by RACHEL MONAHAN
– October 1, 2008 –
It’s a David and Goliath tale – but it’s hard to know which real estate investment firm to root for now that the battle for Starrett City is down to two contenders.On one side is a relative newcomer and minority-owned investor, the Cogsville Group, which formed two years ago and has done most of its work in the city.
On the other side is a long-established international firm, Westbrook Partners, which owns property all over the world.
Unlike last year, when vocal opposition helped block a $1.3billion bid for the 140-acre 5,881- unit East New York development, community leaders and tenants weren’t opposing either bid.
“We’ll have to see what happens,” said tenants association President Rebecca Caraballo.
Legislative safeguards were put in place to keep the complex – now formally known as Spring Creek Towers – affordable last summer.
Both bidders for the largest federally subsidized complex in the nation were working with nonprofit and community organizations to promise tenants improvements with new ownership.
New York City Central Labor Council Executive Director Ed Ott, who teamed up with Westbrook Partners in a bid to buy Starrett City, said his group has pledged to keep the apartments affordable beyond the current legal 20-year requirement – and improve services.
“We’ve been trying to find ways for a while to preserve these affordable housing units,” said Ott.
Councilwoman Rosie Mendez (D-East Village) said she no longer objected to the Westbrook bid after assurances of the Central Labor Council’s involvement. She previously expressed concerns about its record as a landlord in her district.
The Rev. A.R. Bernard, pastor of the 29,000-member Christian Cultural Center adjacent to the complex, joined forces with the Cogsville Group, promising to develop the church’s 11 acres to provide more services to Starrett City. His proposals include a charter school, a 300-seat theater, more than 300 units of affordable housing and possibly a medical clinic.
“Our campus is the gateway [to] Starrett City. We want to make it a destination,” said Bernard.
Tenants and advocates said they had interviewed the HUD-approved developers and saw advantages to the community in both.
Bernard “is very close by us. If we have any complaints, we don’t have to go far,” said longtime resident Linda Stilton, 54, also a member of the housing advocacy group NY ACORN.
But Stilton said for her, the most important idea for Starrett City was keeping it affordable for the next generation, as promised by the Central Labor Council.
“That sounds really great. That impressed people a lot,” said Stilton.