Several hundred Greenpoint residents, business owners and workers packed into a town hall-style meeting Thursday morning, demanding the city’s Department of Transportation halt its street redesign on McGuinness Boulevard and go back to the drawing board.

The DOT aims to reduce the four-lane street down to two lanes and add protected bike lanes to the busy truck route, where three pedestrians have been killed in the last decade. 

The event was billed as a town hall hosted by the group “Keep McGuinness Moving” taking place at a Broadway Stages warehouse on Monitor Street. Although city officials with the DOT, including Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, were in attendance, it was not technically a public meeting. 

Greenpoint community members, small business owners, workers and union leaders attend a meeting organized by the ‘Keep McGuinness Moving’ group, June 15, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A group of around two dozen bike lane supporters with the group “Make McGuinness Safe” were barred by a security guard from entering. Their muffled chants of “public meeting, let us in” could be heard through the warehouse’s metal doors. 

“The first thing is safety,” said Tony Argento, owner of Broadway Stages, kicking off the testimony. “The second thing is, I think we should reanalyze the plan and you know, try to get more business input and more community input.”

‘I’m More Scared of a Bike Hitting Me’

The “Keep McGuinness Moving,” campaign, which has papered the neighborhood in posters and billboards, sent mailers, robocalls, and texts in the last month, has significant ties to the politically connected Argento family, who own Broadway Stages, where Thursday’s meeting was held, THE CITY reported earlier this week. 

Of a list of 188 businesses originally listed on the campaign’s website as opposing the DOT’s street redesign, at least 51 of companies could be traced back to the siblings Gina and Tony Argento and Broadway Stages, up from the 37 previously reported, according to additional review of state business and property records. The company owns dozens of film sound stages across the neighborhood.

Following THE CITY’s report, the list was removed from the campaign’s website, “due to harassment and the unanimous concern for safety.”

Several women in “Keep McGuinness Moving” T-shirts denied that Broadway Stages is leading the efforts.

“I’m more scared of a bike hitting me with my stroller than I am [of a] car,” said Averianna Eisenbach, 21, a fourth-generation Greenpoint resident, who said she started the group’s Instagram account just under a year ago. “I was happy that Broadway Stages got involved.”

Asked about all the 51 businesses that can be traced back to Broadway Stages, Eisenbach said it wasn’t about who owns the companies, rather “there’s employees that work there.”

Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez stands behind signs showing the traffic impact of a bike lane during the meeting, June 15, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

At the town hall Thursday, Tony Argento deferred comment to his staffer Monica Holowacz, who deferred comment to Juda Engelmayer, spokesperson for Broadway Stages, who said 4,300 hundred people had signed the Keep McGuinness Moving petition, when asked about the 51 companies tied to the Argentos. 

Asked why the redesign’s supporters were barred from entering the meeting, Engelmayer called it an “informal public meeting” and said there would be “plenty of opportunities for everyone to share their opinions.”

Keep McGuinness Moving has threatened to sue the DOT if the agency moves ahead with the changes as planned, according to a May 30 warning letter sent to DOT Commissioner Rodriguez from attorney Alex Berger, shared with THE CITY. 

“This diverse human community will have no option but to seek redress in court,” Berger wrote. 

‘We’re Listening to Your Concerns’

Planning for the McGuinness Boulevard street redesign dates back to Aug of 2021, shortly after beloved Greenpoint teacher Matthew Jensen was killed while crossing the street. Since then the DOT and local community board held around two dozen workshops and public meetings to discuss the project, ahead of a May 5 meeting where the agency’s latest proposal was unveiled. 

The proposed plan includes similar measures that have been deployed successfully on busy truck routes like 4th Avenue that runs through Park Slope and Sunset Park or Kent Avenue nearby in Williamsburg.

But speaker after speaker during Thursday’s hour-long meeting decried the DOT’s plan, fearing it would slow down emergency vehicles, divert traffic onto the residential side streets, and drive out industrial businesses in the neighborhood.

“If you drive out business we know what the land will look like,” warned Randy Peers, CEO of Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, which has promised to support a potential lawsuit. (Gina Argento, Tony’s sister, sits on the Chamber’s Board of Directors.) “It’ll look like high-end high-rise residential, that’s the future if we push our business.”

Amber Steakhouse co-owner Łukasz Skrodzki said he was a father of two kids in the neighborhood and that safety was important to him.

“But having a business, having people coming to my business for lunch, parking, you know, trucks coming deliveries, all that kind of stuff,” Skrodzki said. “It’s just gonna be a hassle for everything.”

Amber Steakhouse co-owner Łukasz Skrodzki spoke against a plan to install bike lanes on McGuinness Boulevard, June 15, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Keith Bray, Brooklyn Borough Commissioner for the DOT, assured those gathered he would take their feedback into consideration.

“We’re listening to your concerns,” Bray said. “We took a lot of copious notes this morning.”

The McGuinness Boulevard street redesign has roiled the neighborhood in recent weeks, with online vitriol devolving into nasty spats on the streets and sidewalks of the neighborhood.

“Someone the other day told me to go fuck myself and go die on McGuinness Boulevard,” said Holowacz, the Broadway Stages employee who has been helping to organize the Keep McGuinness Moving campaign. “There is violence happening.”

Bike lane supporters with the Make McGuinness Safe campaign, trapped outside the event, decried city officials taking a private audience with opponents of the redesign, after two years of public meetings. 

“We’ve been to every community board meeting. We have honestly played by the rules,” said Czarina Ramos, 28, a graduate student and cyclist who’s lived in Greenpoint since 2021. “I don’t really support this idea of having a private town hall where only the people who are in opposition are invited to have a direct line to the DOT and to elected officials.”

Daniel Michalik, 50, said he’d signed up in advance to voice his support for the bike lanes, but wasn’t allowed in. 

“If a meeting is supposed to be open to the public, and then people register and then those people are locked out even after they’ve registered, it’s not a public meeting, plain and simple,” Michalik said. “Change is hard. People will do anything they can to keep things the same because they’re afraid of change.”

DOT officials have promised to consider community feedback while they finalize their plan for the boulevard, with the aim of starting work this summer. 

“We know that we really have to look at this as an important project for our city,” said DOT Commissioner Rodriguez, speaking to supporters of the plan outside the Broadway Stages warehouse. “As commissioner it is also my responsibility to hear the voices of everyone.”