By now, most of you are familiar with the story of the Cityfox rave that never was. To sum it up briefly, a club promoter sold thousands of tickets to an all-night Halloween fête in Greenpoint’s toxic NuHart Plastics building. Due to intervention from the Fire Department, the party never quite made it to witching hour, but many residents are super pissed that something like this almost went down at a state Superfund site — and across the street from a senior center, no less.
Beyond that, the details are somewhat difficult to follow, which makes it hard to know exactly where to point fingers, even if the impetus is hardly in short supply. Cityfox issued a public apology yesterday, and organizers at Monday night’s NAG meeting made a point to save any rave-related questions for last, but the Q&A session quickly became a sounding board for public outrage. As one resident summed it up, the whole thing was a “huge slap in the face” for a community that’s been impacted by the building’s toxic history and is now grudgingly attempting to trust developers who claim to have its best interests in mind.
Fielding many of these questions was geologist Michael Roux, the environmental consultant for Dupont Street Developers LLC, which bought the NuHart site in 2014. He was joined by Yi Han, a representative of the group. Together, their account was confusing and at times seemingly contradictory to some of the other things we now know about the incident (for instance, Han said the owners never signed a contract, but NAG has supplied copies of the signed party permit on its website. To be clear, the building is owned by multiple parties). Additionally, Roux said that he wouldn’t be “totally forthcoming with everything [he knows],” as he’s been put on notice of potential legal action by the state.
In order to help make heads of tails, here’s a rough chronological timeline presented from multiple perspectives.
– According to Roux, the first answer Cityfox got was “no.” “The decision was made not to have the party initially, and that message was changed,” he said. However, he wasn’t involved in those meetings.
– Roux was surprised to learn that the promoters began their preparations on Tuesday, Oct. 27th, according to a neighbor who lives opposite the building. This involved bringing in trucks and taking water off the roof, said the resident.
– Thursday morning (around 11:30) was the first time anyone on the developer’s side was approached about the party, according to Roux.
– Han said she made it clear to the organizers on Thursday that access to the Superfund portion of the building was strictly off-limits.
– Cityfox applied for the liquor and temporary assembly license on Thursday, according to documents obtained by NAG. On the 29th, the State Liquor Authority also denied a caterer permit due to “insufficient timing.”
– The developer met the people who were setting up in the facility on Friday, Oct. 30th, said Roux, though he wasn’t there personally. According to what he was told, they were setting up on the first, second, and third floor — “if there wasn’t water on the roof, they’d be on the roof too,” he said.
– Cityfox said they were told which portions of the building they could use during this same walkthrough with the landlord.
“We were not made aware of anything that might prevent the event from going forward, and we began to envision how it’d come together,” read the statement on the Facebook event page. “The first thing we requested of our architect, as we do with all potential spaces, was to check the building for any violations in the DOB records that might cause the denial of a TPA. There was one minor heating-related violation that was not applicable, and so we moved forward with designing the space and filing for permits. Our crew created a production plan, we moved in all of our equipment, and built out the space and make it a true Experience.”
– On Friday, the 30th, the Department of Buildings approved the Temporary Place of Assembly permit for Saturday night from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m., with occupancy limited to 3,500 persons.
– Jane O’Connell, the DEC representative overseeing the NuHart site, said she first learned about the party on Friday afternoon, when she got a phone call from Roux. She was not in the office, but her colleague picked up the call. He recommended that the Department of Health be contacted regarding exposure concerns.
– “They said they’d end Sunday,” said Roux. “I asked when, but they didn’t give an answer. The website said 9 a.m. He said 5,000 people, [and the] website had 3,500 tickets sold on Friday afternoon. On Saturday, [that number had climbed to] 4,700.”
He continued, “The first thing I did was I panicked,” he said, “because this was not what we had been told. He said he had a contract, and my understanding as of now was he did have a one-sided contract signed by him, but not signed by my client.”
He also said he didn’t know how the promoters got a key to the building, but then tried to assure a resident that they didn’t break in.
– By the time Han realized what was really happening, it was too late to change anything, she said. “I want to apologize to everyone because I really did not see that contract, but someone from our organization did something with the contract. I had said no to this, but unfortunately I didn’t say it firmly enough. I know it’s a total disaster — I didn’t know how to put a stop to this.”
Han added that she was worried about being slapped with a lawsuit for shutting down the event at that stage in the process.
– On the 31st, the State Liquor Authority issued the liquor license for 3,500 attendees with an end time of 4 a.m. The license was obtained via Greenpoint’s One Stop Beer Shop on Cityfox’s behalf. According to O’Connell, these permits normally require a period of at least 60 days prior to approval to ensure the safety of the location.
“We have a process under the Superfund program that requires change of use notice in advance of any change of use to property that’s under state Superfund [status],” she said. “That process normally takes 60 days written notice before any proposed change…We did not get any official change of use notice.”
However, as she pointed out, government bodies don’t have the authority to “put a lock on the door” or tell a property owner what to do with their property. There’s also multiple lots in the building, so it’s unclear whether they actually had permission, she said.
Roux mentioned that the property is owned by a couple of different groups, each with authority to do certain things with the property. The promoters allegedly approached a different group, he said.
Below, a member from the Office of Environmental Remediation explains more about the permit approval process.
– A side note on One Stop Beer Shop: newyorkshitty.com said in an email to Greenpointers, “First of all I was really disappointed to see a local business, The One Stop Beer Shop (located at Beadel and Kingsland), was the applicant for the license. But more importantly/interesting was the address for the caterer: 239 Banker. As many may recall, this building has a very colorful history. It was illegally converted to residential, the DOB vacated it, it lay fallow for awhile and then, lo, it was occupied again. I have to wonder exactly what the relationship is between the applicant and the property. Does he live there? It he the owner/one of the owners of 239? I would really like to know.”
– Councilmember Stephen Levin said he called Captain Rose of the NYPD’s 94th Precinct Saturday afternoon around 3 or 4 p.m.
“He said, ‘Oh yes, we’re well aware of this. We’ll be on-site in large numbers.’ He said he’d be personally down there on overnight shift until 1 a.m. This was before it was shut down.”
According to Levin, he was told the police couldn’t do anything about it, as the party promoters had permits.
– Later that night, a neighbor who lives down the street said that her entire building was vibrating during the soundcheck. “I work with electronic music, and this was much louder than necessary,” she said.
– Lisa Bloodgood, environmental advisor to Steven Levin, told Gothamist that she biked over to the site around 10:30 that night, and the rolling gate on the Franklin Street side of the building was raised (that’s the Superfund portion of the building). There, staff was milling about, and a VIP entrance was taking shape in the supposedly “off-limits” portion of the building.
– The FDNY later shut down the party over lack of proper egress, lack of sprinklers, and flammable material (allegedly, there were barrels of pthalates stacked behind flammable curtains).
“As is customary, the FDNY arrived Saturday evening to conduct their inspection, which was different than any we’ve had in the past,” said Cityfox in their statement. “They raised several permit-related issues, which we either addressed, offered to address, or pointed out were invalid per building code or the TPA that was issued. Ultimately, the FDNY marshals stated that they would not allow the event to go forward, though never gave us an official written reason as they are mandated to do, and we’re currently in the process of requesting. But given their stance and concerns about the building that had come to light, at 11:45pm, we canceled the event.”
– Levin personally went to the site around midnight, and when he got there, the line was wrapped around the block. There was no music, however, and attendees were already aware that the party was getting shut down. By the time he left at 12:30, the crowd had dispersed, he said.
– As of the meeting on Monday, the lock to the building had allegedly been changed, and people were there removing the equipment, though it was unclear whether they’d been supplied with protective gear. Roux said there are people there full-time protecting the contaminated areas.
– Han insisted that she “did not get a penny” for the event. “You could ask them to show you the check, and you would see that it’s not written to my company at all.”
– Cityfox said: “We were compliant with all permitting or ready and able to address any concerns, used certified flame resistant fabrics, and we were issued no summons for violations. We’re obviously now aware of the building’s history and that it is the source of deep community concern, concerns that we take very seriously, but which also caught us by surprise. We were not aware during the event production when we expended a tremendous amount of time and resources to transform the space.”
– This also just in: a worker who helped set up the party now believes he’s suffering from an asbestos rash.
This far-from-exhaustive account might raise more questions than it answers — and reveal a lack of responsibility on more than one party’s behalf. What’s certain is that locals aren’t about to forgive this too easily.
“Why, when you’re trying to build the trust of the community, would you rent out this space in a neighborhood — it might not seem like that to you, but for all of us who live here, it is very much our neighborhood…yeah, sure, have it out in Bushwick, where it’s a warehouse district, but not among homes and seniors and people who are vulnerable,” said one neighbor to rousing applause.
“We get all these promises from all these environmental companies, and you guys can’t even control your building for one night?” said another.
Another resident added that “this whole site has been a devastating thing for this community.” “It’s like partying on our fucking graves,” she said. “I do not accept your apology.”
“Look, this was a major screwup by the developer,” said Roux. “Just a major screwup, okay? And you’re right, trust is trashed. All the trust that we’ve been trying to build by doing more meetings with the public and trying to be open and transparent, just was completely wiped away. All of it. So any kind of trust will need some time to work back up…there’s gonna be a lot of pain on our part along the way to get there.”
Note: Greenpointers previously noted that The Brooklyn Borough President had approved the liquor license. According to The Office of Brooklyn Borough President, “The Borough President’s office does not have the authority to approve liquor licenses; that process goes through community boards for their recommendation which is considered for final approval by the State Liquor Authority.”
All videos were shot by Aaron Simon of the Brooklyn Memory Project.