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Steve Ettlinger

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Shocker: Brooklyn Jobs And Housing The Old-Fashioned Way

Posted: 11/18/11 12:59 PM ET

We need more Red Apples and fewer Barclays Centers.

The Brooklyn Paper just reported that the new Red Apple supermarket that just opened on Myrtle Avenue in Fort Greene hired over 70 workers, many of whom are from the public housing projects sitting across from it. In fact, the human resources director for the chain says, "Almost all the jobs have gone to people from the area."

Wouldn't we love it if more major construction could generate that kind of result!

In light of the all the subsidies given to major corporations to create jobs, like Chase and Forest City Ratner, it stands out. After all, Chase, the original downtown Brooklyn subsidy magnet for job creation, has either eliminated or moved most of its jobs.

However, because only the arena is being built at this time, there are few regular jobs being created; an arena is not the same job-generator as an office building, of course. Nor is a residential building going to create that many jobs, and only one is likely to rise next year.

FCR's subsidies for its Atlantic Yards/Barclays Center will total almost $2 billion. Well, Red Apple says they only got this: a job fair and training sessions at the Ingersoll Community Center put together by Councilmember Letitia James and District Leader Lincoln Ressler, among others. The city did re-zone the area, but that was a planned re-zoning for a larger area, not a special exception for a well-connected developer like FCR.

Furthermore, the store is part of a 95-unit apartment building. Hmmm ... they created jobs and housing, and did it on their own? No lobbying Albany or City Hall? No extended relationships with officials indicted for bribery? Owner John Catsimatidis of the Red Apple Group says the project was privately financed. How refreshing! No crony capitalism here, it seems.

And what about the market? The building, known as The Andrea, was entirely rented within six months of completion (These are on the low end of the market, great deals for a new building, with rents just below and just above $2000 a month for a one-bedroom -- but not classified as "affordable" -- those will come in later construction).

Our city is filled with developments that don't feed at the public trough, even if they do quite often get some tax breaks or other routine encouragement. Even better, some government projects simply but profoundly stimulate development, such as the incomparable High Line Park in Manhattan, where many self-selected, motivated developers have profited by building, on their own, cool new hotels and apartment buildings. The New York Times calls it "an economic dynamo" -- and the Mayor says that all the neighborhood commerce "more than makes up" the money the city spent on it, having created 8,000 construction jobs and 12,000 jobs in the area.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? I certainly had always wondered why the city didn't simply build over the Vanderbilt Yards, an 8-acre site, and create a park, leaving the development around it to organic market forces. No need to override zoning, no muss, no fuss.

Meanwhile, kudos to Catsimatidis and Red Apple Group for their development the old-fashioned way, with their own cash and vision, and congratulations to the city government for making this all work.