Brooklyn developer claims some local leaders out to ‘sabotage’ $683 million project

The developer behind the much-delayed $683 million Brooklyn Village project in uptown slammed what he calls an effort to “sabotage” the plans by some local officials and community leaders.

It’s been three years since county commissioners chose BK Partners, led by African-American real estate mogul Don Peebles and his local partner Monte Ritchey, to build apartments, condos, offices, shops and restaurants and hotel rooms on the site.

But the project has faced potential hurdles and new opposition from some local leaders and community advocates.

Last week, Charlotte City Council delayed a vote on approving a pair of revised agreements with the county and Charlotte Housing Authority. One would extend the county’s deadline to sell Marshall Park, part of the Brooklyn Village site, to a developer by 10 years, and the other would increase the project’s affordable housing guarantees. County commissioners narrowly approved similar agreements in June with a 5-4 vote.

It’s unclear how the city council’s deferral affects the project. Through a spokesman, the county declined to comment on the vote.

Peebles, a New York-based developer, said he has no intention of abandoning the project. But he said if the city doesn’t approve the revised agreements, it could have serious consequences.

The outcome if the city doesn’t approve it is that a significant amount of the project, or all of it, doesn’t get built,” he said. “And they’re going to have to go to their constituents and explain that they blew nearly $400 million at least of minority and women owned business contracts and opportunities.”

In recent months, some county commissioners elected after BK Partners was chosen have questioned the project, planned for 17 acres in Second Ward. The area was once home to the African American neighborhood of Brooklyn until the city tore down hundreds of homes, businesses and churches under the federal urban renewal program in the 1960s and ‘70s, displacing more than 1,000 families.

A group of civil rights and religious leaders are seeking compensation from BK Partners for former Brooklyn residents and their descendants to receive affordable housing, retail space and other compensation.

Other residents and officials are dismayed that the plans include reducing park space on the site by more than half in a city often ranked poorly among its peers for parks, greenways and accessibility of outdoor spaces.

But Peebles denounced the concerns over park space as “tone deaf” to the hundreds of millions of dollars the project will provide for minority and women-owned businesses. Under the redevelopment agreement that county commissioners approved last year, BK Partners’ goal is to spend at least 35% of contracting dollars with minority, women and small business enterprises.

Economic justice

On one of Peebles’ visits to Charlotte, he recalled seeing the National Guard, which was called in after protests erupted over the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in 2016.

Now, he says officials are trying to trip up a project that could provide economic opportunity for minorities, one of the issues that emerged out of the protests.

“There had been civil unrest and protest by a community that was outraged by the lack of economic inclusion, and the way that people of color are treated in that community,” he said. “And here we are with a transformative project ... and there are people trying to stick their leg in the aisle, so that they can a little bit more square footage of open space that’s not even being used.”

Peebles believes city council members don’t have enough information about the project and the economic lift it will give to minority and women-owned businesses.

He also criticized county commissioner Susan Harden, who has raised concerns about the project, for prioritizing park space over economic inclusion.

“There were no parks in Brooklyn,” he said. “Marshall Park was a result of the actual displacement of the black community.”

Harden said she hopes the project provides economic opportunity for minority, women and small business enterprises. But she noted that the 35% figure is just a goal. “There’s nothing that legally compels him to do that,” she said.

And she said she’d still like to see more affordable housing units and park space included in the project. But, she said, the “ball is in Mr. Peebles’ court” to look into adding anything to the development.

Peebles said that he can’t afford to build more affordable housing unless the county can give a price adjustment or another piece of land.

“Based on the economics we have now, this is the project that we’re building,” he said.

Community engagement

Harden called on Peebles to come to Charlotte and make his case to the community.

“I think ultimately the project should move forward,” she said. “But I’d like to see the developer be responsive to the community — and that’s not an unreasonable request.”

Peebles pointed to the multiple community engagement meetings BK Partners hosted after the firms were selected to lead the site’s redevelopment, and other trips he and his associates have made to Charlotte since.

And he said he intends to speak with city council members about the benefits the development.

“If I have to go door-to-door and explain to the community, I will,” he said. “Because this project is far too important for what it stands for.”

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Danielle Chemtob covers economic growth and development for the Observer. She’s a 2018 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and a California transplant.