The developers behind Industry City’s massive rezoning proposal threw in the towel Tuesday night on plans to expand the Sunset Park waterfront complex, hours after four Brooklyn members of Congress joined the opposition.
The formal withdrawal, though, was unlikely to be the last word on the issue, just as the successful push to scuttle the proposed Amazon headquarters in Long Island City last year continues to roil discussions over competing visions of New York’s future.
“It is clear that the current political environment and a lack of leadership precludes a path forward for our rezoning proposal,” Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball said in a statement late Tuesday.
The sudden scrapping of the proposal marked a victory for opponents, who said the plan for a larger mixed-used complex would hasten gentrification in the working-class neighborhood and nix any hopes of a return of large-scale manufacturing.
“The question isn’t about hamstringing development and, in fact, Industry City can create jobs, right now, without any rezoning,” Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who represents Sunset Park, told THE CITY hours before Kimball’s team pulled the plug. The news was first reported by Politico New York.
Supporters pointed to the thousands of jobs and $100 million in tax revenue the project was touted to bring at a time when the city is grappling with the devastating fallout wrought by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the business community has become increasingly restive about the future of the city, with nearly 200 CEOs recently sending a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio complaining that a deterioration of quality of life has made their employees reluctant to return to their offices.
An almost identical group of CEOs sent a second letter to the mayor and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, offering to provide help in creating a strategic plan to revive the economy.
“How do we bring New York back?” asked Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, which represents local businesses. “I think that small businesses, large businesses, trade associations all want to see that happen.”
In his statement Tuesday night, Kimball raised a theme that is likely to be replayed in the coming weeks. “Over and over, we have heard from key decision makers that while the substance of the project is strong, the politics of the moment do not allow them to support any private development project,” he said.
His comments came hours after Velázquez and fellow Democratic Reps. Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries and Jerrold Nadler, whose largely Manhattan district includes a piece of Brooklyn, released a letter to the City Council slamming the proposal as a bad move for Sunset Park residents.
The letter, also signed by a half-dozen state lawmakers, suggested that the city land-use review process is flawed and that communities should have a role in planning development rather than responding to proposals from private builders.
“Rather than cede leadership to a private developer forging ahead with their application, the city should take the initiative to reassess the economic environment, its manufacturing needs (particularly with the new mandates in recently passed climate acts), the needs of the local community for jobs, and the future of the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone,” the letter said.
Velázquez rejected the idea that her position would hamper the recovery from the severe recession gripping the city.
“Now’s exactly the wrong time to abdicate planning decisions to a private developer, sacrificing badly needed manufacturing jobs and an equitable, climate resilient future for the waterfront in favor of a luxury waterfront service economy and further gentrification,” she said.
Speaker Gets a Break
The Congress members followed the lead of Sunset Park-based Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who opposed the project.
The Council usually votes in lockstep with the wishes of the local member. But in this case, several of Menchaca’s colleagues supported the expansion, citing the promised boost in jobs.
The decision to yank the project benefits Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was under enormous pressure from the business community to push the expansion through the Council and from the progressive elements of the Democratic Party to kill it.
Johnson, a presumed mayoral candidate, had not taken a position on the rezoning.
The proposal would have allowed Industry City to add more than 1 million square feet to the complex — leading to an investment of $1 billion over the next 12 years, the developers say.
They would have targeted the kind of companies currently there — a mix of retail, tech, eateries and other businesses — as well as educational institutions, and would have sought larger office and retail tenants as well.
The developers said the rezoning would have brought total employment to 15,000 jobs from the 8,000 that currently exist at Industry City — and produce 5,000 positions elsewhere in the area and the rest of the city.
When asked in a press briefing earlier this month about what would happen without the rezoning, Kimball noted that under the current setup, Industry City could lease space for an Amazon-type warehouse that would bring low-paying jobs to the site or convert the complex to office space.