Our landlord, ubiquitous Dumbo developer Two Trees Management, has for the past several years been negotiating with the city and weathering contentious public hearings over a proposed 18-story tower next to the Brooklyn Bridge, including one in January of 2009—after which, in a “leaked email” just published by the Brooklyn Paper, Two Trees honcho Jed Walentas expressed gratitude that Borough President Marty Markowitz (a conditional supporter of the project) and City Councilwoman Letitia James (a supporter of the project, from outside the district) had “agreed not to turn out dozen from the projects and make it a total racial mess.”
The 17-story development was approved following the now-de rigueur guarantee of low-income units and a less conventional promise to build a public middle school as part of the project, and lease it to the city for $1 a year. The Brooklyn Paper, which has run a number of articles on the Dock Street residential tower, previously noted the release of chummy emails between Two Trees, its lobbyists and the School Construction Authority before the SCA had officially begun planning a new middle school in the area.
It was that school which seems to have been the potential “racial mess”: had Markowitz and James encouraged people from “the projects” to show support for a new public middle school, the entire thing would have turned into something inconvenient for the project.
(Two Trees, reached for comment by the Brooklyn Paper, explains Walentas’s comments not as squeamish, but as chivalrous—like, “Thank Jeebus those hypocritical Brooklyn Heights liberals didn’t get a chance to be all not-in-my-backyard about minority public-school kids,” says the high-minded developer who casually washes his hands of people from “the projects,” after making the obligatory community promises for his high-rise to ensure City Council support.)
The email was sent to Brooklyn Bridge Park President Regina Myer. Signing off, the developer said to the park official, “It would be great if you could let Marty know that the project is right on the merits.” Walentas seemed to get “good vibes from Marty and his staff,” but how can one ever tell in circumstances such as these. The emails don’t demonstrate collusion, or quid pro quo—it’s rarely so gauche as that (Two Trees didn’t give money to Markowitz’s reelection campaign, as far as I can tell). What the email does demonstrate is how preordained this type of collusion-of-the-well-connected is (then-councilman David Yassky, an opponent of the project, apparently recognized the public hearing as a “charade”).
Two Trees has given generous leases to many arts organizations—including, at one time, The L—which have, over the last decade or so, made Dumbo such a vibrant neighborhood. The kind that Marty Markowitz can point proudly at, and the kind that make Dumbo such a good, lucrative place for Two Trees to build a new residential tower.
Last fall, Two Trees essentially took over the Dumbo Arts Festival from their tenants, the Dumbo Arts Center, in a more naked version of what they’ve been doing all along: curating the neighborhood. (Corporate influence on the arts is rarely so naked as David Koch giving the Smithsonian money for a climate-change denial exhibit, or whatever—it’s a much more complete symbiosis. Influence is generally far too built-in and systemic to really register.)
It’s not clear, at least to me, what the one-sentence paragraph “pathetic” refers to.