Category Archives: Press

Greenpoint’s Newtown Creek Boathouse Is Still in the Works

Greenpoint's Newtown Creek Boathouse Is Still in the Works

North Brooklyn Boathouse

Curbed: Greenpoint’s Newtown Creek Boathouse Is Still in the Works

Since 2011, a handful of passionate Brooklyn residents have dreamed of a boathouse and environmental education center in Greenpoint. Their dream is far from dead, but it has certainly taken on a different form. Last night, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) hosted a public meeting in Long Island City where various organizations gave updates on projects around the Newtown Creek. There, North Brooklyn Boat Club (NBBC) members delivered a blow-by-blow of how plans have evolved—in a somewhat circuitous way—to their current status.

The boathouse project began as a $3 million project at the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center at 1155-1205 Manhattan Avenue. Negotiations commenced, but in the end an agreement could not be reached to situate the NBBC which would operate the boathouse, at that site. Nonprofit City Parks Foundation, which, to put things as simply as possible, is actually responsible for getting the boathouse built, paid one architect until the project’s lack of progress rendered that firm unavailable. Then funds were spent hiring a second architect. Madonna Architects received $3,000, and Ed Weinstein Architects received $36,444.13.

President of the North Brooklyn Boat Club Dewey Thompson made it clear at last night’s meeting that, despite the delay in its planned HQ, the boat club is already an active organization with over 250 members and a mailing list that reaches over 1,000. In addition to boating, it hosts events related to nautical crafts and composting, and even have days when the public is invited to paddle. (The next one is May 3.) They also do guided tours of the Newtown Creek in association with the Newtown Creek Alliance. The NBBC’s Jens Rasmussen said the club received a $20,000 grant three years ago to purchase boats and safety equipment. But, he added, the rest of its financial needs have been met by donations, dues, fundraisers such as Halloween and solstice parties, and by picking through trash.

The club is currently operating out of a temporary location at 51 Ash Street. That site is owned by Broadway Stages, and negotiations are now underway to build the boathouse at that location instead of the Manhattan Avenue one. There are renderings, but due to ongoing negotiations, Thompson said the NBBC cannot share them at this time.

Several outlets have made allegations about unsavory spending and other agendas related to the slow-moving project; Thompson sought to refute them. First of all, none of that initial $3 million earmarked for the original boathouse has ever been received by the NBBC, nor will it ever be. That $3 million was for the City Parks Foundation to actually build the boathouse; meanwhile, a revised budget for the 51 Ash Street site has not yet been released.

When it comes to Queens Crap’s report that “one of the boathouse regulars got a $20,000 grant to paint a mural,” Thompson replied that he knows of no such mural. According to QC, the mural is supposedly part of another project that the boat club is working on in Maspeth, Queens. As for New York Shitty’s assertion that boathouse funds are being used for a “transient hotel,” Thompson said that landlord Broadway Stages is working on its own separate commercial plans for the site, but hasn’t announced what their function (or functions) will be.

A few of the several dozen in attendance said they felt out of the loop about the boathouse construction’s progress. The NBBC and the City Parks Foundation, who already have regular newsletters, said they would consider sending out more updates on the boathouse project, even if those updates would be communicating that there is nothing new to communicate. Stay tuned.

See original piece by Evan Bindelglass for Curbed

Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.

What is Really Going on with the North Brooklyn Boathouse?

North Brooklyn Boathouse

North Brooklyn Boathouse

What is Really Going on with the North Brooklyn Boathouse?

So a lot is going on with the Newtown Creek Environmental Benefit Project. Or nothing is going on with it. It really depends on who you ask.

Wednesday night (4/23), a progress meeting on the project was held in Long Island City. Michelle Moore from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) kicked things off, and almost immediately voices were raised questioning funding and lack of progress. Even Joseph Lentol, the New York State Assemblyman that represents Greenpoint, expressed his disappointment at the lack of progress with the project so far.

Stating that the funding awarded should be dealt out to “heal the wounds” of the neighborhood, he accused the DEC of “sitting on money.” A total of $10 million was awarded for the Newtown Creek Environmental Benefit project with $7 million going to the City Parks Foundation and $3 million awarded to the Hudson River Fund. After Lentol left to attend to other matters in Williamsburg, both departments made their cases.

A representative from the Hudson River Foundation addressed the crowd first, explaining the grant cycles and process,“We have to do it right and we only get one chance to do it. We want to get the money out quickly, but we also want it to be right.”

Lisa Garrison, Program Director at the foundation explained that the grant process began in 2011. One of their main goals was to educate the public about the creek and get people involved. They gave a number of small grants to different organizations that got people out on the water in Queens and Brooklyn. Teaming up with the Newtown Creek Alliance, Newtown Creek Armada, GWAPP, and others, they organized water taxi rides, horticultural classes with students at PS 31, the training of 300 “citizen pruners” to maintain new trees, art installations to encourage people to visit the nature walk, and more.

City Parks explained that their responsibility isn’t to select projects, but to implement them after they’ve been selected. Alison Tocci, the president of CPF, updated the crowd on the progress. She explained that 88 percent of the funds awarded are currently unspent. So far, CPF has put money towards the construction of the boathouse, wetland frames, the Dutch Kills park basin, and administrative fees.

That’s when the crowd chimed in. People had a lot of questions on how money is being spent in regards to the boathouse, and why the public wasn’t being updated on the progress. Basically, the original site of the boathouse, the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) was eventually deemed unsuitable for the project. This was after lots of back and forth about the lease, all of which was done without notifying the public. The NBBC was advised not to tell the public about lease dealings, although the Boat Club’s almost 250 members were occasionally given updates. Since the $3 million was only allotted to the building of the boathouse, none of it has been spent. The new site is actually projected to bring the project under budget, which will allow the CPF to give that money to other projects.

It was decided the GMDC was an unsuitable location for a number of reasons, chief among them that they didn’t want to hold any kind of educational programs there (which was one of the main goals of the boathouse project from the start). Since choosing a location needs to fit the criteria of education, proximity to the creek, and boating programs, the lease fell through. The new location at Broadway Stages fits all the criteria originally outlined in the project scope, but that lease is also not finalized.

Now, should the public have been informed of all this? That remains up for debate and at the end of the meeting, the issue of who would be informing the public of what and when leases would be finalized remained up in the air. The CPF seemed open to the task of sending newsletter updates to people interested in the specific projects, but they remained adamant that keeping the public informed about leasing agreements, or the lack thereof in this case, isn’t the way to do business and frankly, isn’t always interesting.

So while it seems the meeting cleared up a lot of confusion about the dealings of the boathouse, I came away wondering if all the money – the small amount that has actually been allotted, anyway – was really being put to the best use. While all of the staff, volunteers, and members of these organizations are clearly very passionate about the future of Newtown Creek, having multiple small organizations with the similar missions of “promoting access and education to the creek” seems like a redundancy. On the other hand, as one audience member stated in regards to the boathouse, “membership has been growing even through all of these lease failures.” The residents of Queens and Brooklyn are clearly passionate about Newtown Creek and having safe, healthy access to it. Hopefully everyone can agree on the best way to do that soon (and we’ll keep you posted on progress).

See original piece on North Brooklyn Boathouse by Susan Torres from Greenpointers

Next City: Surfers, Sailors & Other Waterborne Urbanites on Sandy’s Legacy

Hurricane Sandy took her for a little spin

Hurricane Sandy took her for a little spin

For millions of New Yorkers, the evening of October 29, 2012, was their first real, transformative encounter with the city’s vast waterfront. Certainly, before the night Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge overwhelmed river banks and dunes and protective systems, almost everyone who lives in or visits New York had crossed a bridge or been to the beach or enjoyed a peaceful moment where water and the built environment meet. But it wasn’t until October 29 that the city’s 520 miles of coastline were truly laid bare for all to see, and for hundreds of thousands to suffer.

For some New Yorkers, however, that night was a long time coming. The kayakers, surfers, fishermen and sailors that spend their days on the water surrounding the city are well aware of its awesome power. Now, a year and a half into recovery, this group of aquatic urbanites has some very particular thoughts on what happened and what should be done next.

Jens Rasmussen, a founding member of the North Brooklyn Boat Club, is an actor by trade and an adventurer and environmental advocate when time permits. He’s been leading kayak and canoe trips on the East River and Newtown Creek since 2010. “When Sandy hit,” he says, “the club could have lost everything. We keep our equipment in shipping containers at the water’s edge, and if a member hadn’t chained the container nearest to the water to an anchor onshore, that container and all the ones behind it would have floated away in the storm surge.” “A boat we’re restoring did float away,” he continues. “The next day a team paddled out from our base in Greenpoint [in Brooklyn] to search for it and found it on some riprap in the Bronx.”

Rasmussen and the North Brooklyn Boat Club believe that wetland restoration, an idea being explored by the city, is one of the most sensible and effective strategies for protecting New York moving forward. “We know wetlands restoration is superior at storm-surge attenuation. It can absorb and dissipate very large amounts of water,” he says. “We also think it’s a good quality of life and natural beauty feature that can be added to abandoned parts of our waterfront.” Land behind the existing pockets of wetlands, he says, faired far better than the land behind bulkheads and unprotected banks.

Cody Daniels, a 42-year-old surfer who travels to Rockaway Beach in Queens whenever the waves look good, says the surf community was devastated by Sandy. “Over the years, I’ve seen big storms and huge erosion,” he says, “but Sandy just crushed Rockaway. It was third world for months afterwards.” Surfers didn’t go back in the water for a long time. “We didn’t know what kind of chemicals or waste or chunks of trash or spears of rebar might be out there. And you don’t really want to surf when all these families are trying to piece their lives back together. There were a lot of cleanup efforts and some guys volunteered to help rebuild and provide aid.” “I think a lot of people see the Rockaways as more vulnerable now,” he continues. “I know some homeowners want a seawall, but some others think that the waves and the ocean and what’s happening are part of what living on the beach is about. I tend to agree with them, you know, like, you have to accept that risk.”

Lech Zawadzki, an electrician who fishes in the East River says he wasn’t surprised by the storm, but the city’s response bothered him. “Rivers flood sometimes.” he says. “The mayor and the officials should know this and know how to get power back on and fix things quickly.” His own apartment didn’t have power for two weeks. “If it wasn’t for friends, my family would have been homeless. We did not know what to do and no one told us.” The gasoline shortages were a problem too. “I spent days in line for gas when I should have been working to get power back in people’s houses,” he says. “Next time, the city needs to focus on getting the basics back quickly and telling people what to expect.”

Despite their different experiences and outlook, each of these men familiar with the rivers and oceans around New York said something about how Sandy reminded city dwellers that they’re all water people. This, they all agreed, was a good thing. “Awareness and stewardship are inextricably linked,” says Rasmussen. “It’s a central belief of the Boat Club that recreating on blue open spaces in the city, by paddling, we, New Yorkers, all people, learn to value the water and to see how our choices and policies effect the health of the water and the city.”

Next City: Surfers, Sailors and Other Waterborne Urbanites on Sandy’s Legacy, by Graham T. Beck

Village Voice names North Brooklyn Boat Club NYC’s Best Boat Club for 2013!

North Brooklyn Boat Club

North Brooklyn Boat Club – Best NYC Boat Club 2013

Village Voice names North Brooklyn Boat Club NYC’s Best Boat Club for 2013!

You won’t find Sperry footwear or Nautica gear at the North Brooklyn Boat Club. Nope, only industrial waste and rumored hepatitis. But that’s precisely why founder Dewey Thompson’s collective of rowers is so indisputably badass. The club proudly calls Newtown Creek, one of the most polluted waterways in America, home. For three years now, these renegade kayakers, canoers, and sailors have been on a mission of reclamation, jamming one oar after another into some of the choppier waters of environmental stewardship in order to re-enable the creek for purposes of recreation. Membership to the volunteer-run community organization is $40 and includes intrepid small-craft group sails, bird-watching, and exclusive concerts back at the boatyard. Last time we visited their Greenpoint hub, members were gathered around a fire pit, tossing back Brooklyn Lagers and recounting past outings. The consensus was clear: Stunning views of the Manhattan skyline are worth the occasional run-in with a floating rat.

See original Village Voice piece: North Brooklyn Boat Club – Best Boat Club New York 2013