A recent article in the New York Times highlights the changed landscape of downtown Brooklyn. Extell Development, known for its ultra-expensive condos, has purchased the last available parcel in the City Point project, an unmistakable indicator that the area has severed ties with its past. Yet the article had only a passing reference to the controversy that has plagued this particular development site for decades.
The article implies that it was the free market that drove the change we see now in downtown Brooklyn, and that as large national retail chains overcome fears about being “pioneers,” the area is slowly becoming “revitalized.” This notion blatantly rewrites the history of the area. When the Albee Square Mall was demolished in 2007 to make way for City Point, the area was a vibrant shopping area serving the city’s middle-class African-American community and one of the most profitable retail destinations in the city. The upheaval of the neighborhood is documented in detail in the documentary film My Brooklyn. Essentially, the city displaced over 100 existing small businesses, many of them immigrant- or minority-owned, in order to provide an inexpensive lease to one of the city’s wealthiest developers.
In addition, the site benefitted from a $20 million allocation of tax-exempt Recovery Zone Facility Bonds. Extell Development has also benefitted from city and state subsidies for its Gem Tower, being built on West 47 th Street, including over $27 million in tax exemptions.
Development of more high-end or big box retail at the expense of small, independently owned businesses has resulted in less diversity, more inequality, and more economic segregation in the city. This history must not be glossed over or forgotten.