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Image courtesy of Industry City
Image courtesy of Industry City
Industry City begins its rezoning proposal

Industry City (IC) began the process of rezoning its massive six million-square-foot privately owned complex in an attempt to make way for such additions as hotels, added retail, education centers and more on Tuesday, October 24 during a public scoping hearing in Manhattan.

The scoping process precedes the city’s formal land use review, known as ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), and takes into account factors such as land use, zoning and public policy, transportation, public health, transportation and air quality.

On Monday, October 23 inside IC’s Innovation Center, IC CEO Andrew Kimball and Lee Silberstein, chief strategy officer and managing director for Marino Public Relations discussed the space’s past and present as well as what they hope to accomplish by 2026, which is a rezoning plan that includes a boost in total capital investment to $1 billion, an increase in total usable square footage from 5.3 to 6.6. million square feet, and bringing the employment number to 13,000 on-site jobs and 7,000 off-site.

The project began in 2013 and was launched by Belvedere Capital and Jamestown. According to Kimball, the past four years have brought thousands of jobs and business opportunities to the Sunset Park area and its local residents.

“This was the vision of the new ownership led by Jamestown  and Belvedere Capital — to take these buildings and bring them back to what they once had been, a pathway to the middle class in New York City, creating a new working waterfront,” said Kimball.

This would be a reversal of a trend that dates back to the mid-2oth century. Between the 1950s and 1990s, he said, the number of jobs at the borough’s three waterfront sites — Brooklyn Army Terminal (BAT), Industry City and the Brooklyn Navy Yard  –decreased from 120,000 to just 5,000.

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So far, IC has show success. “We have been in the first few years in the viability and credibility stage,” he said. “Would the businesses come? The answer was an overwhelming yes. We’ve gone from 150 businesses to 450.”

In addition, the number of jobs has increased from 1,900 to 6,500 jobs, said Kimball, thanks to, “working very closely with the surrounding community and not-for-profit partners to make sure as many of those jobs are for the local residents as possible. And we’re supporting local entrepreneurship and small businesses.”

This took an investment of about $250 million since 2013, into a property that was about 60 percent underutilized.

There is still a long way to go, Kimball added. With unutilized space at the complex down about 14 percent, he said, “We have lots more to do and think that the zoning proposal can really drive helping to fill up that space and generate lots of jobs.” 

A rezoning, Kimball said, would enable IC to expand in the arena of education.

“We have partnerships going with City Tech and NYU Tandon,” he said, stressing that, under current zoning, they are necessarily limited. “If one of those schools wanted to move its entire engineering division here, it couldn’t do that today. There are all types of benefits to this like Brooklyn College Graduate School of Cinema moving into the Navy Yard. It creates a pathway into those jobs. We want to do that on multiple fronts.”

Retail expansion is also a key.

“We can do some very limited retail today, mostly under 10,000 square feet of space, but we’re constrained. In the future, we want to be able to do much more on the first and second floors of the buildings,” he said, stressing that additional fashion, food, and home goods spots would enhance the space.

The third and perhaps most ambitious goal is the addition of two hotels, with about 400 rooms each, to take place when the demand is established, with local businesses drawing clients and investors from all over. “We think it’s a key part of the ecosystem,” said Kimball.

But, even if the revised zoning is passed, the hostelries would not be as of right. “Each will go through a public approval process,” according to Kimball.

In all, according to the proposal, 3.6 million square feet of space would be used for innovation economy businesses, 387,000 square feet of space for academic uses, 900,000 square feet of space for retail uses, 272,000 square feet of space for hospitality uses, 415,000 square feet of space for storage and warehouse uses, and 43,000 square feet of space for events.

However, opposition is mounting among residents and activists who fear that a rezoning would negatively impact Sunset Park residents and existing businesses.

“The Sunset Park industrial zone has served our largely working class community of color for decades with blue-collar jobs,” said ,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE. “There is nothing innovative about what Industry City is proposing for their property. Innovative would be leveraging industrial spaces to manufacture for a zero carbon future and the urgent climate adaptation needs of the region. These are the innovative industrial jobs of the future. What we are seeing instead is old-school commercial real estate development catering to a privileged minority at the expense of the working class.”

“If this project is to avoid being just another gentrification nightmare, this environmental review must address residential displacement, commercial displacement, social impacts, cultural impacts, and economic impacts,” added Kelly Anderson, a Sunset Park resident and Hunter College professor.

When asked about the concerns, both Silberstein and Kimball tried to assure skeptics that the plan would benefit the neighborhood.

“For the most part, those concerns have been addressed and people have been reassured,” said Silberstein. “Whatever their agenda is, they’ve decided to oppose it, whether or not they’ve come here and seen it and taken a good look at what’s here. Some haven’t.

“It’s hard to make rational arguments against a private interest investing hundreds of millions of dollars to reinvigorate something like this or thousands of people coming here and getting jobs or businesses investing here or community partnerships happening here,” he went on. “It’s hard to rationalize against that so they latch onto gentrification and displacement. I understand their concern. We should be able to work with them but they’ll be opposed to it because that’s what they do.”

“We’ve had hundreds of meetings with local stakeholders, elected officials and not-for-profits, and over time, anybody who has been open to come down and have a tour of buildings, look behind the walls and see who is getting the jobs, see what businesses are here, has been pleasantly surprised and optimistic about the future, that this can really have a positive effect on Sunset Park,” Kimball added. “We think it already has in terms of local investment, the number of people that live in Sunset Park now being employed in businesses that are in Industry City.

“Certainly when there are changes in New York, there are questions and concerns,” Kimball went on. “What I hope local folks will do — and we will provide for every opportunity for it to happen — is come down, see the campus and feel it. If you’re looking for a job, come to the Innovation Lab. We are trying to connect folks with local businesses here.”

There are still many hurdles for the rezoning plan. Once the scoping process is completed, it will enter ULURP, likely in spring, 2018 and a series of hearings will begin that will culminate in a vote by the City Council.

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