A rally by union workers calling for new laws governing developers who pocket public subsidies attracted mayoral candidates and elected officials last week.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Comptroller John Liu, and council member Stephen Levin were among those who joined Build Up NYC members at the rally calling on the City Council to enact legislation requiring developers that benefit from public investment to provide good jobs and develop responsibly.
The action came amidst growing labor and community tension around Starwood Capital Trust’s development of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Build Up NYC says the public has invested millions of dollars in the park and public pension funds have invested billions of dollars in Starwood Capital.
“Starwood Capital reaps benefits from public investment in its projects, yet it has not committed itself to making sure the jobs in its developments are good jobs,” said Build Up NYC president Gary LaBarbera.
“Today, we are calling on the City to enact legislation requiring developers who benefit from public investment to provide good middle class jobs and develop responsibly.”
Speaker Quinn spoke at the rally, saying, “When public dollars are invested in economic development, the taxpayers should expect that the jobs created are ones that will protect and grow the middle class. Through the passage of the country’s most impactful living wage and prevailing wage legislation, the City Council is committed to making this a reality for thousands of workers throughout the city.
“The Council will continue to advocate for legislation that will promote good jobs and responsible development.”
Starwood Capital is building a luxury residential building and hotel at Pier 1 on the waterfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a public park.
Build Up NYC is campaigning to make sure that all of the construction, operations, maintenance and security jobs created are “good jobs”, and that the park will remain open to the public.
Comptroller Liu criticized the Bloomberg administration for its “failure of ensuring the creation of good jobs from the billions of dollars issued in taxpayer subsidies” when it drew up the original public-privater partnership for the development of the park.
“As we work toward bringing about needed economic development to meet the growing demand, we must ensure equitable development and a fair share in return,” said Liu.
“This means making sure the promised benefits to the public — such as good jobs, housing and parks — are actually delivered.”
However, Starwood Capital disagreed with rally participants.
“Starwood Capital operates around the world investing in existing and development assets,” the company said in a statement. “We are creating hundreds of very good jobs and are 100% committed to being a good corporate citizen and an outstanding fiduciary to our investing partners while maintaining the finest safety standards for our workers.”
But speakers at the rally insisted that despite what Starwood says, it does not provide good jobs, nor a safe work environment.
Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents the district around Brooklyn Bridge Park, said, “There’s no question: development on public land should and must reflect the interests of our community and city. That means providing good, fair, and safe jobs —because labor standards mean better quality, better jobs, and a better city.”
Starwood Capital is one of the largest private equity real estate investors in the country with $19 billion under management. The company’s investors include public pension funds, such as the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, which recently invested $50 million in Starwood’s latest fund.
Public records indicate that Starwood has been actively seeking investment from New York City public pension funds, including NYCERS and the Teachers Retirement System of NYC, spending $180,000 lobbying these and other NYC public pension funds over the last two years.
New York City and State public pension funds have Responsible Contractor Policies which require these funds invest in real estate projects that employ responsible contractors whose workers receive fair wages and benefits.