Haters Gonna Hate: North Brooklyn Boat Club

One of the original 2011 Boat Club Mockups, designed for 1115 Manhattan Ave

Local blogger, Miss Heather of New York Shitty stirred up some controversy in early February with a theory about scandal and embezzlement within the ranks of the  North Brooklyn Boat Club (NBBC), in regards to a the organization’s new location. The Boat Club responded with a statement on their site explaining their story and defending the funding.

Then two weeks ago, Queens Crap published this story, calling the NBBC a “phony environmental group,” accusing the non-profit of building a park in Maspeth that the local community doesn’t want. The blog also faulted the boat club for supposedly paying a member $20,000 to paint a mural on the future site of Plank Road.

So why is all this blogosphere hate being spewed at this boat club, which was created to improve the local community and environment?

Today, Jens Rasmussen, the Communications Coordinator at the Boat Club, sent out an email with a nod to the attacks: You may be aware, that for the past few months there has been an ongoing campaign of misinformation, which discredits the boat club and challenges the funding for the long-awaited Greenpoint Boathouse and Environmental Education Center.

He announced that this Wednesday 4/23, DEC and City Parks Foundation are having a public meeting about the Newtown Creek Environmetal Fund (the source of the initial funding to build the Boathouse). The Boat Club organizers will also present their “ongoing educational programming, community building, and advocacy work.” The two-part meeting will take place at 3:30 PM and 6:30 PM at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (47-40 21st Street, LIC, 11101, 8th floor meeting room). This should give everyone with doubt/questions/concern a chance to confront the boat club organizers directly, since this issue has proved to be ridiculously complicated, and one that people (or at least these two super angry bloggers) seem to have very strong opinions about.

And now, some background. In 2011, the North Brooklyn Boat Club was the recipient of public funds from the City Parks Foundation, as per a vote, and designated as a multi-faceted, year-round facility that would increase waterfront access and environmental education. The waterfront outlet was supposed to be housed at 1155 Manhattan Ave in the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center, but due to lease disagreements, it has been operating out of a temporary site at 51 Ash, under the Pulaski Bridge since its inception.

The $3 million was part of a $10 million settlement with NY State in 2008, which gave money back to Greenpoint as an “Oops + sorry” for that time the city missed a deadline to improve the Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The remaining $7 million was allocated for waterfront improvements throughout the neighborhood.  According to the Boat Club members, the non-profit community group was given free access to 51 Ash by Broadway Stages.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well, Miss Heather was/is skeptical of the potential new location of the Boat Club, which currently occupies a lot at 51 Ash Street.  Allegedly, that land is being converted into the site of a new 4-story  “transient hotel and community facility (private club not for profit)” according to the NYC Department of Buildings, which is owned by Tony and Gina Argento of Broadway Stages. The “new” Boat Club will be housed in that building.

“The club’s goal with this generous donation was to develop programming and membership so that when the time came to occupy the boathouse, the club could hit the ground running,” the boat club organizers wrote in a release on their website.

But Miss Heather did bring up some lingering questions: What has been done with the funding so far ($3 million) and why would a non-profit boating center be housed in a private transient hotel…and what is a transient hotel exactly? It does not sound particularly inviting, especially for a community center.

“Please tell me I am not the only person who finds the use of public funds ($3,000,000 if Wikipedia is to be believed) for what appears to be a private endeavor a mite bit troubling,” she wrote.

Geoggrey Croft, executive director of NYC Park Advocates told the Daily News that the plan to use public funds to help build a for-profit enterprise is “beyond sketchy.” “No money from the city should go for a private hotel,” he said.

Following the controversy, the Newtown Creek Alliance issued a statement in support of the new site for the Boat Club, outlining the reasons that the club, as an institution, benefits the community by providing an environmental education center for students and scientists to study the ecology and history of the creek, a boatbuilding and nautical crafts workshop, and boat and safety equipment storage.

I should also mention that the Boat Club was recently the recipient of additional funding from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund. As of March, they received $24,660 for a campaign to dissuade the public from putting cigarette butts in the creek, $24,693 to expand they waterways environmental education program, and $24,426 to support programming at the “ED shed,” to develop and expand community workshops on marine sciences and aquatic conditions in Newtown Creek.

The City Parks Foundation released a budget, which documents that so far, only $28,067 has been spent on the Greenpoint Boathouse project, although there are no specific funding breakdowns.

“Over the past two years, NBBC has introduced hundreds of people to Newtown Creek for the first time,” they write. “A permanent home for NBBC that includes an education center will help build a well informed constituency for the Creek that cares about it’s future.”

Miss Heather remains skeptical, questioning the Newtown Creek Alliance for supporting the “new and improved” boat house when, she argues, no one has seen the plans for the building yet. “This stinks to high heaven, folks,” were her last words on the issue (time has told that she has many many more words about all of this).

The Boat Club responded by explaining that after three years of negotiations, they were “unable to come to agreeable terms with the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center and began looking for other suitable locations. A number sites and proposals were brought forward and after careful consideration, it was deemed that building on the current location, next to the Pulaski bridge, would be the most desirable, feasible, and sustainable.”

The Boat Club also ensured readers that the entire process will be administered and supervised by the City Parks Foundation, which requires that any and all funds only be applied to the Boathouse and Environmental Education Center elements of the facility, which will include equipment storage, the education center facilities, boatbuilding, nautical crafts, and “other community spaces.”

However, Broadway Stages president, Gina Argento, told the Daily News that she plans to split the cost of the entire project down the middle with the Boathouse, although nothing is final yet.

Miss Heather then went at it again, posting this photo of what she describes as the plan for the Boat House.

However, she failed to identify it as a plan for a contest submitted 10 years ago. Jens Rasmussen of the North Brooklyn Boat Club verified that this mock-up is unrelated to the current plan and was originally designated for the Bushwick Inlet.

What a mess. Why is Miss Heather so interested in discrediting the Boat House?  She has declined to respond to our requests for an interview….so I guess we can never know for certain. I’ve laid all the facts here, as I’ve found them, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide where the misinformation lies.

WHO ARE YOU GONNA TRUST???

12 Comments

  1. Karl says:

    Well, blogs are by design a medium for opinion and the tone used can often be unnecessarily snarky. Both this decidedly pro NBBC article and the posts from Queen’s Crap and New York Shitty critical of the club show aspects of that. Although, I think it must be said that posts form the latter two seem to have been composed as part of a genuine quest for accountability for a project being undertaken with public funds. While one of this article’s goals seems to make an effort to imply that these questioners of the NBBC’s practices are at best angry spoil sports, at worst, have some nefarious intentions by simply asking questions. I’m not sure if there is a point here or if the writer is just letting off steam. I suppose it doesn’t matter but it does seem like an odd attempt to paint paint two vocal critics of the NBBC’s lack of transparency (without their hand being forced) as possibly having something to hide themselves.

    Reply
    • Lauren says:

      I think it’s pretty clear that these two bloggers do have something to hide. If they were really on a genuine quest for accountability they would start off by being accountable themselves– not being anonymous, and not filtering comments on their blogs. All of their entries ride on the assumption that everyone that they are targeting (because that’s what they do) is stealing, or behind some grand conspiracy to rip power from the little guy. They never actually provide any proof or genuine basis for these accusations, only their hyper-cynical speculation. They’re toxic cowards who get their sense of accomplishment by assuming that anyone actually accomplishing anything in this community must be evil. Either that, or they’re being backed by political opposition. Whatever quest they’re on, there’s nothing noble about it.

      Reply
  2. Laura Hofmann says:

    I am very concerned about a few facts.
    The plan to create a boathouse and repair the bulkhead at the GMDC (a respected organization) is what community members were presented with during the Newtown Creek Environmental Benefits Fund process, supposedly a public process. That plan was significantly changed without community input, and the boathouse plan was relocated to be beneath a hotel that a local business would build. If the plan had support and was a good plan, why was it kept secret? One of the organizations involved in obtaining the funding for the boathouse plan used member organization’s names and former member organizations names to create the illusion of blanket community support for the project. Even though I support the Boat Club’s activities and educating people about the Newtown Creek, I consider the above to be a serious community issue. When you consider that there have been historical trust issues with the New York State Department of Conservation, what does it say to me, when that agency and supposedly trusted organizations fail to be transparent? What does it say to me that I learned about via a blog? Mind you, I don’t care about the blog commentary. I care about one fact. This is not the plan that was originally presented to the community.

    Reply
  3. Sherry says:

    Gina writes: “However, she failed to identify it as a plan for a contest submitted 10 years ago.”

    Nope, she updated her original post with this information: “Your tipster has misled you. The boathouse renderings you posted are ten years old, part of a 2004 design competition focused on Bushwick Inlet.”

    Reply
  4. Ginas13 says:

    How are they being anonymous? That is their blog and anyone can email them. Heather is always standing up for the citizens of Greenpoint. She as well as many other citizens, myself included, are suspicious of money that is meant to go toward park land is instead going to Broadway Stages. Broadway Stages is taking over Greenpoint in leaps and bounds and they make a lot of money already from the neighborhood. Yes they do some good but they are very connected. The little good can be construed as buying off the politicians and community board which one of them is a member. Hopefully we are wrong but the community has a right to know the truth. Too many of us are just sheep allowing politicians and corporations do what they want.

    Reply
  5. bob says:

    Yes, it is. The money was for a boathouse, which is what is going to be built. Are you in bed with GMDC? Are they funding your posts? If they hadn’t screwed themselves, the boathouse could have been there. I’m going to start making baseless accusations about Laura, Heather and Queens Crap being bought and paid for shills for the GMDC until the NY Post writes an expose about them!

    Reply
  6. GoHomeTransplants says:

    I wish a you attention seeking hipsters would go home or drown in the Gowanus Canal

    Reply
  7. Local says:

    I think it is very important that the community dig into the information about community deals and community resources. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in very sloppy information floating around. People love to espouse conspiracies and corruption. From what I can tell, the bloggers in question have mischaracterized the actions, intentions, and motives of the NBBC. I have visited the NBBC many times and been very impressed with the dedication and activity of its volunteer members. I don’t see any reason to work against this effort; it will be a great addition to the neighborhood.

    The most important aspect to scrutinize is the deal with developers. Developers tend to salivate over government funding and will very quickly begin to believe their own spin when trumpeting their ‘community work’ in exchange for financial benefits. This process should be very carefully laid out. For starters, if NBBC is entering into a deal in which they are on the hook for construction costs, this process will very likely result in a huge and questionable price tag once it is all said and done.

    I would think that the NBBC should continue to be resourceful and satisfy its expansion within moderate means. If a developer is seeking perks such as additional FAR or zoning or tax benefits through housing a community organization, then the build-out of that facility should be part of the price the developer pays in order to receive those perks.

    The NBBC needs basic space, some boat storage, some sheds, some bathrooms and a classroom or two, located along a bulkhead and utilizing a floating dock. This could be gotten very readily from an existing building on the waterfront and come in at a very reasonable cost. The dream facility, incorporated into the design of new hotel construction, could very well have a HUGE price tag to taxpayers, once the real numbers are added up.

    The GMDC location would be great. Of course, it is no surprise that the management of GMDC would be mercenary in lease negotiation, as they have grown more and more profit oriented over the years. Nonetheless, the city could exercise some muscle and persuade the GMDC to accommodate the NBBC and meet them somewhere in the middle. The facility would be very well located and the price tag, if the project is approached with restraint, would most likely come in a lot cheaper than the new construction version.

    I think it would be great for the NBBC to have a great home, but I really hope that a very sober approach is taken to making any deals with private developers and that a shrewd hand is put to the task of detailing any such deal.

    Reply
  8. Paul says:

    Miss Heather is a bloglodyte.

    Reply

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