Willowtown's Leaders Give Ideas for Park Funding Alternatives

At public hearings held last November 30 and December 9 President Ben Bankson of the Willowtown Association and Vice President Linda De Rosa read statements on behalf of the association's board giving ideas on alternatives to housing to raise the maintenance budget for Brooklyn Bridge Park. Their statements included all nine of the potential funding streams that the park board's Committee on Alternatives to Housing authorized its consultant, Bay Area Economics, to analyze for a draft report to be released in February for public comment. In the spring the committee is expected to advance its recommendations on funding to the park's board for final action.

President Bankson's statement was as follows:

"The Willowtown neighborhood borders Piers 5 and 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park and is greatly impacted by whatever happens at these piers and anywhere else in the long and narrow waterfront park. We will watch with much interest the building of Pier 5 between now and its expected opening in the summer of 2012. Our focus too is on all of the activities that are slated to take place there and the park-goers they will attract.

"Since last March when Pier 1 was opened to the public followed several months later by the upland section of Pier 6, I have walked several times a week in a loop from Willowtown through Pier 6, along the pathway on the East River shoreline, around Pier 1, up to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and back home. My walks provide me with varying perspectives on this unique, beautiful and already very popular park and give me a deep appreciation for it. The Willowtown Association applauds President Regina Myer of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation and her team on their remarkable accomplishments to date and looks forward to what is yet to come.

"We welcome the present openness of the parcels of land at Piers 1 and 6 and along John Street that have been designated for the development of residential housing and a hotel within the park. We decry the construction of any buildings on these parcels and feel that this would be a desecration of our waterfront that is finally completely accessible.

"Common sense would seem to shout a loud no again to filling in these parcels with buildings. We urge instead that they be left as they now are but landscaped as integral parts of the park and made into inviting groves.

"If housing must be used as the means to raise the needed revenue to maintain the park, we urge that the present Watchtower facilities that front but are not in it and that are expected soon to be sold become instead the structures needed to fulfill the maintenance scheme. The large T-shaped Watchtower facility along Furman Street and extending to Vine Street already has the very look of a hotel. What a wonderful place it would be–Brooklyn’s Plaza perhaps?–without taking up an inch of park land.

"We are pleased that the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council is up and running and that the Willowtown Association is represented among the initial members. Could not the dozen or so groups on the council, all of whom have a deep interest in the park and its future, take upon themselves raising some part of the maintenance revenue? Or perhaps this could be part of the mission of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. The park has quickly established itself as "an urban treasure" that I am sure all of us would be more than happy to help support through voluntary contributions.

"On my regular walks through Brooklyn Bridge Park, I am much inspired by what already is and being able now to see up close our amazing waterfront and especially the tidal flow. I can hardly wait for the park’s full completion. But, please, no new high-rise condos in the park! No hotel in the park! Certainly in our midst are enough creative minds to come up with ways to raise the needed maintenance revenue that are far more sensitive to what a park is supposed to be without more buildings in it. We hope that this will clearly be the conclusion of tonight’s hearing and the one next week and what the consultant Bay Area Economics will recommend."

Vice President De Rosa's statement was:

"As our president said in his statement given at last week's hearing, Willowtown borders Piers 5 and 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park and is greatly impacted by whatever happens at these piers and anywhere else in the long and narrow waterfront park....

"In June 2005 the Willowtown Association adopted this seven-point platform regarding the park entitled, 'Fighting for a Public Treasure on Brooklyn's Waterfront.' The seven points were:

"1. A park plan in keeping with the '13 Guiding Principles' adopted in 1992 by elected officials and local community groups.

"2. Creation of an affordable waterfront park that can become a real public treasure.

"3. No new residential housing in the park.

"4. Income-producing uses other than housing.

"5. Greater access to the park via public transportation and on foot.

"6. An affordable maintenance budget.

"7. Respect for the surrounding neighborhoods and their residents.

"The park is well along in becoming the very public treasure we called for as the crowds coming to the finished Piers 1 and 6 bear witness. And now we are here to push for alternatives to housing and a hotel in the park.

"Last March the Willowtown Association's president along with representatives of three other nearby neighborhood groups met with staff members of the century-old independent advocacy organization New Yorkers for Parks. Interestingly, the organization did a study during 2008-09 on the very subject of this hearing. The result is entitled 'Supporting Our Parks: A Guide to Alternative Revenue Strategies.' We recommend it to members of the committee and their consultant Bay Area Economics. The study zeroes in on the very situation facing Brooklyn Bridge Park with its 'self-sustaining mandate' and the difficulties of creating such a park especially in a poor economy.

"Here are just a few suggestions based on the study:

"+ Leverage concessions to support directly or provide maintenance, operations and security within the lease footprints.

"+ Create conservancies and/or friends groups to generate private support.

"+ Generate income from fee-for-attendance events in the park or for its use such as to make a film. Encourage events that will make park improvements thereby reducing maintenance and operations needs.

"+ Seek out revenue-generating 'sponsors' of the park.

"+ Seek a tenant for the Empire Stores in the park that will lift up their history such as a museum focusing on all that has taken place on the very footprint of Brooklyn Bridge Park not the least being that our first president, George Washington, once escaped across the East River from here.

"+ Establish a Park Improvement District or PID modeled after the far more common Business Improvement District.

"We know that no one magic bullet can meet the self-sustanting mandate. Other excellent ideas already put on the table include Senator Dan Squadron's Park Increment Recapture program--the PIRC--which Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already rejected; the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund's Park Improvement Optional Tax Fund, modeled on what is done in Polk County, Florida; and Tony Manheim's concept for the Watchtower properties bordering the park.

"There certainly is an answer that is not dependent on new housing and a hotel in the park as the testimony at these hearings has shown. It lies in the will to make the park as completed a true amenity for the community in keeping with our original vision. The answer lies in multiple-funding schemes that can weather the ups and downs of the economy and that do not rely 90 percent on luxury housing. That bubble, as we all know, has burst."