Controversies

Gary LaBarbara of Building Trades Thrashes City Point Developers as Community Groups Rally for Changes

Gary LaBarbara has an axe to grind with developers at City Point before they dig any deeper into Downtown Brooklyn.

In a move that could exacerbate friction that’s already occurring at the community level, the president of the Building & Construction Trades Council of New York thrashed the builders of the development project, claiming that they are “failing” to meet the needs of the community by instead catering to private interests.

“City Point is receiving vast amounts of public subsidies ranging from tax exempt bond financing to property tax abatements,” Mr. LaBarbera wrote in an op-ed that appeared in Real Estate Weekly yesterday.  “But on a score central to responsible economic development for everyday New Yorkers — creating good jobs that strengthen local communities — City Point is failing.”

A peak atop the Armani Exchange at City Point

A peak atop the Armani Exchange at City Point

Mr. LaBarbera praised the strides made in the last year in getting more than 50 development projects off the ground through his organizations cooperation with the city’s trade unions.

Examples:  Related CompaniesHudson Yards will create an estimated 23,000 construction jobs, and Forest City Ratner’s modular B2 building at Atlantic Yards that will bring housing for middle and lower income families and employ unionized building trades.

Workers will receive “good wages” with benefits, and the office and residential space created will add “much needed housing that is affordable to working families,” he said.  “These projects are contributing to the betterment of our city’s economy by spurring investment and growth.”

But Mr. LaBarbara reserved harsh words for City Point, where public land is being leased to a private development team that includes Acadia Realty Trust, and where he said the community is taking a back seat to private interests.

“With so many responsible real estate development projects advancing in a way that creates good jobs paying area standards for wages and benefits, why isn’t City Point doing the same?” he said, aiming the next blow at the city.  “Why aren’t city officials seeing to it that a taxpayer-supported project of this size is producing the best results for a workforce reeling from years of economic distress?”

Friction on the ground intensified at the City Point development when an Armani Exchange popped up last month as part of the first stages of the development and local residents descended on it in protest.

“This isn’t for us—why would we support something we can’t afford?” Farragut Houses resident Nashaun Taylor told a New York Times reporter at the time. “This store represents gentrification.”

And today a consortium of unions, activists and community groups plan to rally on the steps of City Hall, inducting Acadia Realty Trust into the “Corporate Tax Dodgers Hall of Shame.”

The “award” draws attention to the corporations that receive tax breaks but fail to create well-paying jobs, according to a statement released by the group, which includes the Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local 46, Ironworkers Local 361, Ironworkers Local 580 and New York City District Council of Carpenters, among others.

“The company is creating poverty-wage and low-wage no-benefit jobs and partnering with a developer who has a troubling history of shoddy construction on city-sponsored affordable housing developments,” the statement read, referring to developer Albee Development LLC.

Acadia Realty Trust did not immediately return calls seeking comment and a response to the accusations, but a project summary from the city’s Economic Development Corporation stated that the project, to be completed by 2020, will result in “new retail choices, affordable and market rate living spaces, office space, and job opportunities for the residents and workers of Downtown Brooklyn,” and that developers will use the city’s HireNYC program to source jobs locally.

Incidentally, the EDC will receive a “Hall of Shame Honorable Mention” at today’s planned rally, set to kick off at noon.

The 500,000-square-foot, four-story building where Armani signed the 10-year lease—and where anchor tenant Century 21 will take 125,000 square feet in 2015—is part of what will ultimately comprise nearly 2 million square feet of retail and residential development space at City Point.

The project, which replaces the Albee Square Mall, is an anchor for the gentrification in the area, where a growing student population, thousands of new residential units in the area, new hotels and millions in infrastructure spending hit the area, brokers who viewed the project favorably told The Commercial Observer last month.

“That sort of started this whole beautiful evolution of hoteliers and other developers seeing the upside value to this incredible market,” said Noel Caban, a vice president with CBRE’s retail division, about City Point at the time.

Follow Al Barbarino on Twitter or via RSS. abarbarino@observer.com