August 2, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – Brushing aside concerns about responsible development, safety standards, quality work, storm preparedness and more, the board tapped to oversee the ongoing construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park told union workers on Wednesday that employing them to build out a new section of the park at John Street would just cost too much money. (Watch Video)
Ignoring a pro-labor Build Up NYC rally taking place just beneath them on Joralemon Street, members of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Board backed a move to acquire a 1.5 acre site at John Street from Con Edison, and use the services of a suspect contractor called Empire Pile and Foundations, Inc. to establish more parkland and mixed-use residential and retail space.
But the 17-member board of directors – already in retreat from their first floor offices on Furman Street where noise from previous Build Up NYC rallies had made them uncomfortable – took the action before providing the public – including union workers – with one last chance to speak out on the project.
“This is a public park,” said Dan Walcott, NYC District Council of Carpenters director of special projects. “It’s not a playground for this group. Mr. [Seth] Pinsky did everything to get that money but he cut out labor.”
Both Pinsky – the outgoing head of the New York City Economic Development Corporation – as well as fellow Brooklyn Bridge Park Board director Joanne Witty, defended the use of Empire, and suggested that the need to go cheap resulted from a prior agreement to limit the size of revenue-generating buildings on the site.
“We were faced with a more economically challenged site,” Pinsky said. “If there was no price difference, then I think it would be clearly in our interests to be able to move this project forward with the partnership of union labor. But where the park would have lost $9 million in proceeds, and had already lost several million dollars because of the downsizing of the site, I personally think that we have a fiduciary obligation to go with a project that will help the park to be able to sustain itself.”
Witty painted a scenario that pits good jobs against the need to build more controversial housing on public parkland – a bone of contention that has haunted the waterfront development site for years.
“To the extent that we strike deals on these development projects for less money, we have to build more housing,” Witty said. “That is just the reality of the way these things work.”
Of the 11 Requests for Proposals [RFPs] submitted for the development of the John Street site, only one included the use of union labor.
Others noted that the $9 million price associated with the John Street site would not be an issue now had Con Ed gone ahead and donated the parcel of land as it originally intended.
“We are here on behalf of all working families and all working people in New York,” said Lenore Friedlaender, campaign director for Build Up NYC. “We have some real concerns about whether this board is prioritizing private gain over public good.”
Organized labor did have its defenders on the board. Representatives for both State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman, as well as Councilman Stephen Levin, spoke out against the John Street project.
“I think that had we included language in the RFP that would have required or incentivized prevailing wages and really made that the base for proposals, you would have seen a different economic picture come from the proposals,” Councilman Levin said. “My disappointment is that we did not act proactively on this issue.”