New York Buys Last Tract for Williamsburg Waterfront Park for $160 Million

Source: The New York Times

By Noah Remnick

A patchwork of weeds, rusted refineries, dilapidated warehouses and pollution-soaked land along the East River in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn has long held the unfulfilled dream of local residents.

For more than a decade, New York City officials have promised to transform the industrial wasteland into a 28-acre park in exchange for neighborhood support for a rezoning that would allow the construction of luxury residential buildings in what was once a primarily working-class area.

In that time, as Williamsburg became a magnet for the wealthy and aspirational, only a portion of the promised Bushwick Inlet Park came to life. Acquiring the land from a host of owners proved to be difficult, fraying the patience of local residents. But this week, officials announced that the city had ended a standoff with the owner of the last 11-acre parcel needed to join the southern and northern ends of the park’s footprint, agreeing to pay $160 million for the property.

“It’s a damn miracle!” said Joe Mayock, 50, executive director of Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, one of several groups that have pushed for the park. “This isn’t just about a park or even about a neighborhood — it’s about holding the city accountable as it continues to transform.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the acquisition, calling it “an investment in the future of Brooklyn” and saying the price was fair.

“Our administration keeps its promises,” Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, said in a statement. “When we commit to build a new park or a new school in a growing community, we deliver.”

The promise to build the park was actually made during the administration of Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican turned independent who estimated the project’s entire cost at $60 million to $90 million. With the deal announced this week, the city will have spent more than $350 million on land and another $25.8 million on development, with much more still needed to clean up decades of pollution on the property.

In the end, what stood between the people and their park was Norman Brodsky, owner of the elusive last tract and the fire-damaged warehouse on it. Mr. Brodsky rebuffed the city’s initial $100 million offer for the property and was reportedly seeking as much as $325 million. While real estate experts had placed the land’s minimum value at $120 million to $180 million, the city argued that the only reason it was even worth that much was the proposed rezoning, which depended on the creation of the promised park.

The project might well have stalled had it not been for the activists who continued to press for the park’s completion. Spurred largely by a group called Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, proponents spoke out at community board meetings, held rallies at City Hall and flooded local officials with literature about the cause.

When traditional tactics foundered, the activists staged a series of outré demonstrations to capture attention. They occupied the inlet with kayaks and canoes, marched in Manhattan with a coffin symbolizing a funeral for a project, organized and filmed a flash mob at a nearby soccer field and staged a sleep-in on the pavement outside the park during a torrential rainstorm.

“Elected officials are inundated with all kinds of issues, but this community wouldn’t take no for an answer,” said Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, who joined Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a fellow Democrat, at the sleep-in.

“These people fought like hell and their neighborhood will be better for generations because of it,” Ms. Maloney said.

Katherine Conkling Thompson, an organizer of Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, was among those celebrating the victory at a pub in Greenpoint on Tuesday night. “Sometimes a grass-roots effort can actually succeed,” Ms. Thompson said.

She did not bask in the success for long. By morning, she was already focused on her next effort: a proposal to build a park over a portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

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