By Sophie Kasakove (pcmag.com)
Amazon’s withdrawal appeared as a harbinger of a new era of development in New York—one of heightened scrutiny and community involvement. The city council already seems to be embracing the moment: in a January report to the city’s charter revision commission, the council called on the charter to create a comprehensive plan every 10 years—a citywide framework that developers would have to adapt their plans to, rather than the other way around. Community participation would take place throughout the process, rather than once the plan is already essentially finalized.
In the meantime, though, developers are clinging to the status quo. Since it purchased a 32-acre plot centered around a complex of former manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution buildings on Sunset Park’s coastal edge in 2013, Jamestown Properties, the same developer responsible for the high-end Chelsea Market in Manhattan, has deviated little from this norm. The voiceover in one promotional video for the property asserts: “We come here to make it. To look out over the landscape and transform it. We are the makers, and the box is empty. This is where we fill it.” With the help of a consortium of joint owners—Belvedere Capital; Angelo, Gordon & Co; Cammeby’s International; and FBE Limited—the warehouse has been filled so far with a smattering of gourmet restaurants, stores, and event spaces.
But much of the complex remains empty, awaiting the more momentous transformation that Industry City’s owners have long promised: a massive rezoning. On March 4th, Jamestown Property’s application finally arrived at the office of the city planning commission, proposing new hotels, big box retail, and other commercial and classroom space totaling 1.5 million square feet.
The owners say that the $1 billion redevelopment would generate 15,000 on-site jobs. But, in a clash reminiscent of the one that erupted in November when Amazon promised to bring 25,000 jobs to the area, many neighborhood residents say that the number of jobs is meaningless if they’re not the right kind of jobs. According to UPROSE, a community group leading the resistance against the rezoning, the jobs are likely to be the kinds of high-skilled, high-paying ones that aren’t meant for the mostly immigrant, working-class residents of Sunset Park. “How many of the [new employees] will just have to take an extra train to Industry City from Manhattan?” asks Ting Ting Fu, an organizer with UPROSE, whose mother worked as a seamstress in a factory when she immigrated to Sunset Park from China in the ’90s.*