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City Point questions deserve some answers

By Gary LaBarbera, president,
Building & Construction Trades Council of New York

New York City’s building trades unions have made big strides in the last year to move major commercial and residential projects off the post-recession drawing board and into development.

In 2012, we entered into agreements to deliver cost and other efficiencies that were instrumental in advancing more than 50 private projects representing billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs.

We joined The Related Companies to break ground at Hudson Yards, where the development of 13 million square feet will create 23,000 construction jobs. A labor-management agreement here achieved efficiencies that were critical to the project’s feasibility.

We also recently joined Forest City Ratner to break ground at B2 BKLYN, which will bring housing for middle and lower income families to Atlantic Yards following the opening of the already iconic Barclays Center.

An innovative partnership on this project will wed modular housing units that are built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to traditional on-site construction, with both types of work employing unionized building trades and achieving efficiencies needed to go forward.

Many of these important projects involve public support of some kind. And that is fine, because these projects are contributing to the betterment of our city’s economy by spurring investment and growth, providing office space and facilities to meet the demands of modern business and adding much needed housing that is affordable to working families.

These projects have something else in common that is essential to the betterment of our city: They are being built by workers who are paid good wages with health insurance and pensions.

They provide opportunity to new members of the construction industry who come through programs serving public high school youth, veterans, women and other local residents — programs that are bringing thousands of New Yorkers into the middle class.

They also have safety and health training to protect workers and the public from harm in what can be a dangerous industry.
Not all projects getting public subsidies meet these standards of responsibility.

Case in point is City Point, the 1.6 million square foot development of one of the most valuable land parcels in downtown Brooklyn.

There, property owned by taxpayers is being leased to a private development team that includes Acadia Realty Trust. In addition to using public property, City Point is receiving vast amounts of public subsidies ranging from tax exempt bond financing to property tax abatements.

But on a score central to responsible economic development for everyday New Yorkers — creating good jobs that strengthen local communities — City Point is failing.

With so many responsible real estate development projects advancing in a way that creates good jobs paying area standards for wages and benefits, why isn’t City Point doing the same? And why aren’t city officials seeing to it that a taxpayer supported project of this size is producing the best results for a workforce reeling from years of economic distress?

These are questions that deserve answers … from City Point’s developers and city officials who still control the project’s fate.

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