Friday, December 28, 2007

227 Duffield one of the stories of the year

The decision to include 227 Duffield in Brooklyn's future was one of the stories of year, according to two papers.

In Whatta year!, the Brooklyn Paper says:
Free at last! The city decides against condemning Joy Chatel’s Duffield Street home, which historians believe is linked to the Underground Railroad.
In Year in review, the Amsterdam News reports:
After three years of fighting, a line of homes on Duffield Street in Brooklyn was saved from the gentrification wrecking ball because of its ties to the Underground Railroad.
Saving Duffield was a group effort, and we'd like to thank everyone for staying informed and involved. There's more to come in 2008... as long as we all chip in and donate to make it to the next step. Join the effort! Please give what you can using our new "donate" button!

Monday, December 24, 2007

AM New York: Rescue Us

AM New York has put preserving New York's urban heritage on the front cover of the December 21-23 edition. The prominent treatment suggests that there is widespread support for keeping the unique features of New York City. Number Four on the AM New York's list is Duffield Street:
Development pressures in downtown Brooklyn threaten the existence of several houses possibly linked to the Underground Railroad. Preservationists say the city ignored documents detailing the historical significance of the houses on Duffield Street.

After nearly four years of protest, one of the homes, No. 227, has been saved. But the fate of others on the street (Nos. 231 and 233) is up in the air. They're slated for demolition as part of a major redevelopment project for Willoughby Square.

Also on watch: The 1847 James Sloan and Abigail Hopper Gibbons home in Chelsea (339 W. 29th St.). Newspaper editor Horace Greeley and abolitionist John Brown were known to stay here, and the house was specifically targeted during the 1863 Draft Riots. Community Board 4 is advocating its preservation: the current owner is remodeling and wants to add a penthouse.
It's good to hear that the homes on West 29th Street are also getting some news coverage. It's also good to report (contrary to the quote above) that 233 Duffield is not threatened. The owner is not selling, and the home is not threatened with eminent domain.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Some photos from Duffield press conference

Here are some photos of the Duffield press conference on Monday taken by Diane Greene Lent. For more, click here.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Brooklyn, NY 11/29/07 — In settlement of a lawsuit filed by Joy Chatel and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) the City has pledged that it will not use eminent domain to condemn 227 Duffield. The property has been the subject of controversy since 2004 when the City announced that it intended to take the property by eminent domain as part of their Downtown Brooklyn Redevelopment Plan. The Downtown Brooklyn Plan is a massive redevelopment plan based on a rezoning of the area in 2004. The plan calls for over 4 million square feet of new retail, commercial and luxury housing in the middle of a historically low-income community.

On January 7, 2004, Joy Chatel, an owner of 227 Duffield Street was given a notice informing her that her home would be taken by eminent domain and demolished to make way for a new parking lot. Many believe that her home was a station on the Underground Railroad and a vital cultural treasure that should be preserved. The Underground Railroad was the network of people and places in which fugitive slaves sought refuge when escaping from the plantation system in the South.

The home, built in 1848, was owned by Thomas and Harriet Lee-Truesdell, prominent abolitionists of that era. Their role in the abolitionist movement, coupled with their relationships with other active abolitionists in Downtown Brooklyn, led the City’s own researchers to conclude that the property was “quite possibly” linked to the Underground Railroad and the majority of historians commissioned by the City to review its research advocated for the home’s preservation. Despite this historical documentation and the presence of several unexplainable architectural abnormalities in the sub-basements from 227-235 Duffield St, the City of New York initially concluded that the home’s historic significance did not warrant its preservation. In response to litigation and years of advocacy on the part of those who support preserving the property, the City has agreed to re-draw its plans for Downtown Brooklyn so that the condemnation of 227 Duffield will not be necessary.

“I want to thank the Mayor for listening to our plea,” Joy Chatel, an owner of 227 Duffield Street said, “My vision is to continue the Cultural Center and Museum my daughter and I started years ago; so all people home and abroad can benefit from the rich history downtown Brooklyn has to offer. I am also thankful to the many people who have gone to great lengths to make sure that this vision comes to fruition.”

“So many of us in the community did not want to see the Underground Railroad become an underground parking lot,” said Randy Leigh, area resident and FUREE board member. “Too much of our history has already been lost, and we know the City did the right thing by listening to the community and protecting our history. “

The suit was brought by Jennifer Levy of South Brooklyn Legal Services who says: “I commend the City for their flexibility. They have shown that it is possible to do development thoughtfully, in a manner that is responsive to community concerns, and with an eye to preserving our history.”

Tours of the home will be given on request.

* * * *

More information will be available at the press conference on Monday, December 3, 2007, 12 PM.

Where: 227 Duffield Street (between Fulton & Willoughby Streets in Brooklyn)

Invited Speakers: Councilmembers Charles Barron, Letitia James, Tony Avella, John Liu; Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, US Congressional Representative Yvette Clarke, Assembly Representative Joseph Lentol; Rev. Clinton Miller, Rev. Dyson, Joy Chatel, Families United For Racial and Economic Equality, Jennifer Levy Esq., Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance, Lewis Greenstein, Raul Rothblatt, Christabel Gough, Jim Driscoll, Richard Hourahan, and others.

Friday, November 16, 2007

NY Sun: Concerns Rise Over Brooklyn Boom

The NY Sun writes critically about the massive residential building boom in Downtown Brooklyn. This is not an article about the Abolitionist homes, but about the shaky financial situation of this real estate bubble. The article, Concerns Rise Over Brooklyn Boom, has this to say about the recent revisions to the 421-a laws:

A former City Council member and a partner at the law firm WolfBlock, Kenneth Fisher, said recent revisions to the 421-a program could be devastating to downtown Brooklyn's residential market.

"Given the credit crisis and problems on Wall Street, they picked exactly the wrong moment to choke the golden goose," Mr. Fisher said. "Even the biggest developers are worried that there is simply not enough subsidy to meet the need. The 421-a requirement for affordable housing is already skewing the market. Projects are being accelerated to meet the deadline, creating a glut just as the demand might soften."

"Home ownership is at risk as developers switch to rentals because there are no meaningful subsidy programs for condos," he said. "The biggest losers will be the smaller projects, which can't possibly qualify or navigate the subsidy program."

Several other news sources have mentioned that there are three (3) hotels being built on Abolitionist Place (Duffield Street between Fulton & Willoughby), but the Sun mentions this additional project that has not gotten much press:

United American Land is planning to build a $208 million development a block from Fulton Street Mall and MetroTech. The development site occupies approximately half a square block along Willoughby Street, between Bridge and Duffield streets. The 594,000-square-foot development would include retail stores on the base with housing on top.
In any other neighborhood, a $208 million development would be big news. But in Downtown Brooklyn, it's just part of the wash.

It would be nice to think that someone in the New York government was minding the store, making sure none of these many $200+ million project don't fall through given the current market.

The NYC Economic Development Corporation is demanding a high standard of proof of Underground Railroad activity at 227 Duffield. Given the shakiness in real estate, maybe the agency should also demand a high standard of proof of solid financial planning before letting all these skyscrapers rise.

City: Save history on Duffield by paving over Duffield homes

The Brooklyn Paper is not very impressed with the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) new RFP that might allow for the preservation of the Duffield Abolitionist homes. "City: Save history on Duffield by paving over Duffield homes" reports:
The city’s memorial to Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad history will sit atop an underground parking lot that will be built where some of the very Abolitionist history being commemorated is said to have actually happened.
The article continues:
City officials have denied that the Duffield houses were directly linked to the Underground Railroad, and the RFP continues that position: “A number of homes and churches in Downtown Brooklyn and the surrounding area have connections with the Underground Railroad [including] Plymouth Church (now Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims) in Brooklyn Heights; Bridge Street A.W.M.E. Church (now Polytechnic University student center in MetroTech); Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene; and the Siloam Presbyterian Church, and Concord Baptist Church.”

The winning bidder must not only design a great monument, but also “provide an interactive, public gathering venue where individuals and groups of all ages can learn about the Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn.”

In addition, the “Abolitionism Commemoration” must include “an ongoing program or series of activities” and “demonstrate program sustainability using allocated funds for at least the next three fiscal years and … with other sources of funding beyond [that].”
Part of the irony is that there already are ongoing programs and activities at 227 and 233 Duffield Street. Lewis Greenstein, owner of 233 Duffield, opens his home every Sunday afternoon for tours of the evidence of Underground Railroad activity in his basement.

The Brooklyn Paper also points out the double standards of the EDC. The agency denies that there is sufficient proof of escaped slaves in the basements of Duffield Street to save them, yet they mention Plymouth Church. While Plymouth Church is a famous Abolitionist church, there is no more physical evidence of escaped slaves hiding there than at Duffield Street.

City Wants "Brooklyn Abolitionism Commemoration" Proposals

Gowanus Lounge covers the NYC Economic Development Corporation's RFP that might allow the Duffield Abolitionist homes to stand, even as they build Willoughby Square. They posted this map at City Wants "Brooklyn Abolitionism Commemoration" Proposals, and summarized the new announcement this way:
The Underground Railroad Houses on Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn may eventually fall to bulldozers, but it's looking more and more likely that the city is putting up some sort of museum or other commemoration at the site or in another location.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Victory (????): RFP for Abolitionist commemoration

The NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) released an RFP called Brooklyn Abolitionism Commemoration.

It's unclear what all this means so soon after the RFP was released. On the one hand it's a great victory that the EDC will allow for a museum on the site of their planned parking lot that until this week would have destroyed the Duffield Abolitionist homes. On the other hand, the RFP does not appear to require a museum, so 227 Duffield is not yet safe.

Until we can fully digest the document, here are some excerpts, staring with the Overview:
New York City Economic Development Corporation (“NYCEDC”) will issue a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) to select an existing cultural organization to develop and manage a commemoration site and ongoing program dedicated to the ‘historical friendships’ created during the 19th century Abolitionist Movement among people of different backgrounds, with particular attention paid to the Underground Railroad and its ties to the Borough of Brooklyn.

A project may be proposed for any area of Brooklyn, but it is expected that the most competitive proposals will provide for a central location for orientation connected to a network of related sites.
About Willoughby Square, the 1.25 acre park which the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership has called "critical" to job growth:
The Plaza is a critical aspect of the Downtown Brooklyn Development Plan, which recognizes the need for green space in the core of Downtown Brooklyn and aims to revitalize and enhance the district. Willoughby Square was initially designed as a way to attract residents, visitors and tenants to the new office, hotel, retail and residential space around this new public space just south of MetroTech. Currently, roughly two thousand housing units, five hundred hotel rooms and thousands of square feet of new retail and office development are in the development process in the immediate vicinity. Beneath the Plaza will be a 700-car public parking garage for use by visitors and employees. This new Plaza will be programmed for daily and seasonal use much like Manhattan’s Bryant Park and will serve multiple purposes for those living, working, studying and visiting the district.

So the EDC still considers their little parking lot and park to be critical to economic development, but this RFP is still a tremendous victory for those of us who believe that promoting Abolitionist history is the best way to promote Brooklyn. It shouldn't be hard to adjust the City's plan for a small park to prevent the destruction of these historic homes... shouldn't be, but we're working with the Bloomberg's EDC here.

Navy Yard gets historic

Brooklyn Paper writes about the city's plan to commemorate- and destroy- historic buildings near the booming Downtown Brooklyn. They report in "Navy Yard gets historic":

Mayor Bloomberg (and his would-be successor, Speaker Christine Quinn) journeyed to the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Wednesday to unveil a $15-million historical center that will celebrate the Navy Yard’s illustrious role as a ship-building Mecca during World War II, when it employed 70,000 people.

The project will add a new gallery and office space to the Commandant’s Residence, an 1857 building that is part of the decaying Admiral’s Row.

The rest of that line of 19th-century structures — the best looking ones at the entire Navy Yard — will be torn down to make room for a supermarket.

“[It] is essential that we remember [the Navy Yard’s] rich and historic past,” said Bloomberg. The mayor’s appeal to history at the Navy Yard is similar to his approach on nearby Duffield Street Downtown, where the administration has condemned historic houses to make room for a parking garage.

Admiral's Row currently is a set of glorious, decaying structures that have intrigued New Yorkers. But we haven't been allowed to visit them as they sit and rot under the City's guardianship. The rendering released by the City doesn't give much hope that the unique characteristics of these historic mansions will be used to bring the neighborhood forward.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Respec from the NY Times

The New York Times shows us some love. They give a link to us in "What Would the Tramalfadorians Do?."

The Borough of Churches Ain’t

Downtown Brooklyn, especially the Fulton Mall, have been packed with bustling shops for year. Immigrant and African-American entrepreneurs have thrived, though the visionaries behind the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning would like to replace those businesses with new ones... with different demographics. Who Walk In Brooklyn posts strong commentary about this in "The Borough of Churches Ain’t":
If John Strausbaugh’s recent comments about the process of “benign ethnic cleansing” in Manhattan are true, what will folks say about the new new Downtown when it’s cleared of all but civil servants & students in the daytime, the wealthy at night? That their prayers were answered? No public figure would put it that way but note the huge gulf in coverage between the plight of the homes on Duffield Street– whose potential date with the wrecking ball we’ve long decried, including in the pages of New York Calling– and what all this portends for non-institutional culture downtown. (Hello BAM imperialists.) The closure last year of Beat Street Records on Fulton got very little attention compared to the fate of other, far less heterogeneous public spaces. Ya’ll will look long & hard for this information on the internet but talk to people– not real estate shills– about what downtown was like before Metrotech. Is it possible what was “blighted” then is about as “blighted” as the private property threatened by eminent domain today? Next, look to some favorite Brooklyn blog and see how much they talk about, say, Nigerian & Guyanese shopkeepers downtown, & what are those other dudes with ghetto stores– Syrian? Siberian? Silesian?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Why hasn’t Marty Markowitz Stepped Up to Help Joy Chatel?

Queen of the Click raises a question that somehow the NY Times hasn't gotten around to asking in "Why hasn’t Marty Markowitz Stepped Up to Help Joy Chatel?":

Joy Chatel owns 227 Duffield Street. Chatel, a widowed grandmother has researched the history of the home since 2004. Abolitionists were found to be the original owners. Even the discovery done by the city shows that there is historical significance to the home. The city had plans to destroy the building and make way for an underground parking lot for the two hotels across the street drom Chatel’s building. So why haven’t the plans been changed yet?

Brooklyn is the largest of the five boroughs with about 2.5 million residents. Marty Markowitz is the Brooklyn Borough President. Why hasn’t he offered Chatel help? How come he hasn’t made a plan for the Brooklyn Underground Railroad? Markowitz spent $475,000 on a trolley to go around to cultural sites in Brooklyn. This is a cultural site and Markowitz should be making plans for their to be a smaller underground parking lot, a park and the Brooklyn Underground Railroad Museum. Where is Marty?

Downtown Brooklyn Finally Arrives

The NY Sun writes breathlessly about the stunning array of new developments in Downtown Brooklyn, from high-rise luxury apartments, to high-rise office towers, to a flood of new hotels. Here is a taste of "Downtown Brooklyn Finally Arrives":
"Brooklyn has morphed into a 24/7 community. The area is teeming with activity — artsy and cool Generation Xers and Yers, families with strollers, Manhattan exiles, office workers, and out-of-town visitors are coming to take advantage of the new venues that big-bucks bohemia has to offer," the president of Troutbrook Companies, Marc Freud, said. "Redevelopments, new developments, and the continuity of change dot the skyline. The vaunted destination known for haute cuisine and eclectic art galleries, shopping, and culture has created an urban modernity that when you leave has you yearning for more."
The article gives a good sense of how the neighborhood is becoming stiff competition to Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. The spectacular growth shows no end of slowing down, despite problems elsewhere in the real estate and other markets. With such tremendous optimism, you have to question this statement by Joe Chan of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership:
Willoughby Square has always been the centerpiece of the plan, and is an important incentive to attract private investment....

Acquisition of property is critical and necessary for Willoughby Square to move forward — and without Willoughby Square, much of this new investment, and therefore businesses, jobs and housing, will not happen.
Huh? Read the New York Sun- do they make it seem like Willoughby Square (recently dubbed the "Bonsai Bryant Park" by blogger Norman Oder) is the linchpin of of all economic growth? None of these jobs will happen without this small grassy knoll? And a 1.25 acre park is a more unique cultural attraction to Downtown Brooklyn than a museum at the home of prominent Abolitionists?

Businesses have to be flexible in their plans if they want to stay in business. The NYC Economic Development Corporation and their buddies at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership seem to have no incentive to be flexible in their plans. We can have spectacular economic growth in Brooklyn, and preserving the Duffield Abolitionist homes will help, not hurt, that economic development.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Your E-mail Can Save History

Queen of the Click put up a nice and brief summary of our current call to action in "Your E-mail Can Save History":
I’m sure you are all aware of the eminent domain proceedings happening in New York. Eminent domain is a loophole that allows the government to force you to give up your home/property. Originally it was needed for governments to build highways or public places. Yet here in NYC, the government gives the property to private developers for below cost.

I’m from Brooklyn and there are many of us who are concerned about Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn. There are several houses which have been found to be connected to the Underground Railroad. The city wants to take these homes, crush them and build a parking lot for two new hotels. Yet, the city has decided to take public opinion until Monday, November 5th! Full story here:

So how can you help?

Please e-mail Jack Hammer at:

Dear Jack Hammer,

I do not believe that the Duffield Abolitionist homes should be destroyed. Further research is needed to discover the historical significance of these homes as they may have had a role in the Underground Railroad slave safehouse movement.

Thank you!

It is a stroke of rhetorical genius to sign an letter to Jack Hammer with "Hugs."

AYR: The bonsai Bryant Park and other fudges from the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership's video

Actor Ian McKellen narrates a promotional video for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, and the Atlantic Yards Report has this to say:
We can figure out why the video doesn't mention that the planned Willoughby Square park (right) is the site of an eminent domain fight, but the claim that it would be "a beautiful public space similar to midtown's Bryant Park" begs for some fact-checking. Bryant Park is eight acres. Willoughby Square would be 1.25 acres. More precisely, it would be a bonsai Bryant Park.
It continues:
The video does a bang-up job of avoiding the news that the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, intended to spur office construction, didn't quite work as expected. Instead, with the assistance of 421-a tax breaks subsidizing luxury construction, it will make some residential developers a nice return and bring some wealthier people downtown.

The city once expected 4.6 million square feet of office space by 2013, even though the rezoning would have allowed an additional 2 million more square feet. Now the prediction is 1.5 million square feet by 2012, though the DBP fudges it by combining office and retail space--which are very different--and calling it 3 million square feet.
For more, click here.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Plan Promotes Alternative, Affordable Office Space in Vibrant Downtown District

Here's something from "Bloomberg Administration Unveils Development Plan for Downtown Brooklyn," an NYC Department of City Planning Press release:
The sweeping proposal calls for the City to increase zoning allowances, assist in the assembly of key commercial and residential sites and undertake a series of infrastructure improvements to help facilitate the creation of as much as 5.4 million square feet of new commercial space and about 1,000 units of housing.
That's what they said in 2003. Here's what NY1 reported in "Downtown Brooklyn Set To Get A New Look" (November 2007):
New renderings were released today as part of the so-called "Plan for Downtown Brooklyn." The video proposal, narrated by stage and screen star Ian McKellen, calls for a new hotel, retail and office space, and more than 14,000 new housing units.

The year-old Downtown Brooklyn Partnership hopes to use the animated renderings to help attract corporate tenants, retailers, and investors to the more than 50 projects planned or already in the works at a cost of $9 billion in private money and $300 million in public investment.

Currently, a new hotel, a park with a 700-car underground garage, and a new office building are planned to be completed at the former Albee Square Mall by 2012.
The first think you might notice is that the number of housing units has gone up. Way up, from 1,000 to 14,000.

The next think you might notice is that among the massive, massive developments, a little 700-car garage and 1.15 acre grassy knoll gets high billing. The Downtown Brooklyn plan has already brought the destruction of hundreds of parking spaces- what's so important about this parking lot?

Well, for some reason the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership has decided to make a big splash during the extremely brief period of public commentary regarding this parking lot. It may be a coincidence, but the public has until Monday 11/5 at 5pm to submit their ideas about the planned destruction of the Duffield Street homes in order to build said parking lot.

Please submit your comments to Jack Hammer at Let him know whether you think the City should destroy the Duffield Abolitionist homes immediately, or whether they should be researched further to find if they had a role in the Underground Railroad slave safehouse movement. Given the massive buildings that continue to grow in the area, do you think eminent domain is critical to future development?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Duffield a no-brainer

There's something about Duffield Street. Even Charles Barron and Bill DeBlasio can agree on it. The two City Council Representatives come from two very different districts in Brooklyn— one African-American, the other predominantly white Park Slope— but they are crawling over each other to show that they are the true supporters of the Duffield Street Abolitionist homes. At least, that's the implication of the Brooklyn Paper. "Cash-rich DeBlasio seeks Beep post" writes about the two candidates for Brooklyn Borough President and reports:

Barron certainly focused on Atlantic Yards as a way of attacking DeBlasio’s “inconsistent” support of progressive values.

“He supported Ratner! He supported gutting Downtown Brooklyn [a reference to the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, a 2004 upzoning], yet now says he wants to save the Duffield Street houses, which were part of the Underground Railroad,” Barron said.

No elected official has come out in favor of the destruction of the Duffield Street homes.

Daily News: A push to save historic safe houses

Albor Ruiz of the NY Daily News does a good job in summing up the recent Duffield developments and the arguments against the use of eminent domain in Downtown Brooklyn. The article is called "A push to save historic safe houses" in the online edition and "Nabe preservers draw the line at Duffield Street":

The city's decision to withdraw its initial eminent domain application "was an acknowledgment that it had no basis in the record for its use of eminent domain," FUREE said in a written statement. "This abuse of the powers of eminent domain would have proceeded if the city hadn't been sued."

Community activists believe the rezoning of downtown Brooklyn has not fulfilled its promise of bringing economic growth to the neighborhood.

"Given the failure of the rezoning to achieve the stated goals," Rothblatt said, "it is time to take a fresh look at how to promote the area for the good of everyone, not only the friends of politicians."

Public comment on the use of eminent domain will continue through Monday.

Click here to read the full article.

The Daily News offers a lot of ammunition to those who want to submit public comments. It's not hard to do— just shoot an email to Jack Hammer at the HPD at

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Brooklyn Star: HPD Hears Statements on Urban Renewal Plan

The Downtown Brooklyn Star reports on the recent NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) hearing. In "Once Again, HPD Hears Statements on Brooklyn Urban Renewal Plan" the paper reports the many complaints against the plan, including:
Opponents of the development have also called into question the fundamental intent of the urban renewal, saying that the neighborhood does not need government interference. "This is not a ‘down area’ in need of renewal," said Greenstein. "We’ve got a lot of brand new growth."

Referring to a new hotel that is being built in the neighborhood, he asked "Do they build new hotels in blighted areas?"

"Think about yourself," pleaded Dave Wallace, another property owner. "If you owned a house and renovated it and made it your own, and then the city says they will take it away, how would you feel. They haven’t offered anybody a fair market price for their homes. This isn’t a rich or poor problem. Anybody can be affected by this."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Round-up of today's Duffield press coverage

Here's an update of all the articles published in the last few hours on the Downtown Brooklyn eminent domain hearing:
Brownstoner repeated a question raised on this blog yesterday:
“Acquisition of property is critical and necessary for Willoughby Square to move forward — and without Willoughby Square, much of this new investment, and therefore businesses, jobs and housing, will not happen,” said Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. You buying it?
Mcbrooklyn did double duty by reporting on the new hotels going up on Duffield in Boutique Hotel on Duffield Street, and More Brooklyn in Brief Tuesday. Duffield also came up in New Holiday Inn Coming to Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn (Brooklyn Eagle).

Hotel rooms in Brooklyn may nearly triple by 2010

The NY Daily News reports "Hotel rooms in Brooklyn may nearly triple by 2010":
You might call it the borough of bedrooms.

With the number of hotel rooms in Brooklyn expected to nearly triple by 2010, experts predict the Borough of Churches could gain a new nickname.

Chains like Sheraton and Hyatt, and boutiques like the Hotel Le Jolie in Williamsburg and the W Hotel offshoot Aloft in downtown Brooklyn are expected to pump the number of hotel rooms from 1,200 to approximately 3,000.

Abolitionist Place (a.k.a. Duffield Street) is the home to much of this economic activity:
On Duffield St., a 325-room Sheraton is opening across from a 176-room Aloft, a more affordable spin-off of W Hotel that will feature a glitzy, hip bar.

Monday, October 29, 2007

BCAT interviews Duffield advocates

While looking for television coverage of today's press conference and hearing, this television broadcast popped up. Here is BCAT's blurb:
The city’s moving forward with plans to use eminent domain to take and demolish a handful of homes on Duffield Street and homes advocates say played an important part in the underground railroad. A city-commissioned study couldn’t confirm the buildings' role in the anti slavery movement and now officials want the area for Downtown Brooklyn development. Advocates say the homes are a key piece of the borough's black history. As Sherry Karabin tells us, they're taking their battle to the courts.
You can watch it here, and if you want the broadband version, click here.

UPN9 Broadcasts pro-Duffield rally

UPN9 ran a quick piece very sympathetic to the Duffield Abolitionist homes. It was a little light on facts, f'rinstance it didn't mention that the eminent domain hearing was the reason we had a press conference today. But it shows that anger against eminent domain is commonplace.

Brownstoner: Duffield St. Hotel Site Sells for $9.5 Mil

Brownstoner reports on more dramatic developments in "Duffield Street Hotel Site Sells for $9.5 Mil":
Plans for a boutique hotel on Duffield Street appear to be moving forward independently of the contentious eminent domain proceedings that may hit the Underground Railroad houses just a few doors down. A group of investors recently closed on the purchase of 237 Duffield Street for $9.5 million, according to public records.... The forthcoming “seamless blend of ergonomics and urbanity” still has a ways to go before it graces Downtown Brooklyn, though: The DOB doesn’t show any applications filed for the demolition of the VIM building at 237 Duffield.
To read more, including user comments, click here.

The reality of these new hotels flies in the face of the justification for eminent domain in the area. Joe Chan of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership was quoted today regarding the small park that he wants to build after destroying the Duffield Abolitionist homes:
Willoughby Square has always been the centerpiece of the plan, and is an important incentive to attract private investment....

Acquisition of property is critical and necessary for Willoughby Square to move forward — and without Willoughby Square, much of this new investment, and therefore businesses, jobs and housing, will not happen.
Willoughby Square will be 1.15 acres. That's a pretty small "centerpiece" next to all these new hotels.

Well, it certainly is good to be lucky.

The Brooklyn Eagle reports that many of the new hotels shooting up in Downtown Brooklyn don't want to build new parking spaces. And why should they spend money on parking, when the City is building it for free (well, free in that the taxpayers are paying for it and private homes have to be confiscated along the way, which some people would consider "free")? A New Trend in Downtown Brooklyn: ‘Big Co-Op Parking’ — Would You Pay $25k to Own Your Spot? reports:
However, the developer has said that they will not build the parking lots under the hotels, because they are “too expensive,” and instead rely on a proposed city-built underground lot across the street. Kaufman is quoted as saying: “We are lucky that the city is building an 800-car underground garage across the street [at Washington Square Park]. We see that as an ideal situation.”

Well, it certainly is good to be lucky.

Brooklyn Eagle: City Gives Downtown Brooklyn Eminent Domain Hearing Another Try

The Brooklyn Daily published an article on the public hearing this morning, "City Gives Downtown Brooklyn Eminent Domain Hearing Another Try":
Track Data Corporation and Amber Art & Music Space — scheduled to open this month before the three Brooklyn entrepreneurs were allegedly first notified that the property they’re leasing was up for eminent domain — are among the occupants on block within the BAM Cultural District. The property on the third block, also within BAM, is a surface parking lot. The city plans to recruit private developers to build high-rise mixed-income housing with ground floor performance and arts space there.

City Councilwoman Letitia James said after the hearing, which she called “just procedural in nature,” that she suspected the blight study was created recently as the result of a legal challenge to first ruling in favor of eminent domain. “I did not see a blighted study in 2003,” she said, referring to when City Council was given the opportunity to consider the Downtown Brooklyn plan, including the use of eminent domain to realize that vision.

The advocates for the destruction of the Duffield Abolitionist homes were brave enough to offer a quote to the Eagle. Joe Chan of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership had this to say:
“Acquisition of property is critical and necessary for Willoughby Square to move forward — and without Willoughby Square, much of this new investment, and therefore businesses, jobs and housing, will not happen,” said Chan.

Mr. Chan, you're such a fatalist! In case you didn't notice, there are skyscrapers going up all around Downtown Brooklyn. Several hotels are even shooting up on the same block as the Duffield Abolitionist homes. Apparently, the real estate developers don't agree with you.

Please, please, if someone is convinced by our friends at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, let us know.

amNewYork: Brooklyn redevelopment faces Underground Railroad conflict

AM New York is the first to publish a story about today's eminent domain hearing. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) heard public testimony, as reported in "Brooklyn redevelopment faces Underground Railroad conflict":

The city's vision for a massive, multibillion-dollar redevelopment of Downtown Brooklyn ran into more impassioned objections Monday at a public hearing debating whether the city can destroy homes that may have been stops on the Underground Railroad.

The article touches on the fumbles that forced the City to hold a second hearing after Downtown Brooklyn advocates found fatal flaws in the first eminent domain findings:

After the report was issued, the city pressed on with eminent domain action to take ownership of the Duffield homes and 40 rent-stabilized apartments nearby, as well as a few other businesses. But earlier this month, after a number of lawsuits had been filed, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development withdrew that eminent domain application. An agency spokesman said it did so because of a paperwork oversight and has since been refiled.

Nobody spoke in favor the City's plans to destroy the private properties. For more, click here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mon. 10/29: Eminent Domain public hearing and press conference

City Holds Second Hearing on Eminent Domain Demolition of Historic Homes and other properites in Downtown Brooklyn

Housing Agency re-does botched hearing
after legal challenges force agency to withdraw initial eminent domain findings

What: Press Conference and Public Hearing

When: Monday, October 29, 2007
9:30 am — Press conference with elected officials and community members
10:00 am — Public hearing

Where: City Tech Auditorium – Jay Street at Tillary in Downtown Brooklyn

Congresswoman Yvette Clark, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and City Council Members Charles Barron & Letitia James will join over 50 community members, preservationists and Black historians at a press conference and City hearing regarding the City’s use of eminent domain to take seven residences on Duffield Street, widely believed to be the sites of Underground Railroad tunnels. The City is also seeking to take other homes and businesses, including three rent stabilized apartment buildings on Albee Square that house over 40 low-income families.

As a result of legal challenges by Downtown Brooklyn advocates, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development withdrew its eminent domain findings for Downtown Brooklyn earlier this month. The City’s withdrawal was an acknowledgment that it had no basis in the record for its use of eminent domain. This abuse of the powers of eminent domain would have proceeded if the City hadn’t been sued. They are now trying to move ahead by adding a blight study that has never before been made public, though it was apparently produced more than three years ago. That means that the City Council approved the use of eminent domain in Downtown Brooklyn without ever seeing the document that justified it. This is just more evidence that in New York City the justifications for using eminent domain don’t matter; it is all a pretext.

HPD announced the new hearing in a small ad in the NY Post on October 17, 2007, yet they scheduled this new hearing without notifying all the owners of the condemned properties. Isn’t it their responsibility to make sure that this is an appropriate use of ED, and not to use this process to rubber-stamp a decision that HPD has already made?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Duffield TV: What about UNDERGROUND do you not understand?

Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse has complete video coverage of the recent press conference. A new elected official— Hakeem Jeffries, the Assembly representative for the area, joined the long-time Duffield advocates. The video catches some great quotes by Jeffries, including:
The City will say the evidence connecting the properties to the underground railroad are inconclusive. It was called the Underground Railroad and not the above-ground railroad for a reason. It was illegal in the 1800s to assist runaway slaves. So it's outrageous for us to expect that there are going to be documents that say we are breaking the law with the Underground Railroad.
To see the complete coverage, click here. To see all of the Freddy Brooklyn Roundhouse videos, click here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hotelier feels lucky about destruction of Abolitionist homes

The Brooklyn Eagle published an article about a panel on hotels in Brooklyn, and its description differs significantly from an article on the same event in Brownstoner. The Eagle's article, "Hotel Development in Brooklyn: Why Hasn’t It Happened Sooner?" starts out with brightly optimistic quotes:

“Brooklyn is ripe for a luxury hotel,” said one panelist.

“Travelers are ready to see a different part of the city,” said another.

Brownstoner's article, by contrast, was titled "Brooklyn Hotel Buzz: Boom and Doom."

The Eagle did report on the destruction of parking associated with the City's plan for Downtown Brooklyn. As the article states:
The Parking IssueDuring a Q&A session, concerns about parking and the loss of some major parking lots were expressed....

With the Sheraton/Aloft, “we are lucky that the city is building an 800-car underground garage across the street [at Washington Square Park]. We see that as an ideal situation,” he said.

Very lucky indeed! Too bad the City's plans have led to decreasing parking– you might think that if the City hadn't encouraged the elimination of other parking lots that it wouldn't need eminent domain to build new parking... but I guess nobody raised that question.

(The Sheraton/Aloft hotels are rising across the street from the Abolitionist homes on Duffield, and "Washington Square Park" looks like an incorrect referrence to Willoughby Sqaure Park, the 1.15 acre grassy knoll that would sit on top of the site of the Abolitionist homes.)

Ironies abound in the Eagle article. For instance its says:
Gene Kaufman of Gene Kaufman Architects, who designed the combined Sheraton (with 325 rooms) and Aloft (175 rooms) on Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn. He believes travelers, especially foreign travelers are ready to see a different part of the city, are looking for a variation on their New York experience.
(emphasis added)

One might think the Duffield residents' plan for an Abolitionist museum would be a more attractive "variation" than the City's proposal of an underground parking lot.

City "announces" Duffield eminent domain hearing for 10/29

The City is moving forward with the next Eminent Domain public hearing for Duffield Street and Albee Square, and has scheduled it at the for time of Monday, October 29 at 10 am at City Tech (Jay Street and Tillary).

The short notice of this hearing and the failure to notify tenants and owners flies in the face of the spirit of transparent government. Please contact your NYC Council Representative to request time for the public to prepare for the hearing.

The City made some sort of huge mistake leading it to rescind its eminent domain decision, and it appears that it doesn't want anyone to examine this mistake carefully or to see if it was part of a larger problem. Please stay posted for updates.

Gothamist: Eminent Domain Lives...In Williamsburg

Gothamist writes on eminent domain all around town in "Eminent Domain Lives...In Williamsburg":

It's no secret that there's been an increase in use of the eminent domain power. High-profile projects that have resorted to it include Atlantic Yards, Willets Point in Queens, the Second Ave. subway project, the New York Times Building and Columbia's Manhattanville campus. All these takings have spawned a new term: eminent domain abuse.

This month, the city actually abandoned a plan to use eminent domain to secure properties for a parking garage and public plaza on a Duffield St. block in downtown Brooklyn - due to a technical oversight. Some of the homes were abolitionist homes involved in the Underground Railroad. While preservationists declared a victory, we're not really sure that the city is going to run away from this one just yet. In other words, another "blight" determination could be just around the corner.
Of course, the city did not "abandon" its plan to use eminent domain to destroy the Abolitionist homes on Duffield. They rescinded their eminent domain findings, and they have expressed their intention to continue pursuing their vision of a new underground parking lot on Duffield Street. We have reported on it here and here.

UPDATE: Gothamist has appended its post with a statement that I emailed regarding the term "abandoned." The City has scheduled a new eminent domain hearing on Monday Oct. 29 to continue with its plan to confiscate the properties.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Brooklyn Eagle: Withdrawal of Eminent Domain Findings Gives Hope

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle has published more details regarding the City's retraction of its eminent domain findings for Downtown Brooklyn. The eminent domain findings are required for the city to legally confiscate and demolish the Duffield Abolitionist homes and other properties threatened by the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning. In Withdrawal of Eminent Domain Findings Gives Hope to Duffield St. Preservationists, the paper reports:

Seth Donlin, spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said a blight determination that included the 21 lots on three blocks in Downtown Brooklyn in question was prepared for the department by environmental consulting firm AKRF in November 2003. But it was mistakenly not entered into public record at last May’s eminent domain hearing, requiring the reversal of the findings and a new public hearing scheduled for Oct. 29.

He said the blight determination would have to be obtained by making a formal Freedom of Information Law Request before it’s entered into public record.

“It is something that was produced specifically for the proceedings for eminent domain, and there is a specific time for which it is supposed to be made public,” he said. “Unfortunately, because of some oversight, it was not entered as it should have been [at the first hearing in May].”

Track Data, a financial firm with 150 employees; a rent-stabilized apartment building that houses 40 families; a handful of parking lots; and Amber Art and Music Space are also at risk of being displaced. Attorney Jennifer Levy, who represents one rent-stabilized tenant, and Joy Chatel, the partial owner of a home allegedly involved in the Underground Railroad, said she doesn’t believe there were any specific blight findings. Levy said the original urban renewal plan for Downtown Brooklyn found blight in very specific properties, but was later expanded to include a general area deemed blighted. This may not be substantive enough, in the eyes of the court, to justify the seizure of personal property. “I guess we’ll have to see what they have that they haven’t produced.”

“I was never briefed or given a copy of any blight study,” said Councilwoman Letitia James, a supporter of the Duffield Street homeowners.

DDDB: Hakeem Jeffries Re-emphasizes Opposition to Eminent Domain

In response to our previous post, Develop Don't Destroy—Brooklyn has posted Hakeem Jeffries' statements opposed to eminent domain for both the proposed Nets arena and the Duffield Street Abolitionist homes.

The Nets arena is part of the larger Atlantic Yards project, and like Duffield Street, calls for confiscation of private property through eminent domain. DDDB helps explain the situation in Hakeem Jeffries Re-emphasizes Opposition to Eminent Domain:
Lawyer Levy clarified, after the Assemblyman's comments, that there are two separate eminent domain takings discussed by Jeffries: it is the City of New York (NYC Economic Development Corporation) using eminent domain condemnation in Downtown Brooklyn, while it is the State of New York (Empire State Development Corporation) using eminent domain condemnation in Prospect Heights for the Ratner plan.

We agree, of course, with the Assemblyman, though we are also against the abuse of eminent domain to build 4,180 luxury housing units, at Atlantic Yards to benefit developer Bruce Ratner.
For more details and regular updates by opponents of the Ratner plan, visit

Brownstoner: Brooklyn Hotel Boom and Doom

Brownstoner reports on the hotel boom in Brooklyn, and suggests that it has peaked. Here's a paragraph about the architect of 2 of the 3 known hotels going up on the same block as the Duffield Abolitionist homes:
The credit crunch is going to cause “a bit of a shake out” for some hotel developers, said Gene Kaufman. The architect (who designed the two hotels slated for Duffield Street) thinks that projects "that don’t make sense won’t get built” as borrowers find it harder to finance their developments. And Chang said he’d personally experienced the effects of the crunch because lenders are now looking for 30 to 35 percent equity from borrowers, whereas two months ago they only expected 10 percent.
For more, including 13+ reader-comments, click here.

For an older Curbed link on the third hotel slated for the block, click here. And here's a rendering of the project at 337 Duffield:

Velmanette Montgomery urges Civil Right hearing

NY State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, the representative of Duffield Street in Albany, has written a letter urging the NYC City Council to hold a Civil Rights hearing. In a letter to Council Member Larry Seabrook, Montgomery writes to support of a hearing originally proposed by the Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance:
In an effort to develop the area, the City had selected AKRF Consultants to conduct a study of the importance of these buildings to determine if they merited preservation. AKRF concluded that it could not verify that the buildings were part of the "Underground Railroad" and therefore did not merit preservation. The buildings are now slated for demolition.

Many questions surrounding the role of the Duffield Houses in the "Underground Railroad" remain unanswered, however. There are experts in American history who are convinced of the inadequacy of the AKRF consultants and have called for further research in their historical significance, especially since that area of Brooklyn has a documented history of strong support for the abolition of slavery as well as participation in sheltering slaves while helping them escape to safe havens.
Here is the full letter: page 1 and page 2 (JPGs)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Duffield on WBAI

Eric Williams did a 5 minute story on WBAI 6:00 news about the Duffield Abolitionist homes on Tuesday 10/16. The story played about 3 minutes into the program.

UPDATE: You can hear the program by clicking here (mp3). Other WBAI archived problems can be found here.

UPDATE 2: Here is a transcription of the verbal statement made by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries opposing eminent domain both to build the Nets arena and to tear down the Duffield Street homes:
We now have a renewed opportunity given the hearing that is going to take place and the fact that the City has been forced as a result of the excellent advocacy by the councilwoman as well as the lawsuits that were filed by the able lawyers in this matter to go back to square one to renew our call at the highest level possible, to Spitzer and to ESDC, reiterating our position against the use of eminent domain, both to create a basketball arena as well as to tear down these homes connected to the Underground Railroad.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Eagle on the Times

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle has this to say about the NY Times coverage:
In an article about abolitionist activity in Brooklyn, The New York Times seems to lend sympathy to the plight of two Duffield Street property owners who claim their homes were once stops for fugitive slaves along the Underground Railroad. Noting that Weeksville, an African-American community in Crown Heights that thrived from the 1840s until the 1930s, was nearly completely demolished until preservationists managed to save a handful of houses, one Duffield Street homeowner said, “There’s no black museum in Brooklyn to celebrate the Underground Railroad … This is the house to do it in. It’s important that the children and all of the people can see what people had to go through to be free.”
The Eagle is not known to be friendly to preservationists, but it sounds sympathetic to the Duffield Street advocates. To read more, click here.

Curbed: Stunning in its monolithic ugliness pans a new Downtown Brooklyn tower:
A Sunday real estate supplement in the Post (that doesn't appear to be online) had a cover story on Downtown Brooklyn development, and there was an update on megadeveloper AvalonBay's 42-story, 650-unit rental tower slated for the chunk of land between Flatbush Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, Gold and Prince Streets. The project was announced in April, but the story provided the first glimpse we've seen of the building rendering, which is actually very stunning. Stunning in its monolithic ugliness, we should say.

Village Voice: Brooklyn Residents Chant 'Save Our Neighborhood, Yo'

The Village Voice covers the most recent protest against the Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment plan, which calls for the displacement of the Abolitionist homes and other undesirable elements (that is, undesirable according the to NYC Economic Development Corporation):
A massive throng — well, let's say a spirited assemblage — of about 100 residents of Fort Greene and surrounding neighborhoods marched through downtown Brooklyn on Saturday, protesting what they say is the demolition of a traditional African-American shopping district to make way for high-priced condos. The marchers, organized by the Brooklyn-based Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), chanted "Hell no, we won't go!" as they followed behind East New York's Approaching Storm marching band, which set off innumerable car alarms along Myrtle Avenue and Willoughby Street with its raucous beats.
For the full article, go here.

Tues. 10/16: Tish James & FUREE protest Eminent Domain Abuse

Here is a press release from the office of NYC Council Member Letitia James and FUREE:

Please join Council Member Letitia James, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), along with elected officials, community leaders, property owners, and supporters as they advocate for the preservation of historic buildings in downtown Brooklyn, and protest the abuse of eminent domain

This Tuesday, October 16th at 2:00 PM, all will gather on the Steps of City Hall for a rally in light of the City of New York’s recent withdrawal of its eminent domain plan for Downtown Brooklyn

(Brooklyn, NY) - In response to the Eminent Domain Procedure Law Petition filed on behalf of residents and businesses of Downtown Brooklyn, the City has rescinded its eminent domain findings and will hold a new hearing. This reprieve gives advocates of historic home preservation more time to use political pressure to alter the footprint that includes historic properties at risk of government condemnation.

“I stand firm with my Duffield Street constituents in protecting their historic homes, as well as the hallowed site of the Underground Railroad. The City’s objective to take these properties by eminent domain would lead to an unconscionable action with irreparable consequences. We can develop Downtown Brooklyn without sacrificing our history. Historic homes in Brooklyn should be preserved at all costs,” said Council Member James.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), has withdrawn its eminent domain determination because it failed to enter a blight determination into the public record. Now the public process must start all over from the beginning, including another public hearing on October 29th, and a 60-day determination period to follow. The community views the recent withdrawal by New York City of eminent domain use in Downtown Brooklyn as an interim victory for many hard working families, as well as business owners, who have resided on their properties for decades.

“My criticism of the Bloomberg Administration’s condemnation of historic properties is well known; I am especially critical of the seizing of homes that may have been involved with the Underground Railroad for the development of an underground parking lot,” said Council Member James adding, “I have filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court of the State of New York in support of Families United for Racial and Economic Equality and Joy Chatel. Both my constituents and I object to development that deprives future generations knowledge of this country’s history, and its involvement with the institution of slavery.”

WHAT: Press event to discuss the recent battle won against New York City’s use of eminent domain in Downtown Brooklyn

WHEN: Tuesday, October 16th, at 2:00 PM

WHERE: The Steps of City Hall

CONTACT: Amyre Loomis or Alfred Chiodo - (718) 260-9191

Black Ice Project/Underground Railroad Announces an Association to Identify Links with Duffield

What is the connection between slavery, Downtown Brooklyn and ice hockey? For escaped slaves from the South, the North was not safe. So many went to Canada, and a group called the Black Ice Project honors their struggles. Black Ice announced their support for the Duffield Street Abolitionist homes:

The Black Ice Project / Underground Railroad Announces an Association to Identify Significant Links with the Underground Railroad Duffield Safe Houses in Brooklyn, New York


Drakeford Levi of The Black Ice Project Committee... announced today an association with Joy Chatel of the Underground Railroad Duffield Street Safe Houses in Brooklyn, New York.

The association will be working in conjunction with the historians of SONAHHR, The Society of North Americans Hockey Historians and Researchers, in an effort to identify the original Quaker (Hicksites) and Black families who served as conductors and station managers of the Duffield Street safehouses in Brooklyn, New York.

Through identification and contact with descendants of these groups, the Association hopes to re-establish the historic links and organizational ties between these individual families and descendant families of runaway slaves who then settled east in the Black community of Guinea Town, Long Island and the Quaker community of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, the last station stop on the anti-slavery Underground Railroad.

SONAHHR is currently researching significant links and organizational ties to the Colored Hockey League in Nova Scotia in the late 1890s to 1900s and the league's historic ties to the New York branch of the Underground Railroad. For more information on The Black Ice Project, SONAHHR, and the Colored Hockey League you can check out the following websites:,, and
To see this announcement of their website, please go here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ripple effect of NY Times Underground Railroad article

Published two days ago, the story by the New York Times became one of the most emailed articles for a moment:

You can also view the 9-minute NY Times video here. The Times coverage created a small wave of blog coverage:
Of course, this blog scooped everyone with an 11-second video of the making the NY Times article. See for a short movie of the photographer climbing into the space that was either a coal shaft or a tunnel for escaping slaves.

Friday, October 12, 2007

NY Times prints big article on Duffield and the Underground Railroad

The New York Times published an extensive article on the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn, which explores the Duffield Street homes, and their connection to the rest of Brooklyn at the time. To read the article and see the accompanying video, go to On the Trail of Brooklyn's Underground Railroad

The Times explores some of the context of Duffield Street:

From Plymouth Church, it’s a 10-minute walk to the corner of Fulton and Duffield Streets, where the new Abolitionist Place sign hangs. The abolitionists Thomas and Harriet Truesdell lived at 227 Duffield Street in the 1850s, and William Harned, an Underground Railroad conductor, lived near Duffield and Willoughby Streets.

Even as the city unveiled the new sign, however, it was considering plans to demolish the small houses on Duffield Street as part of an economic development plan for downtown Brooklyn. New hotels, underground parking and a public square would replace much of what now stands on the block.

The article mentions the failure to find conclusive proof of Underground Railroad activity:

Mr. Greenstein acknowledged that they have only circumstantial evidence. A planning and environmental firm commissioned by the city found no conclusive proof of their claims. The consultants made no attempt to excavate that mysterious tunnel, noting in their report that “assuming that a tunnel was discovered, there would be no way of knowing if it served as a passageway for freedom seekers without corroborating artifacts.”

Still, Mr. Greenstein said, “I think there’s enough evidence here to say, ‘Let’s do an archaeological dig.’”

While maintaining a sense of balance, the article makes a very strong case for further research into the historical significance of the Duffield Street homes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A black arts center will get bulldozed for a paler version

The Village Voice writes about the NYC Economic Development Agency's plan to confiscate and destroy an arts center, in order to build an arts center. Amber Waves of Pain: A black arts center will get bulldozed for a paler version focuses on some of the racial dynamics of this controversy:

Todd Triplett and his two partners, Shaun Jenkins and Philip McKenzie, wanted to create a sort of modern-day Cotton Club right in the middle of downtown Brooklyn. And the three African-American businessmen were so in love with the idea of a do-it-yourself cultural revival, they put themselves in serious debt to make it happen....

Then, less than a month before the scheduled opening, a letter from the city arrived. Signed by a man named, ironically enough, Jack Hammer, director of Brooklyn planning, the letter informed them that the city was taking the building in an eminent-domain action.

Why? So Brooklyn could turn the building into condos and . . . a cultural center.

The article goes into some interesting details, especially the questionable role of the Downtown Brookyn Partnership. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Guy Lotus Blog: State Historic Preservation Office Never Contacted About Underground Railroad Houses

Here's a posting on Guy Lotus Blog dated today, but based on news that came out a few months ago. The NYC Economic Development Corporation hired a firm called AKRF to study the connections between Duffield Street and the Underground Railroad. AKRF reported back that there was insufficient evidence at this time of Underground Railroad activity, in part because of a NY State Historic Preservation Office determination. But according to State Historic Preservation Office Never Contacted About Underground Railroad Houses:

The New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) had never made a determination on the eligibility of the Duffield Street Houses to the National Register of Historic Places, the country’s official list of historic properties. Not only has the agency not issued an official determination (according to their records), but agency staff was never consulted about the possibility of the buildings being eligible nor did it seem that the agency was ever consulted about the larger Downtown Brooklyn Plan…

“This is a major omission on the part of the City and their consultants. The basis of the Research Report is that these buildings should not be protected because they are not eligible for any kind of historic recognition - a point that the majority of the peer reviewers disputed. That the government agency who is tasked to make this exact determination was not even consulted seems negligent at best,” said Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council.

RaceWire: FUREE Beats Eminent Domain in Brooklyn

RaceWire reports on the City's stumble in its attempt to use eminent domain in Downtown Brooklyn:
Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) announced yesterday that they won a recent battle against New York City when they received news that they would not be employing eminent
to throw 40 families on the streets.

This block that the City wants to convert into a “underground parking garage and plaza,” is not only the home to low-income immigrant families who, if evicted, will be homeless, but this block includes homes that are, “widely believed to have been safe houses on the Underground Railroad and hotbeds of Abolitionist activity.”

The eminent domain withdrawal does not mean the fight is over for FUREE and these families, but we count this as a victory that the City will not be able to take away the homes of hard working families, who have lived in the neighborhood for twenty years, in the name of development.

New York Observer: Short Reprieve for Brooklynites

The New York Observer writes about previously unreported details of the temporary lifting the City's eminent domain determinations in Downtown Brooklyn. "Thanks to a bureaucratic blunder," writes Matthew Schuerman:

The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development has rescinded its eminent domain determination for the two sites, although the agency is not backtracking from the city’s plans. Rather, HPD spokesman Neill Coleman said in an e-mail that the city had failed to enter a blight determination into the public record. That means the public process has to start over from the beginning, with a new public hearing, Oct. 29, and a new determination period. (The original hearing took place in May.)
Read more here: Short Reprieve for Brooklynites.

"City Reevaluating Duffield St. Eminent Domain Plan" ...kinda

There have been a few blogs that have covered the City's withdrawal of its eminent domain plan for Downtown Brooklyn. It's probably not clear to most people that the Duffield Abolitionist homes are not the only properties threatened by eminent domain in Downtown Brooklyn, and the non-Duffield properties have additional reasons to oppose the now-withdrawn plan.

Moreover, even though the City pulled back, it doesn't mean that they won't come back with the exact same demolition plan. But it does give neighborhood advocates another chance to argue that the Downtown Brooklyn plan has flaws that can be corrected. With all that in mind, here are links to the most recent blog coverage:

Monday, October 8, 2007

DA's probe will not stop at crimes

The Downtown Express reports that the borough's District Attorney will not only report on crimes committed by the public authorities and other agencies involved in the controversial state projects, but will rebuke public officials for wrongdoing as well.

Obviously, we're not talking about Brooklyn here. It's the Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau who will report on the disastrous fire at the Deutsche Bank fire. Here's a bit from Morgy’s Deutsche probe will not stop at crimes:

Prior to the fire, L.M.D.C. [Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the public authority in charge of the World Trade Center site] officials had repeatedly assured residents the demolition would proceed safely. Over the years, Community Board 1, environmental activists and local politicians raised concerns over many aspects of the project including the L.M.D.C.’s hiring of a contractor with alleged mob ties, John Galt Corp.; falling debris from the building; and fire safety violations.

At the end of last year, the L.M.D.C. passed direct supervision of the Deutsche building to its subsidiary, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center and it has taken it back since the fire.

Last week, it was revealed that Charles Maikish, the former executive director of the Construction Center, wrote a memo in May warning L.M.D.C. Chairperson Avi Schick that Maikish did not have enough staff to properly supervise the project.

The failure of the public authorities to adequately follow environmental laws is a familiar story to people following the Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment. The NYC Economic Development Corporation ignored relevant experts in its environmental review of the neighborhood, which in the case of Duffield was the respected academics hired to review the part of the environmental review that includes historical resources.

Manhattan is lucky to have someone from the borough-wide government willing to take a hard look. Hopefully someone from the Brooklyn Borough President's office will speak out in favor of protecting the Duffield Abolitionist homes.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Breaking news: City withdrawing eminent domain findings

In response to the Eminent Domain Procedure Law Petition filed by advocates for the residents and businesses of Downtown Brooklyn, the City is withdrawing its eminent domain findings and holding a new hearing. This does not mean the City is starting over on the issue of historic preservation, but it gives Duffield advocates a chance to use political pressure to change the footprint of properties threatened with governmental confiscation.

This might be an important victory to those challenging the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning. Please stay posted as the situation develops.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Tish and Brooklyn Paper diverge on strategies to oppose Bloomberg

City Council Representative Tish James had a letter published in the Brooklyn Papers in response to their pessimistic editorial. Here's an excerpt from her letter:
I’m concerned that your recent editorial got the purpose of the co-naming of Duffield Street as Abolitionist Place dead wrong (“Sad irony on Duffield,” Sept. 22)....

Also, I want to make it very clear that my office, and other offices of elected officials and community leaders, will not allow Mayor Bloomberg to simply make an empty symbolic gesture while it continues to pursue the condemnation of historic homes....

I thank The Brooklyn Paper for highlighting the history of the Underground Railroad in Downtown Brooklyn, and for all The Paper does in fighting to protect the soul of Brooklyn against overdevelopment.

Here is the Paper's editorial response:
We’re not sure why the Councilwoman thinks our editorial was “dead wrong” when she ended up agreeing with all its main points.

The Brooklyn Paper has done a great job covering the Duffield Abolitionist homes, but it made a mistake in its original editorial:
In a statement, several City Councilmembers said the co-naming of Duffield Street as Abolitionist Place “supports the homeowners on Duffield Street, and the preservation of their homes.”

It does nothing of the sort. In fact, it allows the Bloomberg Administration to make an empty symbolic gesture that will not stand the test of time.

By all appearances, Bloomberg wants to "commemorate" Abolitionist history anywhere besides this stretch of Duffield. The point of the co-naming was the connect the history to that specific block. Tying the history to this specific block will undermine Bloomberg's attempt to make "an empty symbolic gesture."

This blog has already been critical of Brooklyn Paper's editorial, and we posted about it here. More importantly, we all agree on the importance of this block, and these differences represent variations on the ways to oppose the Bloomberg plan to destroy the Abolitionist homes.

Firemen dying & crystal baseballs: Your tax dollars at work

It's hard to know where to start—there are just so many examples of pathetic and embarrassing abuse of the public trust by public authorities. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is always worth a few groans, and here are a couple examples from the last few days:
But don't think the LMDC is the only agency that parties hearty on the public dime. The AP reports that Taxpayers Footing Bill For Yankees' Lavish Spending, Group Says. The Yankees deny the allegations:

“Elected officials are turning a blind eye to the fact that the Yankees seem to have unfettered access to the public trough,” Damiani said. “It goes to show how the Yankees will stop at nothing to squeeze every penny from New Yorkers for this project.”

In 2001, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani authorized the Yankees to deduct up to $5 million a year on planning costs for the new stadium for five years for rent payments to the city, Good Jobs said.

...and the subsidies for "rent payments" went for things like crystal baseballs, according to Good Jobs New York.

So the NYC EDC's plan to destroy the Duffield Abolitionist homes to build an underground parking lot is pretty much par for the course. So is the NY State ESDC's failure to hire an ombudsman for the Atlantic Yards, despite a promise made 149 days ago.

The Atlantic Yards is the most visible fight against public authority abuse, but it is part of an even bigger problem. Are New Yorkers finally getting some guts to fight for good government? The answer is up to you, dear reader.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Brooklyn Eagle: Forest City Plans New Highrise East of Flatbush

Get ready for the Flatbush Avenue Corridor. This is the newest name for the Houston-style buildings sprouting up in the area straddling Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene. The Brooklyn Eagle reports on the most recent skyscrapers in "Forest City Plans New Highrise East of Flatbush:"
In a surprise development, this newspaper has learned that Forest City Ratner Companies plans to build the largest residential building so far announced east of Flatbush Avenue.
For those of you who do not follow development issues manically, this is part of the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, a massive development that is going up near the proposed Atlantic Yards development in neighboring Prospect Heights.

It appears that no major variances are needed for this project. At 405 feet, the new building would conform to the height guidelines of 415 feet as set in the 2004 rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn.

Although the site is not technically within the BAM Cultural District, it joins the 28-story Forte residential building in the next block on Fulton Street.
Here's the Duffield Street connection. The EDC continues to claim that the destruction of the historic Abolitionist homes is necessary for the development of Downtown Brooklyn. The fact that massive buildings are shooting up suggest that big developers don't need extra incentive. And it's a mighty strange incentive that EDC is offering on Duffield– an underground parking lot instead of Abolitionist homes that have promising links to the Underground Railroad.