Brooklyn Bridge Park Inching Toward Its Endgame
With legal hurdles recently removed on two public-private development projects included in Brooklyn Bridge Park, the stunning modern green space—both uniquely controversial and uncommonly beautiful—is approaching its endgame.
It’s been a long time coming, a time filled with neighborhood battles and legal and political skirmishes over city views, proper use of parkland and affordable housing. The 1.3-mile-long stretch of waterfront, once a bustling part of Brooklyn's industrial coastline, has been the subject of a public push for park space since the Port Authority, its former owner, sold off piers on the site for commercial development in 1984. The public got its wish—but it wouldn't be quick in arriving. By 1998, the Downtown Brooklyn Waterfront Local Development Corp was formed to develop a vision for the deteriorating shipping piers, and in 2000 the first “illustrative plan” for a new public-private park was unveiled.
In 2002, the state's two leading political players at the time, Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki, issued a memorandum of understanding that stipulated that state and city funding would be used to get the project off the ground. It mandated that no public funds be used for maintenance/upkeep of the park once it's built. That is, the park would be financially self-sufficient, funded by mixed-use development of a few parcels on the park's outskirts. It’s a cost that Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. president Regina Myer pegs at about $300M over 50 years.
In 2004, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corp, predecessor to the BBPC, which now presides over the park’s management, put out a plan that included blueprints for a building now rising at the park's northern end: Pierhouse, a 192-key hotel and 106-unit condo project that Toll Brothers is building in a JV with Starwood Capital. The development, along with rental apartment complexes at the southern end of the park, would generate the lion’s share of operating revenue for the park. Trouble is, they also produced the majority of the controversy. A local organization of detractors called Save The View Now filed a lawsuit against Pierhouse, arguing that the building’s mechanical structures on the roof extended higher than zoning allowed. Work on that part of the project was halted while the case was pending, but a June 14 NY State Supreme Court ruling sided with Toll Brothers/Starwood, and the work goes on. The project’s slated to open later this year.
But there was also controversy at the southern end, where a planned 430-unit rental complex was met with a legal challenge. This battle was settled out of court last month, and there will be additional community input as part of the agreement. A group called People for Green Space argued in court papers that planned affordable housing would go against the development’s revenue-producing mandate because affordable units are much less profitable than market rate sales, hence less valuable toward replenishing the park's maintenance budget. A developer hasn’t been selected to build that project, which is supposed to consist of two buildings: one with a 315 foot height limit, the other topping off at 155 feet, according to the settlement. In a larger sense, the debate has focused on whether affordable housing is appropriate alongside park-sustaining condo sales, or whether a park should include housing at all. “The green space argument is really strange to me, because this is a park; and by the way, before this, there was zero green space,” says Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Carlo Scissura. “It went from from zero acres of green space to eventually 85 acres.”
Those 85 acres stretch from the base of the Manhattan Bridge, in DUMBO, to Atlantic Avenue, more than a mile to the south. There’s more to be built, but the park's green space is filling in—and it's not just grass and landscaping. In December 2012, athletic fields and a fishing prep station opened. About a year ago, a public beach was unveiled. When we visited the park this week, a kayaker was coming in from a cruise in New York Harbor, finishing up on the newly created stretch of sand. And seven retail stations will be located on park grounds, like Ample Hills Creamery, which has a seasonal kiosk.
CPEX’s Ryan Condren heads up the retail leasing team at One Brooklyn Bridge Park, a mixed-use building at the southern entrance to the park, near Atlantic Avenue. It was converted into condos after the Jehovah’s Witnesses sold it to RAL Cos & Affiliates in 2004 for $205M. Ryan says a slew of new retail at the address will be part of what draws folks to the park.
One BBP will have 80k SF of total retail, of which 10k SF is leased to four tenants. (We snapped Ryan, above, with Abhaya Yoga’s Tara Glazier, who signed a 4,500 SF lease last month). Ryan tells us that three spaces have yet to be leased at One BBP: one’s slated for a restaurant; another for a coffee shop/cafe; and the third is for an entertainment venue. The asking rents Ryan puts in the ballpark of $50/SF. “The park is a tremendous anchor to attract unique retail,” Ryan says. “Interest in space is running parallel with the construction of the park as it takes shape.”