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Industry City Wants a Handout as it Kills Woodworking Jobs  

10/25/2017


I spent this morning at NYC's Department of City Planning exercising some civic duty - participating in a rezoning meeting. Industry City, my former landlord, wants to get a zoning change for its large Brooklyn complex which is currently zoned for industry and manufacturing, enabling it to have more retail, commercial and office space, and a hotel.

Their main public argument is that they have pumped millions into the complex, which has about 6.5 million square feet of space, and have increased the number of tenant businesses from a hundred or so to over 450 tenants, and they want to continue expanding.

I decided to testify because Industry City is extremely savvy and great at public presentations. They typically frame their approach as that of job creation and opportunity. Very clever! Who would be against this? Politicians and other civic leaders generally don't hear from people like me (and meetings that take up hours in the middle of the day are not going to attract many small business owners). My main point was that you can build commercial and retail space almost anywhere else in the city, but there is a real shortage of industrial spaces. Industry City in general doesn't like real industrial companies. When I moved to the complex in 2007, there were - by their count - over 60 cabinet shops. That's a lot of woodworkers and for us, potential customers. Now there are way fewer, and my customers are disappearing to places outside of NYC. Slowly but surely the infrastructure that makes our business, and in fact any hardware or lumber business viable, is vanishing. At some point critical mass will be gone.

Industry City was acquired by new owners a few years ago, and to their credit they did invest money in the buildings. As folks who visited us back in the old space might remember, we had only a freight elevator, and if you came when the operator was on lunch, you earned bragging rights to the 5 story stair climb. Our wires were all exposed. The new owners put in an elevator, improved the wiring and made many cosmetic improvements. These improvements warrant rental increases, but that is not what animated the sale.

Instead, it was the hope of a handout. In NYC, zoning restrictions mean that landlords and property owners cannot do whatever they wish with a property. Industrially zoned land is the cheapest kind of land in the city, relative to other uses (residential, commercial, mixed). The restrictions depressed the valued of the complex, which was reflected of course in the sales price. As new owners, the new Industry City team spent millions not only on building improvements, but also on lobbying to get pesky rules - their zoning restrictions - waived.

I thought it was important to remind the City Planning Commission about a few salient points. Industry City might brag about jobs that they say they "created," but they aren't actual job creators. The jobs that are now in Industry City now were mostly moved from other parts of the city, or would have been created in other parts of the city. This is not true of the manufacturing jobs. Losing industrial space means losing industrial jobs like cabinetmaking and set building, both of which have made a steady march upstate or out of state. Creating more commercial and retail space, which could go almost anywhere, out of rare industrial space seems like a bizarre goal given the large number of vacant storefronts NYC now has because of on-line shopping.

Another important point for the City to consider. Most of the investment money for IC and other large developments comes from international sources. The results of their hoped-for windfall resulting from a rules change won't even stay local. The billionaire that makes the huge return isn't living in NYC, their taxes and donations will end up supporting some other place somewhere.

Did my comments make a difference? It's hard to know. Sometimes these public presentations are window dressing on decisions made long ago. But I don't regret speaking up on behalf of woodworkers and other industrial workers. If I don't, who will?

People all over the country read this blog and many of you will think - why don't you just move here - rent's cheap. But we like it here and if the Government would just enforce the zoning laws we have and not let any big company with a pile of dough for lobbyists challenge the law - we would be fine. All the industrial space in NYC is under constant attack from big investors and foreign money who know with a stroke of the pen they can make a killing.

Our jobs are at stake.
Tags:Unclassified
Comments: 19
10/25/2017Tico 
Commendable action, Joel.
10/25/2017Jim Dillon http://www.thousanddollarshop.blogspot.com
Good luck!
10/25/2017Antony 
Cudos on fighting the good fight.
10/25/2017Michael Trangaris 
It is inevitable that change will occur. The change will only be positive if leadership responds to the needs of people they represent. Removing the industrial space will result in the loss of access to quality products and work. In the end it will homogenize the character of living space and stifle creativity! It is akin to making all of the theater district movie houses! This may be profitable but it is not progress!
10/25/2017Daniel 
Very good arguments! Thanks for sharing.
10/25/2017Jeff Polaski 
Way to go. Now, you and the others who agreed with you have t say it again and then say it again. It's a stinker to have to do things this way, but the bigger the money, the bigger the con gets. Only saying it over and over will overcome the power of money hiring people to say what the big guys want. Best luck, because we want you there.
10/25/2017Christopher J. Thomas 
The same thing is taking place in "America's Machineshop" that would be Milwaukee!
I had to leave downtown's fifth ward and move to a huge former tannery in Bayview, my landlord is less than ideal, but I need to work with him to the best of my abilities.
Fortunately, it's a couple of miles south but at 67 the machinery is really heavy- and I've completed the move and need to organize.

Good luck with the Brooklyn planning department, Milwaukee is no cinch, either...Christopher
10/25/2017Wayne bower 
The adage "you can't fight city hall'" is correct--if you try to do it by yourself. But only a few strong voices coupled with some leadership skills are sufficient to start the ball rolling to stop some of these money-grabs in their tracks. I was part of such a movement, and admit that when we started I thought we were just humoring a friend and neighbor who lived closer to the planned boondoggle than we did. But over time I watched the groundswell the culminated in an incredible victory for the good guys. I commend your good work and wish you a similar result.

PS: I really like the rasp from Handworks
10/25/2017Curt 
Thanks for speaking up Joel! Hopefully it makes a difference.
Soon to be shopless at Industry City...
10/25/2017Daniel Moerman 
If it doesn't work out in the end, consider Detroit. Lots of space; enormous talent in any trade you can imagine, and a bright vibrant old/new city. You would be WELCOME, and might even find tax breaks (but the taxes are already low). People everywhere who know how to make things and would love to make more things with your tools.

But I also hope you never have to leave home. May your work for IC work in the end. But. . . if it doesn't. we are here for you.
10/26/2017Joseph Janutka 
For what it's worth, I heard on public radio today that malls across America are closing because on-line shopping is forcing brick and mortar stores to close. Someone from Colorado called in and said their company is selling items cheaper on-line than they can sell in their store. My city built a mall in the middle of town that is slowly dying after anchor stores Sears and Penneys left. The city is desperate to find someone to come in and save it, and a company with plans to build a movie theater in it got the city very excited, but the deal fell through. So much for progress.
10/26/2017Charles Dinerstein 
We die the death of a thousand cuts. It is so sad that NYC has to continually relearn the lessons of Jane Jacobs. Thank you for caring enough to speak up.
10/26/2017Gerry Cox 
This is the kind of input that makes a difference! If you follow it up with a letter making the same points, your position will be even more persuasive. Letters have a disproportional degree of influence on planning boards.

Best,
Gerry
10/26/2017R. Hermann 
Keep up the good fight.

I live in a small town which until a few years ago was legally a Village. The big developer couldn't get his 400+ home subdivision approved with the Village and local townships so he(they) greased a few palms and we had a vote to become a.... CITY. Gee, suddenly the Village President isn't a Village representative, he is a MAYOR of a CITY. And... guess what... the subdivision can be annexed by the new city, obviating the need for any of the township approvals. As we both now know, local politics can be as corrupt and broken as the big league stuff. Scumbags abound. :(
10/26/2017Naomi 
I have personally experienced and been effected by IC. Staring down the gun barrel of possibly shutting our doors at one point when they wanted to raise our rent an exorbitant amount. With NYC real estate being what it is, this was terrifying. Would we find a new spot? Could we afford it? Thankfully, everyone came together and we found our dream home. The "improvements" IC speaks of? They were only offered to newly empty spaces. Meanwhile, we had holes in windows/missing panes that were covered in paint from the "renovations" they were doing to the outside of the building. Never fixed. They wanted us and "our kind" out. I run the workshop here at TFWW, and I can tell you that we're alive and well, and glad to be out. Kudos to Joel for continuing to stand up for the underdogs, and thank god for not being on the 5th floor anymore.
10/26/2017paul 
thanks Joel, your testimony was refreshingly truthful.
10/26/2017Ed Huml 
I remember as a kid dad driving by and we found a huge pile of the gold nuggets bible gum dropped in the middle of the street. Lots of manufacturing back then. Remember Utrecht paints made their artist paints there. You could buy at a discount factory price too! Thanks for speaking up.
10/27/2017Asher Arnold 
Thank You Joel,
I have a space at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and it is starting there as well. Pushing out the industrial spaces in cities because of the location and the cool old buildings they would like to turn into trendy shopping areas is very short sited and a disgrace. Good arguments made. Thanks for speaking up.
-A
11/16/2017Cheryl C 
Same thing happened in DC. All the light manufacturing got pushed towards the railroad tracks - dangerous area, and also lots of problems with water/sewer. Moved my fledgling business to the Eastern Shore, which was most welcoming but considerably narrowed my labor pool. And then DC would complain about not having jobs for people without college degrees.
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