The fate of the project was sealed when Velázquez began to persuade other opponents to oppose the plans, said four knowledgeable sources. The developers pulled the plug on Tuesday, six years after the company’s launch, citing growing political opposition and the absence of a champion in town hall.
The result for Industry City reflects the growing influence of the Democratic Socialists of America, whose chapter in South Brooklyn contradicted the approval of the project. The trend has made politicians in some parts of the city fear they will face tough primaries if they are not properly targeted at left-wing groups.
“It’s pure politics that we can’t afford right now,” said Kathy Wylde, leader of the influential business consortium Partnership for New York City.
Developers looked for a zoning change to expand the waterfront complex and allow more corporate, retail and academic space on site. They made it clear to the city council that the expected benefit merited approval of the plan against the objection of local councilor Carlos Menchaca, who otherwise would be given a veto according to council traditions. The argument seemed to carry more weight as much of urban development has frozen amid the Covid-19 pandemic and New York is seeing a sharp drop in tax revenue.
The road ahead became shakier, however, as the council spokesman Corey Johnson and Mayor Bill de Blasio remained largely absent from the debate, people familiar with the discussions said. A letter sent Tuesday by the Brooklyn Congressional delegation and several state lawmakers to councilors arguing the project would accelerate gentrification and displacement in the neighborhood reflected growing opposition from powerful political actors.
Andrew Kimball, CEO of Industry City, said Thursday that the “lack of interest at all levels, but especially with the city council, in a constructive dialogue” about the content of the proposal contributed to the decision to abolish the reallocation.
“In such a process, it is difficult to have someone on the other side who seems eager and ready to come to the table to negotiate a plan,” he said on a call to reporters. “It became very clear that there was no such willingness.”
The left’s efforts to combat gentrification have had real political ramifications for the Establishment Democrats. In Sunset Park, long-time member of the assembly, Felix Ortiz, lost the seat he had held since 1994 to the newcomer Marcela Mitaynes, a tenant activist and opponent of the rededication, last July. De Blasio recently withdrew a new plan for the former Amazon site in Queens due to concerns about lack of community investment.
Kimball said he had often heard from politicians during the rededication process that, while they liked the content of the proposal, given current politics, they could not support it.
According to two sources, Velázquez recruited other members of Congress to sign Tuesday’s letter, including Jeffries and Yvette Clarke, who both represent neighboring districts. Jeffries, who is considered a moderate Democrat and has taken the helm of the house, raised his eyebrows as one of the signatories.
“It was kind of a nail in the coffin,” said a council official who, like other sources in this story, asked for anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue. “Those elected in Brooklyn rely on him and his voice is very powerful. He’s an elected civil servant with common sense, he’s not far away. When he speaks, people listen and follow him. “
Jeffries’ opposition came despite the support of the project from many of his political allies, including clergy and other elected officials in central Brooklyn, according to a Brooklyn political adviser who asked to remain anonymous.
“Now [Jeffries and others] I have to go back and answer those community members, mostly black ones, who say, “Why would you do this?” The person said.
Johnson, the city council spokesman who was considering a candidacy for mayor until this week, remained non-committal as discussions on the project continued. On Wednesday, he noticed widespread opposition from local elected officials to the plan and said Menchaca had “a united front”.
“The developer was unable to represent the case or convince not only the elected officials who represent the area but also a wider group of elected officials in the Brooklyn neighborhood,” Johnson said at a news conference. “If you can’t convince the local elected officials, that tells you where things are going. I don’t think it appropriate to believe that I’ll step in and say I know better than any local elected official.”
De Blasio, meanwhile, repeatedly declined to get involved when asked about the plan over the past few weeks. The mayor, also a Progressive Democrat, has largely stepped down from his development agenda, which was once a focus of his mayor’s office.
The council generally contradicts the position of local members on land use projects. However, after Menchaca announced his rejection of the project in late July, other council members urged the panel to support the proposal anyway. Councilors Ritchie Torres and Donovan Richards wrote in a New York Daily News arguing that the councilors’ tradition of devotion should not doom a project that could create thousands of jobs during an economic crisis.
The op-ed angered Velázquez and their engagement grew when they sensed the project might pass over Menchaca’s opposition, two sources said.
A spokeswoman for Velázquez did not make her available for an interview.
“The Congresswoman got involved because members of the local community were alarmed that this massive reallocation was rushed to accelerate displacement during an economic crisis that disproportionately harms already working immigrant families,” spokesman Alex Haurek said in an email.
Activists from Menchaca and Sunset Park who spoke out against the reconsideration declared victory after POLITICO first reported this week that the developers had withdrawn the application.
“[Industry City] have tried to use their money and influence to bypass the community-backed position and win over council members, “Menchaca said in a statement on Wednesday. “Despite these efforts to divide the community and the council, they have not defeated the power of the people who come together to protect their neighborhood.”
“This sends a message to elected officials and developers that development can no longer look like this,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, a local environmental justice group that campaigned against the plans.
Business people, citizens and politicians who supported the project complained about the fate of the rededication.
“I thought elected officials gave more weight to the economic circumstances we are in,” said James Whelan, president of New York’s Real Estate Board. “We have unemployment nearing the Great Depression that we and others are issuing.” Monthly reports showing private investment in New York City is shrinking … The whole problem seems to have just been thrown to the wind here. “
Sally Goldenberg contributed to the coverage.