Industry City: A Boon for Sunset Park?

Visitors at Industry City in Sunset Park. (Photo by Adi Talwar via City Limits)

Visitors at Industry City in Sunset Park. (Photo by Adi Talwar via City Limits)

The transformation of the waterfront in Sunset Park is beginning, with the Industry City warehouse complex drawing visitors to food vendors, shops and artist’ studios, while plans are on the drawing boards for Atlanta-Based Jamestown Properties to convert more of the manufacturing buildings at the site into new hubs for “innovation” businesses.

The Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg relocated to Industry City on October 17 and is sure to draw lots of foot traffic, writes Donny Levit in South Slope News. Levit visited the Flea and toured part of the 16-building complex, taking in everything from vodka-maker Industry City Distillery to artists’ open studios to outdoor seating spaces between buildings.

Levit offers some background, and perspective, on the area:

The history of Industry City follows the trajectory of the importing and exporting of manufactured goods, and seaport industry in the U.S. Originally called Bush Terminal after its founder Irving Bush, the complex was built in 1905. By the late 1930s, Bush Terminal hosted almost 25,000 workers.

The decline of industrial growth led to the loss of jobs, and by the 1960s, Bush Terminal had become dilapidated. In addition, the loss of the long-defunct 5th Avenue El made transportation to the area more difficult. Bush Terminal was renamed to Industry City in the 1980s after Industry City Associates took it over.

Industry City certainly didn’t close or become a site of complete desolation. It was home to garment manufacturing, warehouses, and a variety of artisans.

But what to make of the new development, which some say threatens to turn a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly Mexican and Chinese into a “Williamsburg South”? Neil deMause takes on the subject in City Limits.

…some Sunset Park residents, wary of what they see as the colonization of their neighborhood by outsiders, are less enthused by the new development. And they’re particularly distrustful of the developer’s plans to seek a city rezoning to allow for a hotel and other new uses, plus $115 million in taxpayer money for expanded parking, upgraded roads, and a new water taxi service to serve day-tripping shoppers. “We are not against the development,” says Marcela Mitaynes of the housing advocacy group Neighbors Helping Neighbors. “But we want to make sure the development that’s coming is respectful of the community it’s coming into.”

The developers say that employment at Industry City has already doubled to 4,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the past two years, and that if all the buildings slated for development are fully occupied, 13,300 jobs could be added. To promote its plans, writes deMause, the developer partnered with local groups and distributed pencils and balloons with the Industry City logo.

“It broke my heart to see our community accepting trinkets that were going to result in the displacement of our families,” says Elizabeth Yeampierre, director of the Sunset Park environmental justice group UPROSE, which has become increasingly prominent in anti-gentrification organizing. In response to the pencils-and-balloons event, Yeampierre and other local groups under the umbrella of the Protect Our Working Waterfront Alliance organized a Columbus Day rally in the park with the theme “There is nothing innovative about displacement,” accompanied by a banner that featured Columbus arriving in the Americas while hoisting an Industry City flag.

 

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