City flexes eminent domain muscles: Brooklyn NY Bay News, 9/6/07

HPD okays taking of 95 Rockwell Place property; Track Data Corp to get booted

By Stephen Witt

In their 20 years at 95 Rockwell Place, employees at the financial services firm of Track Data Corporation have walked over crack vials and outlived the Wild West days of the city when the annual murder rate exceeded 2,000 victims.

But surviving [to] the good times may ultimately mean the firm’s departure from the borough and the city.

The city Department of Housing Preservation (HPD) on Aug. 20 approved the use of eminent domain to seize the company’s building because it sits in the BAM Cultural District.

“We would like to stay here. We don’t want to move. We’ve been here a long time,” said Rafi Reguer, vice president of marketing and corporate communications for the firm.

“There used to be a welfare hotel next to the building and crack vials on the street. We had a rule that people who stayed late would have to leave two or three at a time because it was so unsafe,” he recalled.

Reguer explained that Barry Hertz, whose family owns the building, founded the company about the same time Bloomberg LP was founded and it currently has a little over 100 employees.

Both Reguer and HPD spokesperson Seth Donlin said that although the use and right of eminent domain was used, that doesn’t mean that right will be exercised right away.

The company has spoken to its lawyers and they said once the eminent domain steamroller gets started, it is rubber stamped and there is little that can be done, Reguer said.

Donlin said that the owners of 95 Rockwell Place, as well as 20 others on three blocks in Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn, were notified of the eminent domain ruling after hearings in May and it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anybody.

“All were additionally notified in 2004 so this should come as no surprise to any of the owners of the buildings,” said Donlin.

“There are always relocation funds made available for private individuals and companies displaced by eminent domain,” he added.

Donlin said the funds are not allocated at a flat rate, but depend on the type of business and/or residence and other variables.

Reguer said they were approached by city officials to sell the property, but discussions never got to the point where an offer was made because the owners told the city they didn’t want to sell.

Shane Kavanagh, spokesperson for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a quasi-government agency overseeing the development of Downtown Brooklyn and the BAM Cultural District, said the site will eventually house a mixed-use building including cultural facilities, and affordable and market-rate housing above it.

The city expects to start seeking developers for the site in the fall, he said.

Kavanagh said the original plan for the BAM Cultural District as established in 1999 calls for a mix of space for visual, performing and media arts organizations, along with arts-related educational programs, a variety of housing, public open space and amenities such as restaurants, cafes and retail.

But all this doesn’t help Track Data Corporation, which is now looking at all their options, but want to remain in Brooklyn.

“It’s a little frustrating because I know there are departments in the city employing people full time whose job it is to lure other companies to the city like ours,” said Reguer.

“We get calls all the time from business development councils from various municipalities from as far away as Manitoba [Canada], but we can assure you we’re not moving there,” he added.

Janel Patterson, spokesperson for the city Economic Development Corporation, whose role in part is to help businesses stay or relocate in the city, said the agency is aware of the situation and has been in contact with the company.

“It is early in the process and we will work with them on relocation possibilities as we progress,” said Patterson.

Brooklyn NY Bay News: http://www.baynewsbrooklyn.com