Residents, some of whom have not gone out to meetings in the community before, showed up to make OSA members and other residents aware of their views, whether for the new proposed space or the old one.
The room was almost unconsciously pitted, as one side of the room in the Ainslie Street Swinging Sixties Senior Center seemed to favor keeping the concert series at the East River Park while the other wanted it moved to 50 Kent Avenue. Other residents wanted the concert series to be cut entirely, while others spoke up for more family-oriented entertainment.
Steve Hindy, owner of the Brooklyn Brewery and chairman of OSA’s executive board, began the discussion by recalling the unsafe Williamsburg he first moved into and comparing it to the Williamsburg today.
“I don’t think that 20 nights of concerts compares to what the waterfront used to be, the aggravation that used to arise from homeless drug addicts on the waterfront, the crime that existed back then,” he said.
But despite his understanding of the concerts’ role in the neighborhood, he said that he “would not want that activity in front of my house,” regarding the post-concert crowds and activities. “I do not want to attempt to do the concerts again at the state park," he said. "I want to move to 50 Kent.”
The public discussion was a response to complaints about the noise associated with the shows and post-concert activities.
“We are still concerned about things associated with the concerts: crowd control, traffic, the noise, the drug peddling, parking and break-ins, destruction of private property, public urination," said resident Jackie Meyer. "I’d like OSA to take responsibility for concert-related problems.”
“This is supposed to be a park for us, for the community, it’s not supposed to be a concert venue,” said another resident.
But other residents, such as Adam Leshowitz, who lives directly across from the state park, don’t see a problem with the concerts.
“I personally don’t find the concerts to be that much of a destruction in my life," he said. "I don’t think if the concerts were back there next year, it would pose a threat to my family’s well-being.”
Another resident, Jason Schwartz, echoed him. Though he thinks it’s better to move the series than not have it at all, he believes moving the concerts to a lot with “no view” would be a mistake.
“I’m concerned that the revenues generated are going to decrease when you take away half of the reason people come to a show,” he said.
The new proposed lot between North 11th and North 12th streets is currently an empty lot designated to become part of the Bushwick Inlet Park, a park space promised in the 2005 waterfront rezoning but one that hasn’t been fulfilled because of the city’s lack of budgeted funding for the development.
The surrounding area is manufacturing and industrial zoning in contrast to the East River State Park, which is bordered by mixed-use zoning and residential development.
The proposal would open up a site that is currently off-limits to the public, making it accessible.
“We hope that the concerts at this location will also encourage continuing development of Bushwick Inlet Park,” said Stephanie Thayer, executive director of OSA.
The lot would be able to hold the same capacity – 7,000 people - and the site is conveniently located closer to the L and G trains. But there are no city or river views.
OSA is proposing 20 shows - enough ticketed shows to pay for the infrastructure and subsidized free shows and create funding for parks.
Thayer also noted that the OSA wants to continue diversifying the entertainment to satisfy all the neighborhood demographics, noting that OSA is particularly interested in adding Polish and Latino programming.
“In my opinion we’ve got three major benefits to the relocation of 50 Kent,” said District Leader Lincoln Restler. “One, we have a concert series that is no longer in a park all summer, opening up that park for the community. Two the concentration of residents near the 50 Kent site is so much smaller, and thirdly, we have double the resources to invest in local parks as a result of the change in location. For all of these reasons I think this is going to be a beneficial outcome.”
Another concern brought up by residents is where OSA’s fundraising money is going.
Thayer noted that OSA has “raised significant money and made significant improvements.”
Last year, OSA raked in $350,000 in net proceeds, which went toward installing solar lights in the park. For 2011, OSA expects to raise $250,000. Thayer noted that a great deal of the money will be invested in the state park.
“People want to see that stuff is moving,” said resident Christine Murray. “I hope that with this move we see big changes. People want our parks to be better, they need to see that the money is going more to the actual parks than anything else.”
Thayer and OSA board members will discuss the community’s feedback, but have clearly indicated they want to move the concert series to 50 Kent to force the city to move forward with the promised open space.