City’s process to develop Spofford draws rebukes

Some in Hunts Point are frustrated with the city’s Economic Development Corp. for lacking transparency in its process of selecting a winning proposal to develop the closed juvenile detention facility on Spofford Ave.

The former Bridges Juvenile Justice Center, is at the heart of questions over the city’s transparency on major development issues.

For over a half-century, the infamous Bridges Juvenile Detention Center on Spofford Avenue was filled with young people bucking to get out. But since the jail better known as Spofford closed in 2011, developers and community groups have been just as eager to get in.

As the city comes close to choosing a developer for the site, local residents continue to decry the fact that the process remains closed to community members.

“It’s a big project that’s going to affect us deeply,” said Maria Torres, chair of Community Board 2’s Economic Development Committee and a founder of The Point CDC. “The community board would like to hear a little about it.”

The city’s Economic Development Corporation, or EDC, is responsible for overseeing the development of the site, which spans nearly an entire city block between Manida and Tiffany streets. At an April 26 meeting at the office of Board 2, representatives for the agency said they will issue a decision this summer, but added they cannot reveal details about the proposals—or who the applicants are—until their decision has been made. That frustrated some at the meeting.

“Regarding the proposal, you mention similarities. Can you go over what were differences?” asked Ralph Acevedo, Board 2’s Environmental Committee chair.

“We can’t really talk about differences, we’re in the middle of the selection process,” answered Kate Van Tassel, a president at EDC. “We don’t talk about the comparisons.”

However, one local organization, The Majora Carter Group, revealed that it applied to develop the site, as part of a team that includes five other organizations. Local supporters of that group’s Hunts Point Heights proposal lashed out at the EDC representatives.

“Who are you advocating for?” local resident Sulma Arzu Brown challenged the EDC representatives. “Let’s bring the other ones that are on the table to the table.”

Van Tassel said that all of the proposals under consideration include affordable housing, jobs, open space and community programming. Yet, she added, the agency and the applicants must abide by EDC’s policy of maintaining silence about specific proposals, despite efforts by community members to get her to release more information.

At a community meeting last August at The Point, residents met to exchange ideas about reinventing the 4,75 acre site. Tech companies, college campuses, urban farms, food co-ops, event spaces, swimming pools, community centers, non-profit offices and rooftop restaurants all drew consideration as possible tenants.

The Carter group says that its proposal calls for buildings of up to 28 stories, with 1,200 mixed-income apartments, including some for people making 20 percent above the city’s Area Median Income, reflecting its oft-stated view that gentrification is inevitable and should be planned for accordingly to keep young people with good-paying jobs from leaving the neighborhood. At the other end of the income spectrum, 90 apartments would be made available for low-income residents to own.

Two days after the board meeting, neighborhood supporters of the Carter group’s plan sent a scathing email to multiple media organizations, saying that “reliable sources have revealed” to them that EDC had already secretly selected a winning proposal, and that it was not Carter’s.

An EDC spokesman denied that the agency has made a decision. “EDC has not yet selected a developer for the Spofford Project, we are excited to be considering a number of great proposals,” wrote spokesman Anthony Hogrebe in an email. “We look forward to selecting a proposal this summer.”

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