Better late than never, the Times has finally tackled the Bushwick Inlet Park controversy. Adding up the numbers, they write that the city — which has already spent $225 million on the park — is a “textbook study in civic entropy and how public developments go awry.” And $225 million is just the beginning. The owner of the CitiStorage site (which lies at the center of the projected park and recently suffered a very suspicious fire) now wants a reported $500 million for his 11-acre lot. “The city will not, and should never, pay that kind of ransom,” says the Times:
Unsurprisingly, the first turn toward the absurd involved a lawsuit. Through eminent domain, the city offered $12 million for the rental truck lot. When the owner found a sympathetic judge, the price tag leapt into the stratosphere, to more than $90 million. The owner of CitiStorage, next door, Norman Brodsky, naturally assumed he had also hit the jackpot. Crain’s reported recently that he now wants $500 million for his 11-acre site. If the city won’t pony up, his site will cleave the prospective park in two….
The good news is that the site is zoned for industrial use, meaning it’s unlikely that Mr. Brodsky will find a private buyer who logically crunches the numbers and offers half the asking price. But whatever the property finally costs, it won’t include the millions needed to decontaminate that land and also the fuel oil depot, which the city is still in the process of acquiring for a little less than $69 million, in retrospect a bargain.
Let’s put aside how eminent domain proceedings ended up provoking a settlement that cost taxpayers more than $90 million for a truck rental lot on a decrepit industrial site. The bottom line is that the system is capricious, promotes extortion and often acts against the public interest. While private developers quietly accrue properties to put together big projects, keeping their intentions secret and upfront costs down, government must act openly, as it should, the upshot often being that landlords can have City Hall over a barrel.
The Times doesn’t anticipate a solution anytime soon, saying the park is not a priority for de Blasio. They compare the debacle to the Chelsea Recreation Center, a park in Chelsea that underwent forty years of delays before being built. Local councilman Stephen Levin, apparently doing penance for failing to fight for air rights in Greenpoint, continues to push the city to fulfill its promises:
“We have a robust capital budget in the city now, and that $1 billion is being budgeted for other areas this administration wants to rezone,” he added. “In my personal life, I try not to take on new debts before I pay off my old ones. Our community has been waiting years.” He asked how City Hall can again be relied on to fulfill its commitments if it reneges on this one.