“We will not be moved.”
That was the message of a protest outside of Industry City on Friday, March 15 as non-profit UPROSE led the charge against a rezoning proposal which would expand the waterfront’s usable space while also building up in terms of hotels and retail.
Residents, local businesses, community groups and members of a coalition called POWWA (which stands for Protect Our Working Waterfront Alliance) gathered at the corner of 36th Street and Fourth Avenue before marching to Industry City to voice their concern for what an expansion of the entity would bring to the community.
“We are rallying to let the people that are coming to Industry City to socialize know that supporting an industrial sector that should be building for our climate future is putting us and them in harm’s way and they need to know that,” Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, told this paper. “They may just think that it’s a destination location and they may not be thinking about how the industrial sector is supposed to be helping to build our infrastructure, build for climate adaptation, mitigation and resiliency and how their social lives are giving support to an effort that is inconsistent with the local and regional needs.”
Throughout the years, many locals have worried about the neighborhood becoming gentrified and pricing out longtime residents. Those concerns were in full force during the protest.
“There were some local businesses that showed up because they were concerned that the rents are going to go up and that they were going to be displaced,” Yeampierre said. “There were residents who are concerned that they may not be able to live in this community anymore. Then there were those concerned with climate change and what that means when you destroy social cohesion in a community — you destroy a community’s ability to survive reoccurring extreme weather events.
“We can’t talk about displacement without also talking about climate change because we are an industrial working waterfront community,” she added.
Lisa Serbaniewicz, a spokesperson for Industry City, responded to the rally with numbers.
“Since 2013, Industry City has generated tremendous economic benefits for people who live and work in Sunset Park and throughout Brooklyn – including spending approximately $100 million at area businesses, quadrupling the number of on-site jobs from 1,900 to more than 7,500, and growing the number of businesses from 150 to more than 500,” she said.
She also acknowledged that, “While we continue to be engaged in a productive dialogue with our neighbors, we also recognize that input comes in many forms, including the opinions being expressed this evening.”
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, along with Community Board 7 Chairperson Cesar Zuniga, wrote a letter to Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball earlier this month stating that they wouldn’t support a plan so soon and without more community engagement. Plans were then put on hold.
“Industry City has had years to share information and to answer questions that are being raised by the community and instead, what they’ve done is they’ve hired public relations firms to engage in spin,” Yeampierre said. “So the councilmember asking that the community impacted has an opportunity to really think through what this means for them and demanding Industry City provides the information necessary for people to make informed decisions, I think that’s what democracy looks like.”
“We look forward to working with Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, Community Board 7, our community partners, and area residents – many of whom support the effort to reactivate Industry City – as the effort to generate opportunity continues,” added Serbaniewicz.
Although the rezoning proposal includes the promise of thousands of new jobs, locals wonder if the income from employment at Industry City would even be enough to remain in the area.
“Businesses are coming with their employees to Industry City and the people that are getting hired in our community are people who are there to clean up after them, to serve them their coffee and I think the question isn’t about the jobs,” Yeampierre explained. “The question is if people will still be able to live here. So if you have minimum-wage jobs on our industrial waterfront and you can’t afford to live here anymore, are you then going to have to travel to another neighborhood to get here?”
UPROSE claims that they will continue to have similar rallies and forums in the future to discuss the rezoning process.
“We are going to continue to educate the community and continue to have ULURP [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] workshops and raise our voices against what we think is an injustice against our community,” Yeampierre said. “The fact is that the industrial waterfront should be building for our climate future and not for parties for high end needs for the privileged. There’s already enough of that.
“We saw what happened in Chelsea and Williamsburg,” she said.