Community leaders in East New York are demanding that the city protect and invest in the neighborhood’s industrial businesses—a source of much-needed middle class employment—as part of their plan to rezone the area.
East New York’s Industrial Business Zone (IBZ), which is currently home to 45 industrial and manufacturing businesses, abuts the area where housing density is soon to be greatly increased. Other neighborhoods with recent increases in housing density such as Williamsburg and Greenpoint have seen developers take advantage of loopholes in regulations that allow for businesses such as hotels and storage facilities to be constructed in IBZ zones—business types that provide far fewer jobs.
“This can’t only be an affordable housing plan, it also has to be an economic development plan,” said City Councilman Raphael Espinal, who represents the neighborhood, “The IBZ is very important to me.”
The city is conducting an assessment of the East New York IBZ after being pressured by the councilman. Espinal says he will refuse to vote for the rezoning plan unless this assessment is finished, and the city vows to invest in the area.
Businesses in the IBZ—which include industrial subsectors such as metal fabrication, transportation, and vinyl manufacturing—currently employ about 4,000 people. Espinal’s goal is to turn that number to 20,000. “East New York currently has very affordable per square footage property it could be very attractive to businesses that are being pushed out of other neighborhoods like Greenpoint and DUMBO,” he said.
He points to the success of city investment of the Brooklyn Navy yard. Here, with significant public and private funding, the IBZ is undergoing a revitalization expected to create 2,500 new jobs. Espinal wants East New York to take this type of revitalization to the next level. “We see the success of Brooklyn Companies that have been able to grow, like Brooklyn Brewery, that have been able to use the Brooklyn brand and grow to sell their products countrywide and worldwide,” he said, “I believe that Brooklyn has a momentum.”
Industrial Business Zones were created by the Bloomberg administration in 2006 to protect manufacturing areas and to promote the growth of the sector in New York City. The program has always been a “political football,” said Sean Campion, Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Budget Office. There have been skirmishes within the de Blasio administration over the program. The mayor’s original budget proposal last spring did not include any funding for it, but after much protest from city council members—Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito has been an outspoken advocate for the program—the city now has $1.5 million for IBZs in its budget, more than ever before.