Sunset Park residents go after Steiner Studio Plan

Democratic Nominee for State Assembly District 51 Marcela Mitaynes joined with Sunset Park residents and artists on Monday, September 28, to call for an immediate halt to Mayor Bill De Blasio’s and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) Made In New York (MINY) campus plan, which the NYCEDC is expected to approve today. 

“I’m very proud to stand with my neighbors here today, and say that we deserve to be seen and we deserve to be heard. Too many times developers with a bunch of money get to dictate what the community looks like. Calling us rabble-rousers, calling us unreasonable, when the truth is this is our community and we have a right to ask questions,” said Mitaynes.

This comes after the entire area has been under intense scrutiny lately, since the private development of Industry City’s rezoning fell through last week, as announced by CEO Andrew Kimball. De Blasio said he would review public alternatives to activate Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront as a result of the loss.

One of the original Bush terminal buildings on the Sunset Park waterfront. Photo by Ariama C. Long

The public waterfront land is from 40th Street to 51st Street and from 1st Avenue to Bush Terminals Piers Park and closeby Industry City, according to EDC plans. The site includes a vacant lot of approximately 316,000-square-feet, a 72,000-square-foot parking area, and two existing buildings on the other side of the parking lot totaling 280,000-square-feet. The land is supposed to be leased to the neighboring Steiner Sequel studios, owned by Doug Steiner, for the next 49 years and five subsequent 10-year renewal options for filming, production, and a garment manufacturing district. 

The project development is ‘as of right’ and technically “requires no discretionary approvals.”

“The Made in NY Campus will be another signature project within this vision that has been shaped by engaging with and listening to community needs: the creation of a new jobs hub with workforce development programs for high schoolers and local job seekers, opening an additional 2.5 acres of the park and a new playground, and investing in organizations that promote diversity and inclusion in the television and film industry. That is why we have the support of many local elected officials and why we will move forward with our vote on Wednesday. We look forward to continuing our work with the community as the project advances,” said an EDC spokesperson.

The $136 million project, slated to “create 1,500 permanent jobs and 800 construction jobs” initially, was first presented back in 2017. City Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Red Hook, Sunset Park, Greenwood Heights and portions of Windsor Terrace, Dyker Heights, Boro Park) and other elected officials penned a letter to address public involvement with its construction. In response, EDC President James Patchett wrote back that he was “personally committed” to ensuring communities were a part of the project. It was then tabled until September 30, 2020.

On August 13, 2020, the NYCEDC and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) publicly announced that the now over $320 million project would “support 2,200 industry jobs, create 1,800 construction jobs, and advance diversity and equity in the media and entertainment industry.”

The MINY initial plans outlined the completion of a section waterfront park and a playground, and a $50,000 annual donation to the MOME MINY Production Assistant and Post Production Training Programs. 

The newly announced plans tack on the specific advancement of people of color and women in the promised training and summer internship programs, as well as free office and classroom spaces for educational purposes. It also states that the 2,200 jobs calculated will include “set builders, electricians, scenic artists, grips, propmasters, set dressers, hair and make-up artists, and costume designers” and expects at least 25 percent participation from the Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBE). Steiner Studios will also be required to recruit qualified candidates from the local community through NYCEDC’s HireNYC program.

Sunset Park residents and artists at the protest to stop the city’s plan to bring Steiner Studios to the waterfront neighborhood. Photo by Ariama C. Long

“We need to respect community engagement,” said Bob Bland, a resident and local business owner that worked on a similar EDC revitalization project. “I don’t think we necessarily have a problem with the film or fashion industry, or really any industrial or creative industry having a place within Sunset Park as long as it’s part of a comprehensive community-led planning process,” said Bland.

Bland said that the community has questions and they need to be answered before the vote. “I think you need to take 3-4 months and think deeply about what just happened at Industry City, and the power of our communities,” said Bland towards the Mayor. “Why do you think you know better than the local community how to use our waterfront?”

The community residents said that the NYCEDC held very few public meetings and didn’t inform them of concrete plans for the waterfront Bush Terminal Studios, as repeated in a recent letter on September 18. They’ve also said that the lauded community incentives for the project were nowhere near enough and didn’t adhere to environmental or climate concerns.

“The Sunset Park community has a lot of filmmakers here and coincidentally enough none of us have been asked about the Steiner Studio, and why would we be against our film community? Why haven’t they even talked to us?” asked filmmaker Jeremy Kaplan. “They’re trying to hollow out those spaces throughout midtown [Manhattan], that’s what this project is really about. And that’s the sad statement about this. We’re really relocating jobs, not creating them.”   

Residents at the conference insisted that they have not been adequately consulted in the planning or asked for input on the MINY plans, have not been given enough information about promised jobs and who they’re intended for, have not had any direct interaction with Steiner Studios, and are unclear about the impact to the existing community and Community Board 7’s 197-A plan for publicly managed manufacturing space. 

Resident Antoinette Martinez criticized De Blasio for not taking into consideration the 197-A plan. “The Mayor says he has never seen the community’s plan, but we’re here today because we have not seen his plan to bring a film studio to our waterfront, and we demand for that project to be halted until the community has been effectively engaged,” said Martinez.

The community-led 197-A plan focuses on promoting industrial redevelopment and job creation, “encourag[ing] development that places a minimal environmental burden on adjacent residential communities,” and preserving the industrial heritage of Irving Bush’s Terminal established in 1890.

“NYCEDC has made great strides in this administration to advance the vision of the community’s Sunset Park 197-A plan. EDC’s work in the district includes bringing on 500,000 square foot of new manufacturing space at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and attracting offshore wind at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal,” said an EDC spokesperson in response.

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