Brooklyn Armory Rec Center Deal Documents Demystifying Affordable Membership Complaints

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City Hall’s deal with developers turning a Crown Heights armory into a recreation center has still only provided for 250 low-cost memberships in an area with tens of thousands of low-income residents, according to documents obtained by THE CITY.

It implodes Brooklyn elected officials to boast of getting cuts for half or more members as part of a 2017 deal with developers to convert part of the old Bedford Union Armory into housing – a project long touted as a boon to area residents.

It also contradicts recent sarcastic statements by local council member Laurie Cumbo in THE TOWN, in which she deflected questions about the promised community benefits she negotiated and said, “There is no ‘OK. Nothing was ever written.

Wednesday, Cumbo job a comment on the Medium website defending the armory project, calling it “TOO BIG, TOO IMPORTANT, TOO CRITICAL TO FAIL” – and shrinking its statements to the contrary.

The pact up to 99 years with the City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) for the new Major R. Owens community health and wellness center, scheduled to open on October 27, allows developer BFC Partners to continue the first 500 years announced. limit the total number of memberships indefinitely if desired.

THE CITY has obtained and reviewed extracts from the lease detailing the benefits to the community. EDC refused to provide the lease itself, requiring a formal request under access to information law to obtain the document.

A rendering of the Bedford Union Armory recreation area.
Courtesy of BFC Partners

A commitment from November 2017 letter from developer Don Capoccia to Cumbo supplied by the Mayor’s office in THE TOWN describes promises to provide discounted recreation to some residents of the community – with the developer getting big discounts on rent payments to EDC in return.

This letter and lease promises members access to fitness equipment, but does not mention the competition pool, which will be operated by Imagine Swimming. THE CITY reported that Imagine was advertising half-hour $ 50 classes for kids at the Armory.

Pool queue

The documents challenge Cumbo’s claims made in 2017 when approving the real estate deal, which also includes hundreds of affordable and market-priced rental apartments. His office announcement: “At least 50% of memberships will be reserved for community members at reduced rates of just $ 10 per month for adults and $ 8 for a child under 16.

But EDC’s lease shows that 50% is the share of all memberships to be offered at a discount – not a minimum. He describes these memberships as access to “fitness rooms containing fitness and exercise equipment typically found in commercial gyms” – without any mention of the swimming pool.

And they show that Capoccia can comply by offering just 250 subscriptions at $ 10 per month for adults and $ 8 for children. In Community Board 9, where these low-income memberships are offered, approximately 45,000 people would be eligible for the reduction.

Nothing in either document seems to force Capoccia to offer more than the current 500 total memberships that the developer says the Armory will offer in its first year. Prices for standard subscriptions are also unregulated, which the developer recently announced to launch at $ 30 per month.

BFC Partners told LA VILLE that it would respect the promised benefits. All members will receive at least two hours a day of family swimming, according to a BFC spokesperson.

“We are absolutely determined to achieve all the benefits that we have promised. As we have said from day one, this will be a project that Crown Heights will be proud of, ”the developer said in a statement.

“To achieve this, we have worked with our partners to provide free and low cost classes, camps and programs, ensuring residents of all income levels real access to the cutting edge health and wellness center. Major R. Owens. We are excited to finally open the doors and share this amazing site with the community. “

Cumbo retaliates

Contacted by THE CITY last week to inquire about the benefits to the community, Cumbo, whose term ends December 31, said she had no documents on hand.

“It won’t be accessible to anyone in the neighborhood or anyone in the community. Nobody, nobody will have access to it, ”she said of the recreation center, adding:

“I hope when it opens it will close.”

Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo speaks for Eric Adams at a campaign rally at Cadman Plaza on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo speaks for Eric Adams at a campaign rally at Cadman Plaza on June 2, 2021.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

In her Medium message also sent to her mailing list, interspersed with all-caps sentences, Cumbo said she responded to THE CITY’s questions “in a very sarcastic and flippant manner” out of “frustration.”

She expressed her exasperation at the criticism of the armory project and declared the recreation center “THE SOLUTION TO END THE EPIDEMIC OF ARMED VIOLENCE IN OUR COMMUNITY”.

She added, referring to a difficult pregnancy that coincided with her vote approving the project: seen for over fifty years, was a project worth putting my life on the line. “

Cumbo supported the armory agreement without detailing its provisions, writing: “There are original agreements and community benefit agreements that we are desperately trying to implement to make the armory accessible and affordable for all, while recognizing that the capacity of the armory is now greatly limited due to COVID restrictions. ”

In the post, Cumbo wrote repeatedly that when a reporter from LA VILLE contacted her, “I DIDN’T TAKE THE CALL.”

She did not respond to requests on Wednesday for comment on the limited number of discounted subscriptions.

Adams calls for a new pact

An EDC spokesperson, who asked not to be named, said the lease contains mechanisms to ensure Capoccia complies and can be canceled if BFC lacks community benefits.

Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President, was cited in Cumbo’s 2017 announcement of the pact the Crown Heights Council member negotiated with Capoccia.

“Board member Cumbo has shown unwavering leadership in the fight to achieve the best possible outcome for Crown Heights,” said Adams, who applauded “the sustainable accessibility to a new neighborhood recreation center.”

Unlike Cumbo’s power to make or break the massive project, Adams only had an advisory vote on the armory as part of the city’s review process, in which he disapproved the rezoning proposal with conditions.

The main of those conditions, according to his vote record, was the elimination of 60 condominiums from the project plan. BFC had said the sale of the condos would help finance the construction of the recreation center.

A spokesperson for Adams now says more needs to be done to keep the surrounding community in the loop and the developer sticking to their commitments.

“The confusion around the terms of membership that the Bedford Union Armory offers to local residents shows the need for greater clarity, consistency and communication. It is clear that as a community we need to stay focused on empowering BFC partners, ”spokesperson Jonah Allon said in a statement.

“The City is doing this through the lease, and we need to make sure that this project offers real accessibility and accessibility to all local residents. “

He added, “The residents of Crown Heights, who have been denied these kinds of community amenities for too long, deserve no less. “

Lease and letter diverge

Like before reported by POLITICO NY, the deal gives BFC a rent credit for every dollar spent to provide benefits to the community, including membership discounts and discounted entry to swimming, football and basketball programs. ball.

Lease details show rent starting at a minimum of $ 2 million per year, but potentially higher depending on the value of the properties. BFC Partners told THE TOWN it plans to provide $ 1.3 million in community benefits in the Owens Center’s first year – money it will mostly be deducted from the rent bill, extracts from lease.

Those discounts include $ 10 swimming lessons and soccer clinics, LA VILLE reported previously.

The lease differs from Capoccia’s letter of commitment to Cumbo on a key point: while the letter promises minimum community benefits equivalent to 62.5% of the lease amount from the outset, the lease states that it did not. no need to reach this goal before the third year. . Capoccia is eligible for credit of up to 87.5% of the rent due, depending on the lease, with EDC absorbing the cost of subsidizing low-cost programs.

If BFC does not provide the required services for two consecutive years, the city can withdraw it from the project, confirmed EDC.

“Will be his legacy”

Cea Weaver, a Crown Heights resident and tenant activist, flagged this generous public financial support as a problem after catching a glimpse of Capoccia’s letter to Cumbo in 2017.

She campaigned against the project because it did not provide fully affordable housing on city-owned property – joining a chant of ‘killing the deal’ in a key council vote on the armory project , video shows.

She now notes that BFC claimed market housing was needed to subsidize the recreation center, even though the developer got rent credits from EDC.

“It all seems doubly subsidized, and we don’t even get that much,” Weaver told THE TOWN.

She also noted that the financial formula that EDC accepts to determine the value of community benefits allows Capoccia and its facility operators to hold the cards by setting rates and charges as BFC sees fit and then claiming credits. rent for generous price reductions.

“The value of the community benefit is not determined by anyone other than the provider of the ‘community benefit’,” she said.

Michael Hollingsworth, an activist from Crown Heights who unsuccessfully ran for the Cumbo City Council seat this year against his protégé, noted that she had told voters the armory redevelopment would be her legacy.

“It will be her legacy,” he said, “but not in the way she thought it was going to be.”


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