Workers from Greenpoint-based ReadySet:NYC construct a wooden display for a Calvin Klein storefront.   (Photo by Tobias Salinger)
Workers from Greenpoint-based ReadySet:NYC construct a wooden display for a Calvin Klein storefront. (Photo by Tobias Salinger)

When Greenpoint-based ReadySet:NYC moved its set-building operations from Williamsburg following the neighborhood’s 2005 rezoning, the general manager of the small manufacturing company says its delivery guys ran into a problem: it’s illegal to drive trucks in the residential area around the factory.

ReadySet worked with the East Williamsburg Valley Industrial Development Corporation, a non-profit that assists area businesses through the city industrial business zone program, to negotiate a route with the Department of Transportation.

Despite such help, the Bloomberg Administration’s commitment to “industrial business zones” (IBZ’s) like the two in Williamsburg and Greenpoint has eroded. The declining city funds and the growing number of non-industrial businesses in and around the districts are at odds with the program’s original purpose.

“The zones are a good faith pledge on the part of the Bloomberg Administration not to rezone the designated areas for non-industrial uses and to discourage the conversion of industrial properties,” said Sean Campion, an analyst from the Independent Budget Office, in testimony before the City Council on Sept. 23.

That’s a technical way of saying that businesses like those in the factories by bustling North Williamsburg and the unending parcels and heavy machinery that hug the Queens border at Newtown Creek are supposed to thrive and employ people. Campion noted it’s “difficult to evaluate” whether the zones have worked, and he said budgetary funds for them had fallen to $1 million this year, down from the 2008 high of $4 million.

A spokesman for the city Economic Development Corporation, which administers the zones, declined to respond to requests for comment about their effectiveness.

There are at least 50 businesses that are not manufacturing, transportation, construction, utilities or warehousing in the two zones in North Brooklyn, analysis of the zone maps and businesses listed on Google shows. Several segments of the zone are chock full of stores and performance space.

But other metrics show its impact. Columbia University Urban Planning school graduate Benjamin Huff, who wrote his master’s thesis on the industrial zones, found that city land assessments in the two North Brooklyn zones rose just 27 percent in the first four years of the program, compared with 95 percent in the rest of the borough.

Lower rents are what allow industrial business to stay, noted Leah Archibald, the executive director of the local industrial development corporation. She said North Brooklyn’s industrial employment has held steady at 11,700 the past four years. Census numbers show that Brooklyn shed a total of 4,665 manufacturing jobs between 2008 and 2011.

She said she thinks a lot of the non-industrial establishments are “compatible” with the neighborhood, but she also voiced concerns about imminent development like new retail coming in to an East Williamsburg warehouse that is across the street from a cement factory.

“That’s not OK,” said Archibald. “People are going to complain. The plant is in a manufacturing area and they were there first.”

A block away from the industrial zone, the 80,000 square-foot parcel will convert into “Bushwick’s largest retail development,” according to a marketing brochure. Developer Joseph Brunner hired powerhouse realty firm Massy Knakal to sell space in the warehouse at 82 Bogart St., which Brunner bought for $12 million last year, records show. The flyer notes a plan to build another 80,000 square feet on top the structure. With establishments like Roberta’s Pizza and other mainstays dotting an area that is also a short walk from the formal Bushwick boundary, a mall or hotel would have good prospects.

But Andrew Clemens, director of retail leasing at Massy Knakal, sounded a positive note when asked in an email interview about industrial jobs in the neighborhood.

“I think that the industrial economy is far from dead in these areas,” wrote Clemens. “I see a totally new and exciting type of industrial tenant coming to these areas, however. Just in the last couple of months we’ve had inquiries from tenants looking to open commercial kitchens, craft breweries, a barbecue sauce bottling plant, coffee bean roasters, and chocolate factories.”

Clemens’ statement reads like the East Williamsburg industrial non-profit’s 2012 annual report, which mentions how businesses in North Brooklyn make tailored clothing, architectural steel and Chinese fortune cookies. Numbers from the state labor department show that such workers usually earn more than those in city accommodation and food services positions, who took in an average of $29,211 in 2011. City manufacturing workers earned an average of $60,059.

Advocates for strengthening the zones point to such disparities as they attempt to consolidate space for manufacturing.

“If an area is already converted, it’s not going to come back,” said Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development. “So it’s really a case by case, block by block basis.”

In his testimony before the City Council on Sept. 23, Friedman said he believes the zones aren’t working to their full potential due to the presence of hotels, storage facilities and big-box retail. But there’s only one person who can decide if the zones will be locked into industrial uses or if current trends will continue: the next mayor.