Misinform & Conquer: The Developer, Domino, and the Latino Vote

Story & Photos by Benjamin Lozovsky

Dennis Farr has an opinion. Actually, the vivacious, scholarly, hulking Brooklyn native probably has a viewpoint on just about everything, but this specific one stems from an idea that has captured his fascination for over 30 years. “It’s all about gentrification, man,” Farr exclaims in conversation.

Dennis Farr, a longtime resident of South Williamsburg at the Domino site.

Dennis Farr, a longtime resident of South Williamsburg at the Domino site.

It is his pivot point, his launching pad, and his inescapable shadow, all at the same time. Farr, of Puerto Rican descent, has fought the changes to the Southside of Williamsburg in a dramatic fashion for a long while. His latest battle against the New Domino proposal has perhaps been his largest.

Regarding this latest theater of engagement, Farr says, “[The New Domino]’s bound for failure, and it’s going to have disastrous consequences on the economy of the neighborhood.”

Frank Ortiz has an opinion as well. A resident of the Southside for 30 years and a former employee at Domino Sugar for nearly as long, he too strongly opposes the New Domino proposal presented by developer CPC Resources (CPCR), the for-profit arm of the non-profit money lender Community Preservation Corporation (CPC). As a single disabled veteran in a rent stabilized apartment just down the street from the site, he worries about the unsustainable price hikes in food, water, housing, bills, and more that might come with the development’s arrival. He’s also concerned about CPCR’s seeming disinterest in obtaining some sort of housing priority for ailing former servicemen.

Both Ortiz and Farr have been following the controversial plan since its inception back in 2005, but it wasn’t until an organizing meeting held on April 14 by New York City Council Member Steve Levin and New York State Assemblyman Vito Lopez that the two community members stood up and made their views clear.

In voicing their opposition, Farr and Ortiz sit in stark contrast to the majority of Southside Latino voices heard throughout the New Domino debate. Judging by the consistent outcry at numerous community board meetings and public hearings, an outsider might be convinced that the Southside Latino community is unanimous in its unquestioning support of CPCR’s proposal.

Frank Ortiz, is a long time Southside resident and veteran.

Frank Ortiz, a long time Southside resident and veteran.

For the most part though, these fervent voices appearing regularly in favor of the project have spoken on behalf of the same community groups and religious institutions that have recently come under scrutiny for previous and continuing financial dealings with CPC. Community Board #1 residents affiliated with local organizations like Los Sures and Churches United for Fair Housing have been vociferously omnipresent throughout the debate. Even more encamped behind CPCR’s proposal have been the members of Saints Peter and Paul Parish. Led by Father Rick Beuther, congregants from the influential Catholic church have come in droves to chant and demonstrate their support for affordable housing units and new jobs that have been promised. For the March 9, CB #1 vote (which saw the board rejecting CPCR’s Domino Proposal 23-12), an even larger than normal contingent of church members arrived on chartered buses in a coordinated effort by CPC and Father Beuther. It raised questions about how fully informed about and engaged around the issue the supporters were.

But an even larger question is posited when discussing the Church and Domino within the context of the “current” Latino population. Does the Roman Catholic Church represent the 2010 Latino population and have their best interests in mind? With the neighborhood filled with Pentecostal churches, and now younger more agnostic Latinos, the developers may be pandering to what has now become an outdated assumption.

On that night, several meeting attendees unaffiliated with any interests on either side of the debate, including Williamsburg resident Martin Brierley, witnessed Father Beuther distributing what appeared to be scripts or talking points to his bused-in congregants. According to sources like Brierly and fellow local Greg Barsamian, the priest then provided coaching and explanation as to the relevance of the information on the sheets. When Brierley approached Father Beuther to inquire about the origin of the scripts, the Parish leader pointed to CPC representatives.

In a phone conversation, Father Beuther was unabashedly frank in describing his Church’s connections to CPC. “I speak to them [CPC] all the time,” said Beuther. “Have they [CPC] donated to our church?  Yes.”

For Beuther, it isn’t a problem that the developer of the defunct sugar factory is directing arguments supporting the project. However, it is another instance of CPC’s vigorous public relations campaign influencing public discourse.

Town Hall with Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Council Member Steve Levin discussing The New Domino Plan.

Town Hall with Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Council Member Steve Levin discussing The New Domino Plan.

In 2007, Brooklyn journalist Norman Oder reported on a full-page advertisement taken out by CPC and the lack of clarity associated with its claims. The ad, which ran in several Williamsburg newspapers, presented positive yet vague statistics from a 500-person poll taken around the neighborhood surrounding Domino, as well as uncorroborated statements like “support for the Domino plan is strongest among residents who have lived in the community the longest.”

When Oder contacted CPC asking for the data behind the survey, a spokesman declined to provide it, stating the organization’s decision to “not release the poll to the general public.”

More recently, “The Daily News” printed two largely inaccurate editorials wildly in favor of the development earlier in the month, which lifted phrases and quotes directly from CPCR’s promotional materials. Rumors have since circulated that CPC representatives were the actual authors of the op-ed pieces, which, in addition to touting the purported benefits of the project, managed to be highly critical of the most outspoken politicians opposing CPC, Levin and Lopez.

But beyond the cloud of misinformation and conceptual gerrymandering, there is a more nuanced picture of how residents of the Southside feel about the New Domino—and the inevitable changes it will bring to the neighborhood.

Councilman Levin has experienced it. “You hear a divergence of opinions,” Levin said at the recent rally. “You can walk on the same block and have 15 different opinions.”

What about the constituents that have actually reached out to him? “On balance, I’d say I’ve gotten more emails from people saying they are not in favor of it,” continued Levin.

Unfortunately, many of the Southside Latinos have been somewhat removed from the political process, but voices, thoughts, and projections still ring out on the street.

There’s Charlie Custudio, bodega clerk at Jesus Mini Mart on Bedford Ave. and South 4th St. “They’re [CPC] trying to make it into Manhattan, and I’m not for it,” said Custodio, who acknowledged knowing little about the Domino debate, but who still felt “big equaled bad” in this scenario.

Or the bodega owner of Millie’s Snack Shop (she asked her name not be mentioned) who welcomed the new residents and businesses that would inevitably surge from the proposed development. “People always forget to buy certain things at the grocery store, so then they’ll come to me.”

And Fira Agosto. While doing her laundry on Bedford Ave., she expressed some of her feelings regarding the proposal’s potential for secondary displacement. “The Community is changing, and we can’t afford it,” said Agosto.

Agosto would still love to live in one of the apartments, but unlike many others desperate for a spot of low-income Shangri-la on the water, she knows she probably won’t get it. She likes certain ideas within the project, but according to Agosto, “It’s only promises, nobody knows.”

Whether Agosto—or for that matter nearly anyone with even the smallest knowledge of the New Domino proposal—knows how unlikely they are to land a low-income apartment at the New Domino is probably the crux of the misinformation that has pervaded the conversation.

Northside activist Phil Depaolo and his community group New York Community Council have helped to set it out in plain numbers. The Average Median Income (AMI) of CB #1 is $35,300. The AMI of the Southside, specifically, is much lower, sitting in the $19-29,000 range (taken from the 2006 Census Tract). Of the 660 units penned affordable by CPCR, only 100 units are set to rent at the AMI of $19-29,000. Only half of all the available low-incoming housing units are reserved for CB #1 residents, however, so really only 50 units are available at the AMI level that many of those fighting so hard for Domino’s existence fall into. Then there’s a lottery for final claims to the apartments. So just like 660 goes down to 50, so too go the blissful hopes of the Southside residents honorably determined to start a better life on the waterfront.

There are other incongruencies in CPCR’s proposals, like the 150 affordable home ownership units slated to be sold at 130% of AMI (the state mandates a level of 80%), units that will still probably get public subsidies because of loopholes CPC has constructed.

But the number of affordable units available is by far the central focus of everything that is Domino, besides perhaps the slowly decaying yet solemnly grandiose Domino Sugar sign, which itself at one point became a fractious issue.

When these more realistic numbers come up in conversation, however, many Domino enthusiasts begin to rethink the merits of the proposal.

Take Robert Peguero, for instance. Peguero made his first real estate deal in Williamsburg when he was 18, buying a whole building right across from Domino in 1980. Since then he has seen his 30 years of local real estate experience grow into the successful Bedford Reality Corp., all while participating as an essential player in the neighborhood’s transformation. “I’ve been part of everything that’s happened in Williamsburg,” said Peguero. “I really do love the change; it’s been good.”

Posters announcing Town Hall Meeting.

Posters announcing Town Hall Meeting.

For Peguero, the New Domino is the next important step in keeping the momentum rolling for what he considers community revitalization. “Domino is part of the change; I think it’s a positive change and a balanced change,” said Peguero. “Because it’s inclusive to a lot of things, and a lot of people are being considered.”

He too supports the proposal largely because of the affordable housing element. “Honestly, I feel badly sometimes that I can’t help my own people when they come looking for an apartment,” said Peguero. “I have to go to Bushwick.”

Even with such an entrenchment in the Williamsburg real estate market, as well as having close friends active on both sides of the Domino issue, Peguero was surprised by the possibility that the numbers and promises CPCR has championed might be less genuine than they seem.

“I thought we would get this and that, and it would be good eventually in the long run,” said Peguero. “Maybe I haven’t done as much as I should have in questioning [the proposal].”

One thing Peguero does flatly reject is CPC’s supposedly meager profit margin projections. While CPCR has maintained a number around 15-20%, some insiders assess it at the much higher rate of 40% profit per luxury unit. The claims of low profits have been central to CPCR’s demands for higher density rezoning to offset the costs of the proposed affordable units. “I don’t think they are going to go out and do that project and make that low a percentage,” said Peguero. “I think for sure that the profit margin is going to be bigger than that.”

Jenny Ramon was spending her usual Sunday at her favorite beauty salon on Bedford and South 4th Street when she talked about Domino. While she never counted on getting anything directly out of it, so far Ramon has been happy with the proposal. She wants the parks for kids, and the beauty and open space it would bring to the neighborhood. “If it’s going to benefit us, I’m for it,” said Ramon.

After hearing that Council Member Levin has often said that the actual amount of open space that CPC is providing will actually cause the average amount of open space per person to decrease because of the population increase, as Levin said at the April political rally, Ramon seemed to metaphorically scratch her head.

“Honestly, most of my experience with the project has been through the Church,” said Ramon. “If [the project] is something else, I don’t know.”

Town Hall meeting called by Council Member Steve Levin discussing The New Domino Plan at a gallery space on North 14th St. in Williamsburg.

Town Hall meeting called by Council Member Steve Levin discussing The New Domino Plan at a gallery space on North 14th St. in Williamsburg.

The Church Ramon referred to is Saints Peter and Paul Parish. Having grown up on the Southside, she continues to attend services with her mother every Sunday at her long time Williamsburg religious institution, even though she had to leave the neighborhood some time back to find an affordable apartment for her and her child in Queens. She traces much of her knowledge of the issue to a meeting and presentation CPC held back in 2007 at Saints Peter and Paul. “I really never knew much about how they will be distributing apartments,” Ramon said.

Even in the beginning of the debate, CPC seemed to have established the firm objective of stirring up an often misinformed community in support of their plans. But Farr and Ortiz differ in their view of how knowledgeable Southside residents really are regarding Domino.

Farr envisions a more mobilized community that is aware of the consequences of the New Domino Plan, more so than many outsiders give them credit for. Longstanding connections to the old Domino Factory, which at one time employed a large percentage of the Southside, as well as a distaste for the gentrification of their community, have begrudgingly led them into the hands of the developers.

“CPC is playing off, and manipulating, a very genuine resentment that’s felt in the Puerto Rican community,” said Farr. “Ultimately though, the people are aware of the manipulation, but going along with it,” Farr said, “for lack of a better plan. Never discount peoples’ bitterness.”

Although less entrenched in the Spanish speaking Southside, the half Mexican-half Native American Ortiz and his native Puerto Rican friends like Diosdado Ramos have the heard the sentiments of their long-term neighbors for years. According to Ortiz, there’s a dearth of information for and involvement by the community because of a lack of leadership.

“Participation in the Hispanic community, I don’t see it,” said Ortiz. “I think there’s not enough announcements, there’s not enough people who go out of their way to represent the community.”

The voices he does hear strongly are the same ones that have been loudest since the beginning. “Here you have the religious organizations representing a small group of people that attend the church,” Ortiz said. “I can’t speak for all of them, but I think they’re [the parishioners] being excluded indirectly.”

Farr and Ortiz also share a collective guilt. Both take personal blame for the lack of political and social organizing in the Southside, a crucial element for a balanced and complete assessment of the situation by the local community. “That is the failure of people like myself, and other voices, because there isn’t someone to make people come correct,” said Farr.

The politicians involved are quick to dispel any perceived divide. “I think there’s a consensus in the community that A) we need affordable housing, and B) our transportation system and our infrastructure is overtaxed,” said Council Member Levin. “I think those are two things that everyone can agree on.”

As the final vote approaches in the City Council, scheduled to take place in July, participation in Williamsburg at large seems to be on the rise. Things might only get more divisive for the home stretch. “This is really getting on people’s radar now,” said Council Member Levin. “This is going to heat up very quickly.”  (The City Planning Commission hearing takes place Wednesday, April 28.)

Domino Sugar Factory viewed from the Southside of Williamsburg. Photo: Jack Jeffries

Domino Sugar Factory viewed from the Southside of Williamsburg. Photo: Jack Jeffries

So at the political meeting on April 14, Farr came with his usual opinion in hand. But for the first time in the public arena, he translated it into an idea, unique in its vision. Farr’s suggestion? “An autodidactic, auto-generative Community College of Urban Design,” as he calls it. It would grow from the community members, “building itself from within.”

In other words, Farr is proposing a university. The idea was met with stirring interest from the overwhelming majority of both the Southside and Northside residents in attendance, as well as from Levin and Lopez. The Southside might have finally found a unique, informed, and unflappable voice to represent its best interests. Farr’s activism has also implied that the long-term residents of this ever-changing neighborhood might not be as suggestable and inadvertently self-destructive as CPC might have wished for throughout their ongoing effort to forever alter the landscape of the Williamsburg waterfront.  As the evaluation and decision process nears completion, opponents of CPCR’s proposal can only hope this precedent hasn’t been set too late.

This article we expect will elicit many strong opinions, we  invite you to participate in the discussion. Please contribute comments.


Comments

  1. says

    The subject of “development” in Williamsburg is a conversation whose talking points are invariably established by the real estate business. The real estate guys present the options, the politicians and community leaders then talk to those options. But the “debate” never breaches the imperative that some real estate guy make a profit. Real estate interests in Williamsburg set the terms of the discussion.

    Dennis Farr’s idea for a University for Williamsburg is a game-changer. The conversation now turns from “housing” and other terms controlled by real estate, to “education” and “skilled jobs” and “urban design” — ideas that are not controlled by the real estate business. And yet these ideas make better business sense in the long run, because they serve long-term educational and employment needs of the community, and not just the short-term profit goals of the real estate developers.

    A university in Williamsburg would generate many more and better jobs than any condominium complex. Academic centers also attract technology businesses, which in turn create good jobs in the community. The formula has worked well for some 20 years at MetroTech in downtown Brooklyn, a warren of engineering schools and companies.

    Interestingly, the MetroTech initiative has created a neighborhood with a refreshingly stoic and industrious air about it, only minutes walk in any direction from other neighborhoods that have succumbed to the usual cafe culture we know so well.

    Imagine a Williamsburg that now moves beyond art, and back toward its industrial roots with renewed vigor, and this time with the benefit of art and urban science. What better place to start than at a “Domino University.”

    Ethan Pettit,
    Ex-Static Press,
    Bushwick

    Disclosure: Dennis Farr is one of my partners at Ex-Static Press, facebook page: Urbanum Tremendum.

  2. The breaker says

    “the developers may be pandering to what has now become an outdated assumption.”

    And who are you to decide this? And why no outcry when it is the Hasids manipulating the residents of the negihborhood. Maybe you should move to Arizona, racist!

  3. KB says

    That comment was not racist. You may want to go back and read it again – then retract that statement. The comment was in reference to the catholic church and if all the Latinos are really being represented because many aren’t even catholic. Funny how that was the one line you decided to pull out of all of the other interesting facts that were presented.

  4. Dennis Farr says

    Excuse me, “The breaker”, in answer to your question, “And who are you to decide this?” (prompted by quote from article, “the developers may be pandering to what has now become an outdated assumption.”) The answer is: I’m a resident, that’s what gives me the right to decide anything that happens in my neighborhood, at any time I want, against any target I choose. To excuse the vileness of the developers with the manipulation of the Hasidim is appalling and beyond logic. No one is ever precluded from speaking out against injustice at any time–silence against the Hasidim does not translate into self-censorship against real estate developers. And, really, if you truly understood the motivations of the parties you are excusing, then you would truly understand racism, and maybe understand how ridiculous your “move to Arizona” comment is.

  5. Dennis Farr says

    Towards the idea that it’s okay to jump into bed with developers with plans that have long-term racist consequences as long as the Hasidim are “opposed” (which is sort of incredible because no developer worth salt has even attempted to favor Latinos in favor of the Hasidim, which makes “the breaker”‘s comment’s all the more perplexing), I submit my testimony submitted to and before the City Planning Commission on April 28th, 2010, to gain some perspective on who is it that is truly manipulating the Latinos:

    I am Dennis Richard Farr, Puerto Rican and lifelong Williamsburg, Brooklyn resident. My mother, Ruth Martinez, was employed at Domino Sugar in the 1970s, and my family has resided in Williamsburg since the 1950s. I have resided in the Southside, the Northside, and the so-called Third Ward of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. No measure of Williamsburg has escaped my notice and devotion, and I have investigated and reported on its gentrification, at great personal cost, for the past twenty years. My people, the Puerto Ricans, have been connected to Domino Sugar since its inception in 1900, and before, in its “previous incarnation” as the Havemeyer, Townsend & Co. Refinery in 1859. Truly, no group is deeper connected, since Domino Sugar transacted in Caribbean sugar at a time when slavery shackled Puerto Ricans to sugar cane plantations. Whereas much is made concerning Domino Sugar’s rich history and how it figures into its future development, discussion about Puerto Rico’s, and Williamsburg’s Puerto Ricans’, contribution to Domino Sugar and American manufacturing remains in desiderata, in parallel to the neglect of Puerto Ricans in Williamsburg’s gentrification: most significantly in the race to tear up and divide Williamsburg amongst rapacious developers. My wish is to contribute to a remedy by urging rejection of Community Preservation Corporation’s proposal for luxury condominiums in favor of a University of Urban Design at the Domino Sugar Site.

    Let’s preface this bold idea by summarizing the reasons for rejection of CPC’s proposal. There’s no doubt that Williamsburg’s real estate development is connected to the neighborhood’s changing cultural trends: Williamsburg’s gentrification began in the early 1980s, gained mainstream attention by the 1990s and steamrolled through the end of one millennium into the beginning of another. Without this gentrification, the significant waterfront and inland development being experienced right now could not be conceived. And yet, it takes no genius to see that maybe only Goldman-Sachs is profiting from the development hypertrophy, if they also shorted against the neighborhood the way they have against the nation. The real estate market in Williamsburg is supersaturated. Waterfront projects like the Edge and Northside Piers are performing terribly. Occupancy rates are in the basement. Down the street from them more housing developments rise, adding to the glut. Recently, New York Magazine reported that there are more “vacant” (read: foreclosed and abandoned) buildings in Williamsburg than there are in the entirety of the South Bronx. The cannibalization of the landscape has contributed significant pollution, constant construction noise, re-routing of traffic, overcrowding, infrastructure and municipal service stresses—all but eliminating the neighborhood’s gains in so-called “quality of life,” while the Mayor, who campaigned in mimicry of Mayor Giuliani before him, derides residents who point out the hypocrisy of a politician who alarms with bogeyman stories about second-hand smoke in bars while ignoring the environmental perils now confronting Williamsburg. Like the real estate developers he champions, this myopic Mayor Bloomberg fails to see the irony in dividing, consuming and destroying the landscape that made Williamsburg so appealing in the first place. And to foist folly upon nonsense, he urges that the so-called powers that be support and fast track CPC’s development project, one that proposes to add, on an unprecedented scale, to the supersaturated real estate market in Williamsburg, and add on a greater scale to its environmental woes, as well as the increased displacement of its local population.

    Mark these words but do not call them prophecy because revelation is unnecessary when we look upon clear signs: CPC’s New Domino site will fail. Why? Because the gentrification that made such speculation possible can barely sustain the strip of generic pan-Asian restaurants on Bedford Avenue and the few two-bit social clubs scattered across Williamsburg: without lasting and significant cultural institutions to initiate and support the requisite population growth, the gentrification of the neighborhood will likely not reach the growth seen in Manhattan in the past century or so. There already exists a backlash against Williamsburg: the agents/explorers/settlers that propelled Williamsburg’s gentrification have moved onto Bushwick; that is, the seemingly trite “hipness” that is the most powerful indicator of Williamsburg’s gentrification has vacated the neighborhood, or better yet, in supreme irony, it has been “displaced.” As the process realizes itself in Bushwick the way it did in Williamsburg, the overestimated dollars flowing into Northside/Southside Williamsburg, “dollars” that flow only because of that seemingly trite “hipness,” will move along to Bushwick. And when that happens, the low occupancy rates you are finding in the Edge, Northside Piers, and similar projects, will freefall. Seriously, what will motivate buyers to spend $2 million for a cramped condominium in Williamsburg? Wild Ginger? L.A. Burrito? It is imperative that all the parties involved open their eyes: the failures we are now only beginning to see in current real estate development will reach their shocking culmination in the New Domino luxury condominium plan.

    CPC’s promises of jobs, affordable-unit apportionment, and community space have already been debunked by neighborhood activists such as Phil Depaolo, but even debunked, these promises predicate on New Domino being fully occupied—a notion so absurd that it baffles. No development site on the scale of New Domino ever reaches full occupancy—it took the World Trade Center decades before the majority of its space was occupied. It makes one suspect that CPC, in fact, hopes to emulate Goldman-Sachs by betting on failure. Does CPC contend that New Domino somehow has greater appeal and significance than similar projects in Manhattan? It simply cannot, because those Manhattan benefits from significant and durable cultural institutions such as museums, schools, theatre—durable cultural institutions that Williamsburg lacks. How then will CPC deliver on its promises of jobs, affordable-housing, community space and waterfront access?

    Let’s segue into a discussion of a significant and durable cultural institution for Williamsburg, and how all of CPC’s promises, inflated even, pale to what University can offer. We propose an autodidactic, auto-generative University of Urban Design, emphasizing residential enrolment, building itself from within, filling its professional capacity through local artisans, its production capacity through local manufacturing and its personnel through the local population. Unlike CPC’s short-term and volatile profit goals, it will serve long-term educational and employment needs. It will attract technology, engineering and architecture businesses. It will increase patronage at local eateries, and occupancy rates in surrounding structures. Sites like the Edge, Northside Piers, and others, slated to suffer from the competition offer by CPC’s plan, will see their occupancy rates increase, not just by students, professors and school administration, but by dint of an actual, durable cultural institution raising property values and income in the neighborhood, enhancing the quality of local lives while preventing their displacement (unlike CPC).

    A School of Urban Design would be charged with confronting and overcoming Williamsburg’s infrastructure problems. It would task itself with the neighborhood’s engineering: the maintenance of the Williamsburg Bridge, the building of streets and roads, the layout of block parcels, and electrical, sewage and water systems treatment. It will build with the responsibility of Beauty and the rigor of Justice. It will envision a green valley in Williamsburg, planning and building alternative fuel and traffic systems. Unlike CPC’s hollow promises to serve an elite and tiny portion of Williamsburg’s population, it will be the jewel in the crown—serving the public and private good. All that surround it will benefit: residents, property owners, small business owners, manufacturing and artisan trade, but it will also benefit the City, and American society, as it will set trends in urban design that match and sustain the culture of Williamsburg. It will rehabilitate the gentrification that has divided the local Latino population and the incoming artisan and professional population, and no just and righteous person can ever turn from that.

    So much has been made about the promise of Williamsburg in the past twenty years, and yet, that promise cannot be realized with CPC’s proposal for the Domino Sugar site. Whatever is built there will surely stand for decades, if not centuries. How will we explain our acquiescence to history? How will we explain this failure to Brooklyn’s coming generations? Are we to cede our legacy to rapacity, to greed, to stupidity, lack of vision and design? No! I say we reject impotence, and support a different legacy: one where our children, and theirs, and generations thereafter, investigate, design and labor towards a greater Williamsburg through University. History demands it.

    Sincerely,

    A Williamsburg resident.

  6. Very Heavy D says

    The CPC and the CPCR (the Wall St. for-profit arm of a non-profit) are actually the race baiters here. They have ignored most of the community except for a couple of Catholic churches. #2, read a little more of the article. Don’t pull out of context inflammatory Fox News type quotes. Please don’t become an angry blogger, finish the article. The CPC and CPCR have even created phantom polls with phantom residents, and have inferred since 2007 that if you are against The New Domino, you are against Latinos. There are many non-Catholic church-going people who are, quite frankly, angry that the Roman Catholic Church (according to the developers) claim they represent their opinions. They don’t want The New Domino and feel insulted by being reduced to cultural cliches.

  7. Dennis Farr says

    And that’s coming from a Latino who, in fact, IS Catholic (I received my First Holy Communion at Transfiguration Church and my Confirmation at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception on Maujer St.) and IS opposed to “New Domino.”

  8. Displaced artist says

    “Seriously, what will motivate buyers to spend $2 million for a cramped condominium in Williamsburg? Wild Ginger? L.A. Burrito?”

    This is a perfect reality check. Hilarious.

  9. Nora R. says

    I like the university idea. Is there somewhere I can go to find out how I can help with the plan?

  10. Dennis Farr says

    Hi Nora R., I can be reached at dennis.farr@gmail.com. Right now I’m trying to organize the eclectic parties together for a sit-down to discuss exactly what can be done, and soon, since the City Council vote is only scant distance away. Maybe sometime in the middle of next week we can all meet.

  11. Esteban Duran says

    Thank you for another johnny-come-lately article WGA! Fact is that CPC has been working with community groups like Los Sures, El Puente, and the local churches for over 4 years on developing a project that will deliver help to the needs of long-term residents. Those groups, Mr. Farr are neighborhood institutions that have been around for decades (Los Sures-40yrs-El Puente 20 years, Transfiguration and St. Peter and Paul churches have been around even longer).
    Please don’t take this as a personal attack on you or what your saying, because you’re ideas are truly quite good. But the question remains: How will you pay for Williamsburg University? If you knew so far in advance that the gentrification would reach this sort of fever-pitch, why didn’t you meet with El Puente and Los Sures representatives to talk about how we can make our demands way in advance and slow the gentrification?

    The Latino’s in the Southside (of which I’m one) barely have enough to pay for the raising rents and what Domino offers is a great chance to remain here, and access to the waterfront that we can only enjoy in Downtown, Brooklyn or the North Side.

    As far as the lack of Latino leadership in Williamsburg, I agree that there is a need for more, but I’m not chop liver and have served on Community Board 1 for the last 5 years and NO OTHER DEVELOPER has been more cooperative in developing a plan like CPC. Time and time again I saw projects get approved by the Board that were detrimental to Latinos and you didn’t say a word then, neither did the WGA.
    Click the link below to learn more about the Broadway Triangle rezoning where Latinos and African-American’s from Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy asked the City to build higher towers and they IGNORED US.
    http://www.broadwaytriangle.com/

    It’s all related because if the City had listened to us and built higher buildings further inland on the Broadway Triangle area I would be right by your side asking for lower heights on the Domino site. But the fact is that the City behaved in a racist fashion in limiting the PUBLIC LAND in the Triangle to lower heights. Meanwhile, Domino is a privately owned site that is giving over 660 units of affordable housing but needs to build higher to do it. Ask Assemblyman Lopez and Council member Levin why the Broadway Triangle is zoned for only 8 story buildings and see what they say? Now who’s the one distorting the facts Mr. Lozovsky?

  12. Dennis Farr says

    Hi Mr. Duran:

    Thank you for your service to the community. I deeply, deeply appreciate your commitment to our people and I recognize your service and achievements. Because we disagree on this issue does not mean we should invalidate each other’s service. My wish is not to get into a slugfest between members of our community.

    Firstly, I have been writing about the gentrification of Williamsburg for the past 20 years. In 1992, when I first published my periodical, 30 Days, attacking the gentrification of the Puerto Ricans by the incoming white artist population, I was disavowed by El Puente–like you, it wasn’t that they disagreed with my position (quite the opposite, in fact; they were deeply concerned about how the changing cultural trends in the neighborhood would adversely impact the community), but that they were concerned, at that very critical stage in the history and development of the school, how associating themselves with a “radical” (as I was depicted in the NY Post, the NY Press and the NY Daily News) would impact their funding (you know, as well as anyone, the precarious position inhabited by groups like El Puente, Los Sures, and back then, Musica Against Drugs). So please don’t ask why I didn’t approach these groups with my arguments; I had rallied against gentrification before most in the community had even heard of the word.

    Secondly, I’m concerned by your bromide of “johnny-come-lateness”: that attitude can discourage the youth in our community from participating and, God forbid, disagreeing with the status quo. Don’t you understand that anyone who disagrees with the status quo is, technically, a juan-come-late? No one should ever be precluded from participating in community politics at any time, whether yesterday, today, or tomorrow.

    Thirdly, your concerns about funding for a university are quite legitimate. It is, in fact, an obstacle that must be overcome. Like you, I am concerned by the availability of funding. But it is an obstacle that can be overcome; our people have faced greater odds in the past and overcome them. In fact, we must. Because we can’t continue settling for crumbs from the tables of developers; we have been doing that for far too long, and it creates a scenario where our people are “being pimped”. Why settle for 30%, or 40%, when we can have 100% of the site. If funding can be found to create deranged projects of the sort that CPC is proposing for New Domino, then funding can be found for a University. Verily, it’s in CPC’s interests, devils they be, to actually fund a University over a condominium complex. It’s makes more sense, fiscally. Have you not considered the points I’ve raised about the very real possibility of the project’s failure? Don’t you understand that if the project fails, which I believe it likely will, that our people will get 0%, forget 30, or 40% apportionment.

    I wish to speak to you directly. Please don’t attack Mr. Lozovsky in the manner you are doing. It’s counterproductive. And it’s counterproductive for Latinos such as ourselves to be quarreling the way we are, online, or in public. Please, call me at 917-543-2817, or dennis.farr@gmail.com. I have nothing to gain from any of this–my wish is your wish: the advancement of our people.

    Paz y sabidura,
    Dennis

  13. TheUntoldStory says

    The CPC lies and misinforms the Latino Community. Now they are caught lying to everybody (including NYC Council folks) about their claims of profitability. What else are they not telling Brooklyn, NYC in entirety, and Albany?! Breaking: Greenpoint Star – City report obtained by Star sheds new light on Domino development. http://www.greenpointstar.com/view/full_story/7283287/article-City-report-obtained-by-Star-sheds-new-light-on-Domino-development?instance=home_news_right

  14. says

    Let’s preface this bold idea by summarizing the reasons for rejection of CPC’s proposal. There’s no doubt that Williamsburg’s real estate development is connected to the neighborhood’s changing cultural trends: Williamsburg’s gentrification began in the early 1980s, gained mainstream attention by the 1990s and steamrolled through the end of one millennium into the beginning of another. Without this gentrification, the significant waterfront and inland development being experienced right now could not be conceived. And yet, it takes no genius to see that maybe only Goldman-Sachs is profiting from the development hypertrophy, if they also shorted against the neighborhood the way they have against the nation. The real estate market in Williamsburg is supersaturated. Waterfront projects like the Edge and Northside Piers are performing terribly. Occupancy rates are in the basement. Down the street from them more housing developments rise, adding to the glut. Recently, New York Magazine reported that there are more “vacant” (read: foreclosed and abandoned) buildings in Williamsburg than there are in the entirety of the South Bronx. The cannibalization of the landscape has contributed significant pollution, constant construction noise, re-routing of traffic, overcrowding, infrastructure and municipal service stresses—all but eliminating the neighborhood’s gains in so-called “quality of life,” while the Mayor, who campaigned in mimicry of Mayor Giuliani before him, derides residents who point out the hypocrisy of a politician who alarms with bogeyman stories about second-hand smoke in bars while ignoring the environmental perils now confronting Williamsburg. Like the real estate developers he champions, this myopic Mayor Bloomberg fails to see the irony in dividing, consuming and destroying the landscape that made Williamsburg so appealing in the first place. And to foist folly upon nonsense, he urges that the so-called powers that be support and fast track CPC’s development project, one that proposes to add, on an unprecedented scale, to the supersaturated real estate market in Williamsburg, and add on a greater scale to its environmental woes, as well as the increased displacement of its local population.
    +1

  15. Dennis Farr says

    Below, in this matter-of-fact presentation of a University for Civil Engineering in Williamsburg, find what Ex-Static Press offers the community in lieu of ‘New Domino’. Note that our proposal trumps every promise made by CPCR to the community. They offer job training. We offer education. They offer retail and doorman jobs. We offer union jobs, engineering work, professional and semi-professional ocupation and manufacturing. They donate superficial sums to community organizations. We offer integration into the University, expanded resources, top-notch laboratories and increased power and influence to those same organizations. They offer affordable housing. We offer to those same applicants housing on a University campus, free tuition, as well as administration and governance over the entire University. Anyone who has Facebook access can negotiate the University’s structure at http://www.facebook.com/dennis.farr?v=app_2347471856#!/notes/urbanum-tremendum/rendering-the-harmony-urbanum-tremendum-in-the-neighborhood-of-ideas-pensando-en/10150185640630371

    The site popularly known as the Domino Sugar plant, currently owned by the for-profit CPCR (“Community Preservation Corporation” and sometimes referred to here as “CPC”) is divided between six complexes, as
    1. the University proper;
    2. Public Community Center/Open Waterfront;
    3. Museum/Theater;
    4. Hotel/Inn;
    5. Manufacturing/Industry; and
    6. the Superintendency.

    The University Proper
    The University Proper shall be “autogenerative” (expained in the next paragraph, “The Superintendency”). It shall focus/specialize in Civil Engineering, Urban Design and Environmental Science. It shall advise and aid all appropriate bodies and agencies of the City of New York, the State of New York, the United States on North Brooklyn infrastructure, including, but not limited to,
    1. Waterfront Acess/Design;
    2. Wind and Solar Energy;
    3. Hydraulics (sewage, water systems);
    4. Networking and Internet Access;
    5. Block/Parcel Layout;
    6. Building Design;
    7. the Williamsburg Bridge (maintenance and design); and
    8. Transportation (Bus/Subway/Personal Vehicle).
    The landmarked Civil War building will house the University’s administrative offices, department and faculty offices, classrooms, auditorium(s) and gymnasium. The gymnasium shall be open to the public during operating hours. Classrooms, auditorium and gymnasium space shall, within reason, also double as public and private gallery spaces.

    The Superintendency
    The next largest building shall house the Superintendency. It shall be divided, with maximum consideration to the comfort and aesthetic of the applicant pool, between
    1. 660 units; or
    2. More, if the increase is reasonable within the space of the building.
    Priority is given to applicants below poverty. Applicants who successfuly become Tenants, and their family members, are exempt from tuition, and are prioritized by Admission into the University Proper. A similar priority is exacted on jobs and human resources–at least 50% of non-University personnel shall be Tenants, and they shall comprise Buildings & Ground crew. Whenever personnel exceeds the available and qualified Tenant population, applicant priority is given to persons below poverty.
    Union labor will comprise the first level of development necessary to rehabilitate and renovate
    1. the landmarked building, enough to safely house the University proper; simultaneous to
    2. the housing of the Superintendency.
    The second phase of development will employ union labor along with Buildings & Ground, and comprises
    1. renovation and reconstruction of the building(s) comprising the Manufacturing/Industrial Workshops of the University proper; simultaneous to
    2. unionizing Buildings & Grounds.
    The Manufacturing/Industrial Workshops of the University shall operate as classrooms, directed by Students, Teaching Faculty and Buildings & Grounds, while generating revenue for the University through public and private works. These workshops shall be a direct arm of the University curriculum, including, but not limited to:
    1. Computer maintenance shops;
    2. Systems IT help for businesses;
    3. Systems IT help for local schools;
    4. Architectural design services for outdoor spaces;
    5. Architectural rehabilitation services for derelict building sites;
    6. Architectural/engineering services for alternative energy resources for large building complexes, ie, rendering resources to “go green” for large complexes; and
    7. Industries, sectors and operations mentioned in Section “The University Proper.”
    Subsequent development phases,
    1. Public Community Center/Open Waterfront,
    2. Museum/Theater and
    3. Hotel/Inn
    shall all be coordinated through the Manufacturing/Industrial Workshops, with the understanding, especially regarding 1 and 2, that completion is ever ongoing.

  16. Dennis Farr says

    And here is another Ex-Static Press report. Note that terms in the immediately preceding comments and herein this comment are developing and ongoing.

    DOMINO UNIVERSITY

    • A magnet for green technology and green industry in Williamsburg

    • A university chartered and owned by the community

    • A university focused on three core areas:

    • Green Engineering
    • Urban Planning
    • Local History

    AN INCUBATOR FOR A GREEN VALLEY

    The university will house a Green Industrial Laboratory that will function as an incubator for companies seeking to start green manufacturing, technology, and energy businesses in the neighborhood. This laboratory will encourage a direct working relationship between the academic body and the local business community.

    The university will work with the Mayor’s Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses, to help the City of New York honor its commitment to revitalizing manufacturing and technology businesses in the city.

    THE CORE CLUSTERS

    Green Engineering Urban Planning History

    Carbon-free Energy Preservation and Conversion Williamsburg
    Resource Management Car-free zones Puerto Rican
    Urban Agriculture Open-space planning Latin American
    Green Industry Waterfront planning Polish
    Green Transportation Railroad Revitalization Italian
    Green Architecture Chinese
    Landscape Architecture Lithuanian
    German
    Judaica
    Artists

    CORE PHILOSOPHY — Think Local! Think Green! Think Business!

    Domino University has a unique three-part focus that separates it from most other universities and is almost sure to make it a success:

    • a mandate to work aggressively on local business development
    • a mandate to work aggressively toward sustainable living and technologies
    • a mandate to make the local community the focus of study

    ENDOWMENT — Tech-savvy Philanthropy and Venture Capital

    Domino University has a unique fundraising advantage. Because we have a special mandate to jump-start new and needed green technology businesses in Williamsburg, and because we will be working directly with such businesses, this makes us attractive not only to philanthropists but to venture capitalists as well. We will structure business partnerships between the university and green start-up companies in the neighborhood that will attract funding to both the companies and to the university.

    REVENUE GENERATORS — Culture = Money

    The university will house The Museum of the History of Williamsburg, with an activity space for rotating events and exhibitions.

    A hotel, restaurant, café, theater, gallery, and gift shop, all mandated to generate income for the university.

    An electric ferry line directly to Manhattan and other points on the Brooklyn waterfront.

    GOVERNANCE — A Unique Semi-Private Community University

    The university will have a three-part separation of powers — The Board of Directors, The Academy, and The Superintendency.

    The Board of Directors will be the supreme power; one third of its membership will be elected from the Academy, one-third from the Superintendency, and one-third of its members will be major financial donors not employed by the university and not sitting on the Superintendency.

    The Academy will comprise the academic and administrative branch of the university, and this body includes all faculty and administrative staff. One third of the members of the Board of Directors will be elected from the Academy.

    The Superintendency will be a large community council whose members must be residents of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, or that part of Bushwick that lies north of Flushing Avenue. One third of the members of the Board of Directors will be elected from the Superintendency.

    The Superintendency is charged with the oversight of the physical site of the university; the management of all living units controlled by the university; the management of its museum, gallery, hotel, restaurant, café, and all other revenue-generating facilities; and the control of the university’s unique Jobs and Housing Program.

    The Superintendency will not control academic hiring or firing, and the Academy will not control site and operations hiring or firing, except in cases where members of both bodies may have to convene upon a case that comes before the Board of Directors.

    Membership in the Superintendency will be determined by a joint application to the Borough President’s Office, the offices of both city councilors representing Brooklyn north of Flushing Avenue, and to the Regency of the State of New York. There will be a fee of a few hundred dollars a year for the privilege of membership, and failure to attend meetings will result in termination of membership.

    The Superintendency will control a Jobs and Housing Program designed to provide housing and full-time employment to 600 people from the community and their families. These jobs will be non-academic, and in the areas of groundskeeping, plant operations, maintenance, driving, and positions at the hotel, museum, and other revenue-generating facilities. Certain “academic” positions at the museum and gallery — curators or consultants — will be hired by the Academy, and these jobs will not be controlled by the Superintendency.

    The 600 “groundskeeper” jobs and their attendant living units will be given to people of low-income, with a preference to residents of north Brooklyn, using a multi-stepped lottery system vetted through disparate city, state, and non-profit agencies that specialize in housing, jobs, and job training for the poor.

    THE JOBS AND HOUSING PROGRAM

    The special innovation of the Superintendency is that it will make the community the caretaker of one of its most sacred sites — the Domino Sugar Factory. And the opportunity as well as the responsibility that comes with this role will extend as well to the most disadvantaged members of the community.

    Permanent on-campus housing and full-time employment for 600 groundskeepers, plant operators, facility employees, and their families, all hired from the low-income segment of the local population.

    Hiring for the 600 “groundskeeper” positions will be conducted through a multi-stepped lottery subject to review by a panel of city, state, and non-profit agencies that specialize in helping to provide jobs, training, and housing for the poor.

    A certain number of below–market-rate rental apartments and dormitory rooms will be available as an option for faculty, staff, and students. In time, additional “academic” housing for the university may be acquired at other sites in the neighborhood.

    All living units controlled by the university — whether for groundskeepers, faculty, students, or staff — will be rented to the occupants at a rate commensurate with income. And all living units controlled by the university will fall under the purview of “site operations” and hence will be controlled by the Superintendency.