In a small, cramped room of the City Planning Commission in downtown Manhattan Tuesday morning, representatives for Industry City hashed out their proposal for a massive rezoning of the 16-building campus in Sunset Park.
The main points of their presentation, provided by Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball, included plans to introduce classroom space, scaling back on storage and construct two new hotels, one of which will stand on the corner of 39th Street and 1st Avenue.
According to the proposal, this will further boost employment in the area.
“All of us have driven down the BQE for years and looked in the windows of Industry City and either seen nothing or seen boxes,” Kimball told the audience. “Now you see people working.”
Industry City was purchased by Belvedere Capital, Jamestown — which also owns Chelsea Market — and investor Angelo Gordon in 2013. According to Industry City’s scoping proposal, the group has invested $250 million in the project.
This proposal was first drafted in 2015 but represented in a public scoping meeting in front of the City Planning Commission, where the public was able to voice their support or objections, as the first step in drafting an Environmental Impact Statement. If the Department of City Planning certifies the application for rezoning the complex from heavy manufacturing to light manufacturing with hotels — as well as the retail that is already there — then the proposal goes through the year-long public approval process known as ULURP.
Kelly Anderson, a professor at Hunter College, director of the documentary My Brooklyn and a resident of Sunset Park for the past seven years compared the proposal to the rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn.
“I fear that the rezoning can decimate this community by forcing a change that is too much and too big,” Anderson said. “Once the zoning is changed it becomes opened-ended. Anything can happen.”
Joel Moskowitz, the owner of Tools For Working Wood, a manufacturer of specialized woodworking tools, moved his business to Industry City in 2013. He moved out two years later because of the lack of a longer lease that would allow him to invest in better equipment.
In the interim, Moskowitz saw many of his peers in the complex forced to pick up and move elsewhere.
“There’s plenty of places where you can build retail in the city,” Moskowitz said. “But there is very, very little actual industrial space.”
Among the members of the public who spoke in favor of the project was Jason DeSalvo, a partner in guitar manufacturer Fodera. Based in Industry City since 1990, he spoke of a favorable change in conditions.
“It was unsafe to be there after dark,” DeSalvo said. But he was also clear that the proposal should make room to guarantee affordable space so that companies like his can remain in the area.
Phong Bei, the publisher of the “free and popular” arts publication Brooklyn Rail, which has offices in Industry City, started off his comments with a haiku by the 17th-century Japanese poet and samurai Mizuta Masahide: “My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.”
He went on to talk about the community engagement around an exhibition he helped organize in Industry City in 2013 and closed out his comments with an oblique argument for the importance of the arts in the complex.
“Just like [Willem] de Kooning said, ‘For milk to become yogurt, it needs culture.’”
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