant hired to find alternatives to new luxury housing inside the greenspace refused to consider existing property as a major revenue source for the park.

Specifically, the consultant hired by park officials ruled out considering the value of future property tax revenue from buildings currently owned by the tax-exempt Watchtower Bible an Tract Society because the buildings might not return to the tax rolls for a generation.

“Given the extent of Watchtower’s holdings in Brooklyn,” the report said, “it is reasonable to expect it to be a ‘patient seller’ who would sell its properties over a number of years and at points in market cycles that will maximize its profit.”

But that assessment was slammed by opponents of the housing funding scheme.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights) said that the city’s report put no effort into studying the properties — therefore paving the way for controversial high-rises to be built inside the park.

“Sadly, it turned into a political document instead of a useful and impartial report,” he said.

Given its parameters, the document could be little else; two major principals bound the consultant, Bay Area Economics: a) the 2002 agreement between the city and state that mandated that the $350-million park generate its own revenue for annual upkeep, and b) a requirement that the consultant not consider any revenue, such as property taxes, that otherwise would go into the city’s general fund.

Since even before he was elected in 2008, Squadron has sought ways to capture future revenue for park maintenance to avoid construction of a 20-story and 30-story residential building on the southern end of the park, plus another revenue-generating condo on the John Street portion of the riverfront greenspace.

Squadron an Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) did get park officials to create a Committee on Alternatives to Housing to find other revenue sources.

Squadron urged the committee to consider the so-called “Watchtower properties” — nearly 30 buildings that currently are not on the tax roles under federal laws that exempt religious groups from paying their fair share. He believes that those buildings could generate millions in property tax once they change hands.

The Watchtower properties weren’t included in the consultant’s initial report in February — an omission that enraged Squadron, Millman, Community Boards 2 and 6, and other locals.

In its final report issued late Thursday, the consultant again declined to consider the properties, which may indeed remain unsold for years. Instead, the consultant studied nine revenue streams, including sponsorships, vendor fees and a park improvement district, which, like a business improvement district, would levy a small tax on property owners near the park.

All told, the consultant found only $7 million in revenue sources — a figure that suggests that housing is inevitable.

Regina Myer, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park corporation, would not comment on the exclusion of the Watchtower properties as a source of funding.

“We’re optimistic that we will soon finalize a funding plan and move forward building the rest of the park,” she said.

Squadron said that everything is on the table to keep condos out of the park’s footprint. The senator and Millman have veto power over the future high-rises under the 2010 deal that gave the city control of the park and its construction.

“We’re going to continue to try to force the city into getting this park completed in good faith,” he said, adding, “Watchtower is still an option.”

The Committee on Alternatives to Housing will vote on whether or not to pass the report during a public meeting at the Brooklyn Public Library [280 Cadman Plaza West, between Johnson and Tillary streets in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 623-7100] on June 14 at 2 pm. For info, visit

Updated 5:24 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Publius from Bklyn Heights says:
The Watchtower properties should be taken by eminent domain. If Rat-ner can take private land for private use, the gov't can take private tax exempt land for public use.

The Witnesses have had those properties off the tax roles for many decades. Time to get some use out of them for the people of NYC.
June 11, 2011, 12:11 am
Kate says:
Publius, the study rejected the use of eminent domain.

"A different suggestion has been made for the City to use its eminent domain power to seize control of the Watchtower Properties, and then redevelop them in order to capture the increase in value. The use of eminent domain would not appear to be a viable option in this case and would still call for the payment of fair market value for the properties acquired, meaning such use would not result in additional revenues to the Park."
June 11, 2011, 7:55 am
Publius from Bklyn Heights says:

Most people realize the hiring of Bay City was politically motivated to spend taxpayer money to arrive at a pre-arranged determination: luxury housing in the park.

There should be an investigation into why $100k of NY taxpayer money was spent to hire an out of state firm that dismisses the most promising potential for park revenue.

What I'm saying is: The study is fundamentally flawed, a waste of taxpayer money, and should be discarded.

Are we believing that private money can be raised to seize private land for a private venture (Atlantic Yards) but private or public money could not be raised to pay the Witnesses fair market value (or perhaps as effective, as a negotiating chip to get the Witnesses to sell sooner than they might have for fear of eminent domain).

And with the housing market in its fourth year of doldrums, with 1 BBP only half sold after years on the market, clearly more luxury condos are not the answer to fund the park.
June 11, 2011, 8:03 am
bklyn20 from Brooklyn Heights says:
The consultant (BAE) is not a pro-park entity; their specialty, which can be found on the opening page of their website, is:

“bae is an award-winning urban economics and public-benefit real estate development consulting practice. Since 1986, we have served more than 1,700 clients including public agencies, non-profit organizations, and private developers throughout the U.S. We are a certified green business, a women-owned business, and employee-owned (ESOP).”

If the study was a waste of money, it is because the wrong consultant was chosen. A more appropriate use of the $100,000 would have been a consultant that actualy specialized in PARKS, and not in developers.

BAE would not examine the BBP's steroidal budget, and they would not examine the most promising sources of altenative revenue. Somehow many good ideas were "outside the "parameters of the study." And who drew those parameters? The same people who want housing in the park and a wasteful budget.

We now can enjoy the sight of empty, chain-link fenced-in mud squares where the Pier 6 towers are planned. These areas could at least serve an interim use as a small-dog dog run, a community garden... Instead we have mud pits, which are suitable only for the porcine budget.
June 11, 2011, 1:10 pm
smokin joe from brooklyn says:
Actually, Squadron, one of the big champions of removing housing from the Park, is one of the people who drew those parameters. He signed the March 2010 MOU that set the parameters fro the study, and his representative was one on the committee that UNANIMOUSLY selected Bay Area Economics. And BAE has a significant specialty in funding Parks around the country. It would take a total of 3 minutes looking around their website to confirm that.

Squadron complaining that the report has been politicized? Ironic! No one has done more to politicize this process than old Danny boy himself.

Lastly Publius - you are still ignoring the fact the point of these developments is to raise revenue funds WITHOUT using public funds. If you have to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in funds to acquire the Watchtower sites through eminent domain, then you are not going to wind up netting much revenue that can be used for the park once you've paid back the acquisition costs. It's really a simple point.
June 11, 2011, 9:09 pm
bklyn20 from Brooklyn Heights says:
Smokin joe, sorry, but Daniel Squadron's representative isn't here to speak for himself. BAE's press does, however, speak for BAE.

After looking at the BAE site many times, from the time BAE was chosen until now, it is clear that they are a development-oriented group. It is in their initial mission statement. That is how BAE chooses to characterize themselves. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, and then SAYS it’s a duck, then it is a d … well, read this from the opening page of the BAE website:

“bae is an award-winning urban economics and public-benefit real estate development consulting practice. Since 1986, we have served more than 1,700 clients including public agencies, non-profit organizations, and private developers throughout the U.S. We are a certified green business, a women-owned business, and employee-owned (ESOP).”

BAE may be great consultants - but they are working on the wrong project with the wrong parameters.

Upon further investigation of the BAE site, one can see that the parks “tab” contains 3 park studies and one of a farmers’ market/marketplace and the possibility of putting it into a building (not a park.) On the other website tabs are listed many more studies on development-related areas. The non-park work is comprised of 20 projects, and 21 if you count the marketplace study. Thus, there are 3 park projects and 21 non-park projects listed. Making 7 times more non-park projects than actual park projects.

Oh, and here’s what BAE, in their own words, did for Governor’s Island:

“Governors Island Development Solicitation and Advisory Services
BAE served as a member of the Development Advisory Services team engaged to assist GIPEC with
its evaluation of forthcoming developer submittals as well as ongoing advisory services. BAE was
selected as a member of the team based on its national experience and depth of work in public-
BAE Experience: Parks & Community Facilities
private partnerships throughout the U.S. We reviewed a set of development proposals received for
the Island, and are working on an implementation strategy for first phases of reuse. ”

How many uses of the word "development" or a variant of "development" was that? Don't be lazy -- isn't it 4?? How wonderful that the BBPC used $100,000 of taxpayer money for hiring consultants to say exactly what the BBPC wanted to hear.
June 12, 2011, 12:10 am
Frank from Furter says:
Development doesn't mean housing it means real estate development that brings in money. You can't raise money by undeveloping things unless you raise money through the public trough(that means through taxes).
The agreement that allowed the City to take over from the State the funding of the Brooklyn Bridge park REQUIRED that a study be done to find if their were alternatives to the housing development from within the Park land ONLY.
Who were you going to use? the Ghostbusters? of course you would use people with development experience. Its clear that the report would state the obvious- that this has been studied before and no other stream of income could raise the money needed. If you look around there is so much vacant retail space around that retail income is suspect anyway. So the only sure fire way to raise money is to tax someone. That is what a park improvement district is a tax on someone else. Even the housing within the park is a form of tax-its payment in lieu of taxes that the city has foregone to allow the park to exist.(there is one component of the payment to the park from housing within the park that isn't which is called ground lease payments which the 360 Furman which owned the land before it was donated to the park is not really paying but the new development would). So the anti-housing in the park people want to take more income away from the City by taxing land outside the park as dedicated funding. The Watchtower buildings are not inside the park. they are outside the mandate agreed to by all parties in this "study" which was a pap to getting the state to agree to give its power over the park(which was given up because the state couldn't afford its fair share of the increased costs of building the park)...
That doesn't mean that building housing in the park is liked only that it is the only real source of money from within the park...
would you prefer parking or a boat yard with repair and maintenance facilities?
June 12, 2011, 5:54 am
Frank from Furter says:
and not to state the obvious but both parking and the boat yard would require a larger footprint to raise the same amount of money diminishing the available land even more-not to mention the fact that a full service boat yard isn't the smelliest of neighbors...
I do think that some of the alternate funding sources could reduce the size of the housing but not eliminate it.
Would a reduction(the elimination of one of the buildings on the upland portion of pier 6) in the size be a good compromise?
June 12, 2011, 6:13 am
Frank from Furter says:
and the article is wrong in one respect. The City's additional funding was contingent on the operational funding being found from within the park. So if the State representatives veto the report, the City is not obligated to fund the park. A brinksmanship that puts the whole park in jeopardy. Its clear to me that this sort of bad faith on the state reps part was intended to hold the whole park hostage to no housing in the park people....and we will see if my prediction on this is true(that the study would either allow the state reps cover to acknowldge housing in the park or force the city to fund in the face of defiance on the report findings-ie someone throwing a tantrum and insisting on their way or no way)
June 12, 2011, 6:20 am
ty from pps says:
How is $7 million not adequate for annual maintenance of this park?!

That is $19,000 per day.

If the city can't figure out how to maintain a park (albeit fairly large and complex) for $7 million, they should raze it to the ground.
June 12, 2011, 10:58 am
frank from furter says:
its the piers that are expensive. The Port Authority spent 20 million 6 years ago to redo two of the piers and all the work has to be redone as it is already causing deterioration to the piles.
The cost structure is HIGH. pier maintenance is extremely costly. The pricing is in accord with the maintenance paid for Manhattan's piers- but the money for that comes from the housing in Battery Park City.... money which again because of state restrictions is not available for Brooklyn(its available for Governor's Island because technically GI is in Manhattan). I always thought at least some of that cost should be borne in Capital not operational money but again because the State hasn't committed its share of Capital costs, the city has to make sure the money is available...
June 12, 2011, 1:59 pm
Jamie Connor from Bushwick says:
The hell with building luxury condos! How about building some affordable housing units for those of us who are not millionaires. Why is there not more Mitchell-Lama typr housing being offered? Mayor Doomberg may be well liked by the wealthy of NYC, but us working class folks can't stand him. New York needs BIG change!
June 13, 2011, 11:01 am
chris havens from boerum hill says:
watchtower properties irrelevant city tax revenue cannot be used to maintain the park under the terms of establishment of the park itself NFW new york city will domain religious property never happen

housing or leave center of park unfinished, those are the options all else is smoke and mirrors
June 13, 2011, 11:01 am
Ex-Russellite from Fulton Ferry says:
Chris Havens, while it's unlikely we'll go back, calling "Jehovah's Witnesses" a group of "religious property" owners is NOT an uncontroversial statement.

Their history-- which you can learn from early 20th c. (esp. 1910s-1920s) newspapers and other sources is a a CULT, generally anti-Christian and specifically very anti-Catholic.

They had few, if any friends in Brooklyn and for very good reason.
June 13, 2011, 11:51 am
Frank from Furter says:
No Mitchell-Lama because there are no monies for government subsidies. Mitchell Lama was built with both tax incentives and government cash. These properties are not eligible for 421a property tax subsidies- and if you allow tax subsidies you don't get the money(payment in lieu of taxes) to maintain the park! That is why there no subsidized housing. Compare this with Atlantic yards where the direct cash subsidy is over $305 million dollars and the tax subsidy in total is in excess of 1 BILLLION dollars for 2025 or so subsidized "affordable" housing....and if you believe that this will be built(the entire affordable housing component) before 2025 I have a bridge to sell you...and I'll bet Ratner will be back asking for more subsidy--and all this is one reason the city won't agree to more land that can be taxed to be included in the park...
June 13, 2011, 5:57 pm
Frank from Furter says:
BTW when Mitchell Lama was built besides all this the Tax code allowed for faster write off of the construction costs- also a subsidy from Federal Taxes....want to increase the deficit in Washington some more...(I think they should to get the affordable housing market moving again- but hey what do I know I am a liberal....)
June 13, 2011, 5:59 pm
joe from BK heights says:
No Affordable housing around the park, there are enough projects that take up valuable real estate already. You do not have a right to live like a king/queen if you can't afford it.
June 21, 2011, 9:48 am

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