Op-Ed: Industry City and A Tale of One City

New York night view of the Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge across the East River.
New York night view of the Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge across the East River. USA. Stock photo from 123RF

It’s time to put to rest the ‘Tale of Two Cities’ political narrative that Mayor Bill de Blasio spun and for which he ran and won two elections.

This thought came to mind last night after 10 elected officials from Brooklyn drove the final nail into the coffin for Industry City’s rezoning plan with a letter opposing the plan.

Those signing the letter included U.S. Reps. Nydia Velazquez, Hakeem Jeffries, Jerry Nadler, and Yvette Clarke;  State Senators Zelnor Myrie and Julia Salazar, and Assemblymembers Jo Anne Simon, Robert Carroll, Diana Richardson, and Latrice Walker.

Industry City is a privately owned company that bought and developed 16 largely vacant and abandoned industrial warehouse buildings on the Sunset Park waterfront and turned it into a business incubator that leased space to small and large businesses in the light manufacturing, technology, retail and events business sectors among others.

There is no housing in the complex and it sought rezoning to further convert and/or demolish and rebuild some of the either vacant or used for warehouse and storage space buildings. Industry City currently has a roughly 8,000 workforce and the rezoning on the optimistic end was expected to bring 7,000 new positions as well as another 8,000 jobs off-site.

But the powerful us against them ‘Tale of Two City narrative held the day. Buzz words and phrases like corporate greed and people power were thrown around like rag dolls. Never mind that Industry City employs many from the Sunset Park neighborhood and gave several small minority-owned businesses a chance at the American dream and the rezoning plan comes at a time when the city is in dire economic straits.

Here’s a truth: Corporations, big business, small business, nonprofits, community organizations, property owners, and tenants are neutral terms. As entities, they are neither positive nor negative. There are good corporations and bad corporations, good for profit property owners and bad for-profit property owners, good nonprofit property developers and bad nonprofit property developers, good tenants and bad tenants. People-powered movements that have done great good and people-powered movements that have done great harm.

There is a time and place for the tale of two cities narrative – like when the city was flush with cash – but it’s not now, not when businesses small and large are folding like a house of cards, unemployment is 20 percent, landlords are struggling to pay property taxes, homelessness and crime is rising and the city’s operating revenue has shrunk by billions of dollars.

Those continuing to push this narrative as a central theme killed the Amazon deal in Queens and now they have killed the Industry City rezoning. This sends a bad message to both existing large and small businesses in the city and others that were eyeing New York City but may now want to look at other cities around the country in a very competitive new normal world.

New York City is not dying, but it is hurting. We’re now a Tale of One City and it’s time we start thinking and acting that way.

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