The success of the Brooklyn Navy Yard is hard to miss. The modern 300-acre industrial park added close to 7,000 jobs to the Brooklyn economy since 2001. Its affordable spacing keeps niche manufacturers financially sound. And its largest tenant Steiner Studios has become the anchor for boosting film and television production in the city.
Mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio (D) and Joe Lhota (R) are both jumping on these achievements and proposing to recreate the Navy Yard model in the other four boroughs. Brooklyn’s success, however, may be difficult to replicate.
The city pumped more than $200 million of capital funding into developing and upgrading the Navy Yard’s infrastructure and has slated more than $60 million of funding through 2017 to continue development. The 330 companies that occupy the yard cover a wide gamut of design and art studios, apparel manufacturers, and film production companies that have generated $390 million in annual earnings. But this is only happening in Brooklyn because the city hasn’t identified the industrial needs of the outer boroughs to create several Navy Yard models.
In Queens, the Bloomberg administration has focused more on cultivating the borough’s real estate and hospitality boom than its manufacturing sector. In the past 20 years, Queens has built close to 75 hotels with Long Island City adding 20 hotels in the past six years.
Rob MacKay, director of public relations, marketing, and tourism for the Queens Economic Development Corporation says that the borough’s proximity to Manhattan and lower hotel costs make it attractive to tourists. Earlier this month, the City Council even approved a $3 billion redevelopment plan to turn industrial neighborhood Willets Point into a mega space for a hotel, retail venues, and housing.
“The real estate people can make money here,” says MacKay. “But the factory people can’t.”
The problem in the Bronx is that it needs funding. Hunts Point, one of the industrial business zones in the borough, has 698 acres of industrial property—which is more than two times the space of the Navy Yard—employs close to 25,000 people, and is home to the world’s largest wholesale food market. The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) committed to redeveloping the food market, but has yet to finance that initiative or any other industrial project for the district.
“I think the Bronx has been neglected,” says Jamila Diaz of the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBro). “I don’t think the Bronx has ever been as attractive as Brooklyn for everyone.”
The challenge in Manhattan is finding a cluster of buildings that accommodate low to high-end uses of design and production for its thriving garment district.
Business leaders in Staten Island are more concerned about improving infrastructure than finding space. The borough has tons of undeveloped industrial land, but lacks modern roadways and public transit options, making it less accessible for potential startup businesses.
Steve Grillo, director of projects for the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation, says that the city could be more proactive and address these drawbacks through public-private partnerships for the borough’s industrial development.
“I think [it] would have been great for the city to reach out to local developers and say this is land we want to use, these are the investors we want to use,” says Grillo. “But it hasn’t happened out here.”
The one likely replication of the Navy Yard will unsurprisingly take place in another part of Brooklyn. Atlanta-based real estate developer Jamestown Properties is turning Industry City, a privately-owned 6.5 million square-foot complex in Sunset Park, into a mixed-used space for manufacturing, office, and retail uses. Jamestown also has a foothold in Queens, turning part of a warehouse it owns in Long Island City into a hub for artisanal food manufacturers.
“I think for the city it’s better for a private developer to undertake something like this,” says Steve Hindy, co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery. Hindy says the new developments will attract small businesses and the city will benefit from the real estate taxes on these new properties.
Andrew Kimball, former CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and current CEO of Industry City, says the city and small manufacturers would benefit most from investments in existing industrial spaces. One way to do that is to keep the public and private sectors together in the mix.
“At the Navy Yard, public sector support was a tremendous catalyst for attracting private sector investment,” says Kimball. “To grow 21st century manufacturing in New York City, I think there is going to be a continued need for public sector support.”
Private and public developments are both pluses for industrial business in New York, but the next mayoral administration will still have to do more. If the next mayor addresses the handicaps and benefits of each borough, he can tailor individual Navy Yard models that would eventually become successful economic engines for the city.