Industry City rezone hits pause: When five years of planning is not enough

Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Jamestown President Michael Phillips

Developers spent nearly $2.2M since 2014 lobbying range of city officials

By Adam Pincus

In the late summer of 2014, freshman City Council Member Carlos Menchaca had only been in office for a few months before he was hearing from lobbyists on behalf of Industry City, seeking to rezone the property.

The efforts by Jamie Van Bramer and Yoni Yoswein of government affairs firm Yoswein New York, began in July or August 2014 and were augmented in late 2015, when Eduardo Castell and Luis Miranda, of the MirRam Group, began contacting the councilman as well.

Yoswein never let up. The firm has been in contact with Menchaca’s office at least every two months since mid-2014, a review of city lobbying records shows, and was paid an average of just over $9,000 per month to stay in touch.

That constant contact was part of a $2.15 million, five-year lobbying effort to smooth a rezoning, a review of city lobbying data showed. Yet that was not enough to prevent last week’s procedural stumble.

Two days after news broke that Industry City had filed plans to rezone and significantly expand the 5.3-million-square-foot, 16-building complex in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Menchaca and Cesar Zuniga, the chair of the local Community Board 7, sent a letter to Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball seeking a delay, to forestall the start of the rigidly structured uniform land use review procedure (ULURP). Kimball quickly agreed to it, but not before his spokesperson expressed frustration in a Crain’s article.

“Last month New York City squandered an opportunity to bring 25,000 jobs to Long Island City,” the spokeswoman said. “Now the possibility to create 15,000 new jobs is about to be lost in Sunset Park.” Industry City declined to comment on the lobbying totals.

Industry City is seeking to add more than 1 million square feet of new construction, two hotels with a total of 420 rooms, as well as allow for large scale retail and educational space.

To move this complex request forward, Jamestown, Belevedere Capital and Angelo Gordon, which own the waterfront complex, hired five lobbying firms to work all angles of the process. The other firms were Capalino+Company, 99 Solutions and HR&A Advisors.

Yet the meetings with Menchaca, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, her then chief of staff, James Patchett, then EDC CEO Kyle Kimball, Department of Buildings Deputy Borough Commissioner Kasimir Vilenchik and many others, was not enough to prevent the request for delay.

The issue for Menchaca is that the clock didn’t start ticking in 2014, with the first meetings. It started when Industry City disclosed its draft plan for the area in September 2017.

“It doesn’t make sense to begin ULURP when the idea has only been on paper for a little more than a year and the community started a more comprehensive evaluation last fall,” a spokesman for Menchaca said in an email.

Menchaca and the community board want to include two community reports that are underway, as part of the process.

“ULURP is insufficient for evaluating displacement, gentrification, and the effects of climate change. This is because ULURP operates like a negotiation, not a fact-finding mission,” Menchaca and Zuniga said in the March 6 letter.

Despite the delay, the process is far from dead. Menchaca sought a delay for more community input in a similar, although smaller, city project in 2015.

Four years ago, Kyle Kimball, while head of EDC, expressed frustration with Menchaca, after the city said it would abandon plans for a 39-year lease at the South Brooklyn Marine Transfer Terminal following the councilman’s rejection of the $115 million project as structured.

But five months later Menchaca agreed to a revised deal that created a local task force and gave 5 percent of the lease revenues back to the community. The reactiviated terminal was announced last year.