It's been over a decade since the city rezoned the Williamsburg waterfront and promised the community a new park in exchange for all the luxury condo development, and over a year since a fire charred the CitiStorage warehouse that's been standing in the way of the promised 28-acre Bushwick Inlet Park. Today, the city offered the owner of the CitiStorage site, Norman Brodsky, $100 million to acquire the 11 acres he's currently sitting on, but according to those advocating for the park, Brodsky rejected that offer, saying he's thinking more in the $225-500 million range.
Six years after then-Mayor Bloomberg promised Williamsburg residents the park as part of the rezoning initiative, he admitted the city couldn't afford to buy the 11-acre site, which at the time was estimated to cost between $60 and $90 million. Since then, the city spent $225 million buying just 9 of the proposed 28 acres, and in March it spent $53 million to acquire another 7 acres, which were occupied by the Bayside Fuel Oil Depot's warehouses and fuel storage tanks.
The first parcel acquired by Bloomberg's administration is now open to the public, and the second is expected to open within the year, according to the letter the city sent Brodsky today. The sites acquired under Mayor de Blasio's tenure will soon undergo remediation and development. The CitiStorage land parcel, meanwhile, is the only obstacle to the park's ultimate completion.
According to Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, the coalition advocating for the park's completion, Brodsky recently hired the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield to market the property as an office complex for $300 million. He's previously said he thinks it's worth $500 million.
"Like Donald Trump, his property's value depends on how he feels when he gets up in the morning," the group said in a press release this afternoon. "Given the valuation, the City's $100,000,000 offer is very fair, even taking into account the land's waterfront location. Brodsky bought his property knowing full well that the community had long dreamed of having a park there. He purchased the property for a fraction of the current value, and will reap an almost 20x return between when he bought it in the late 1990s and now."
The property can't be valued as anything other than heavy industrial land (the cheapest land value in the city), according to a 1943 Supreme Court ruling that states that a property owner in a condemnation proceeding can't profit from an increase in land value surrounding the condemned property. According to Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, the current market price for such land is between $125 and $150 per buildable square foot, which would value the property at between $73 million and $88 million.
"He's greedy," said Adam Perlmutter, an attorney working with Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park. "At this point, I think his reputation's on the line. He's been a member of our community for a long time, he's going to make an enormous amount of money off this property, and he's been offered a fair value for this property, and he's standing in the way of the creation of a large waterfront public park for all New Yorkers. This isn't a half-baked concept that we're floating. It's not because I say it, it's because the US Supreme Court says it."
Brodsky couldn't be reached for comment in time for publication, and the city couldn't confirm that he rejected the offer. However, according to Natalie Grybauskas, a spokesperson for City Hall, "the administration believes this is a fair and appropriate offer. In fact, this offer represents approximately $3 million more per acre than the average price paid for other sites contained within the Bushwick Inlet Park footprint."
If Brodsky indeed does not take the city's offer, the land parcel could be acquired through eminent domain: the state senate is currently considering a bill that would empower Governor Cuomo's main economic agency, Empire State Development, to seize the remaining parkland. Eminent domain could be exercised even if Brodsky is successful in selling the property to a speculative buyer.
"Those prospective buyers can overpay for the property, and take the risk of recouping their investment in a condemnation proceeding," said Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park in their release. "They so do at their peril. And we promise a long, hard fight along the way."