Councilmember Stephen Levin got visibly angry with Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver last week, at a hearing about progress and funding for city parks. Levin represents Williamsburg, where local residents have been waiting a decade for Bushwick Inlet Park, a 28-acre green-space promised by the Bloomberg administration as part of a major rezoning bringing tall residential towers along the waterfront.
"Commissioner, do you think it's important for the city to honor its commitments?" Levin said, rhetorically. So far, the city has only followed through on a 5-acre turf soccer field, which neighbors argue can barely contain the number of kids in the neighborhood.
Their parents are furious. "Before rezoning, we were already at the bottom of the heap in terms of open space," Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park member Jens Rasmussen told us last month. Without a park, and as families start to fill the proposed towers, "This community will collapse."
Bloomberg promised the 28-acre park in 2005, as part of his major waterfront rezoning, only to admit in 2011 that the city didn't have the funding to acquire the 11-acre CitiStorage site, located in the middle of the proposed acreage. Since CitiStorage went up in flames this January, advocates fear that it might be sold to someone who can afford it, effectively crushing their 28-acre dreams.
"Are you committed to acquiring Citi Storage?" Levin asked Silver last week. "Ah, I did not say that," he responded.
In Silver's defense, money doesn't grow on trees. According to a Center For an Urban Future report released last month, capital spending on parks is projected to decrease 45% in the next ten years.
Back in the mid-aughts, Bloomburg estimated that it would cost between $60 and $90 million to acquire all of the Bushwick Inlet acreage. But today, the Times reports, the city has spent $225 million buying up just nine acres of the proposed 28. For context, Bushwick Inlet has already exceeded the Highline in taxpayer costs.
CitiStorage owner Norman Brodsky has been asking for $500 million for his charred site, Crain's reports.
Parks spokeswoman Maeri Ferguson said in a statement this morning, "NYC Parks continues to take substantive steps toward the completion of Bushwick Inlet Park, which will bring more public green space to the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront." The Parks Department has plans to close on an additional 2.5 acre parcel within the proposed park, currently owned by Bayside Fuel Oil Depot, this month, for close to $50 million.
Steve Chesler, a member of Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, has lived in the neighborhood for fifteen years. "We're cautiously pleased by the Parks Commissioner at least acknowledging the idea of a full park last week," he said. "But it was frustrating to hear that we have no funds to allocate towards CitiStorage. We really want the mayor to be more proactive about resolving this issue, and to meet with Councilmember Levin, and the community, and the CitiStorage owner all together."
He added, "Because we're steadfast on this issue, and we're not going away."
UPDATE: Mayoral spokeswoman Amy Spitalnik issued the following statement in regards to the Center For an Urban Future study referenced above, which the mayor's office deems "totally bogus": "[You can't compare] apples and oranges. A Ten Year Capital Strategy (which represents planned commitments) cannot be compared to a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (which represents cash flow, including from commitments from prior administrations)."