Quinn Supports Concept With $100,000 Grant
By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — The Brooklyn Navy Yard is so desirable to industrial and commercial firms that there are currently 100 companies waiting to get in, said Andrew Kimball, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp.
DUMBO has become a haven for high-tech firms not only because of the quality of its office space but because entrepreneurs and employees “are attracted to Brooklyn,” said Tom Montvel-Cohen, chair of the DUMBO Improvement District. “They like the quality of life here. We don’t need an incentive program. This is a new phenomenon — no one has experienced it before.”
And Tucker Reed, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, said Downtown is a natural location for high-tech businesses because “we have a 10 percent vacancy rate — and when you have 17 million square feet of space, that’s a lot of space.” While in the past Downtown focused on back-office space for financial, real estate and insurance firms, he said, it’s time to diversify.
For all these reasons, the three above-mentioned public service executives gathered for NYU-Polytechnic University’s Leadership Forum and Innovation Think Tank, moderated by NYU-Poly President Jerry Hutlin. This year’s theme was making DUMBO, Downtown and the Navy Yard into a “Brooklyn Technology Triangle” that will be able to attract hundreds more tech firms.
Giving a short introductory speech was City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who revealed that the City Council will provide $100,000 in funding for a 10-month study on how to implement the concept.
Reed wondered whether the “triangle” should be a trapezoid, since Pratt Institute and the Brooklyn Army Terminal could also be part of the concept. Other locations were also proposed — Kimball asked, “Why shouldn’t the Jehovah’s Witnesses buildings be filled with tech companies in five years [after the religious group locates upstate]?”
One immediate concern was how to unite the three areas, which are not naturally contiguous. Reed suggested enhancing the “pedestrian experience” and creating a “pedestrian Downtown.” Kimball stressed the need for improved bus service. The imminent availability of rental bikes was also mentioned as a plus.
If these areas are to grow and attract more firms, universal wireless access is a must, the panelists said — not just in parks or outdoor plazas, but everywhere.
Kimball also stressed job development. Technology courses “can turn $25,000-a-year and $35,000-a-year employees into $45,000 and $50,000 employees who can move into the middle class,” he said. Computer update courses and certificates can help programmers and other high-tech personnel who haven’t been working for a while update their skills, he added, and make them desirable in the job market once again.
In addition, Kimball talked about Downtown Brooklyn’s tech-oriented high schools — Westinghouse, the Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women and others — as a resource for employers. “The trouble is,” replied Montvel-Cohen, “that a lot of the new firms don’t know that these schools exist.”
On the quality of the new high-tech employees in general, Montvel-Cohen said, “They’re not like the traditional employees who work from 9 to 5. They come in and they work 24/7.”
The panelists all agreed that the process of making the areas they represent into a high-tech powerhouse can’t be a top-down affair — the business and technology communities need to contribute ideas.
“We’re the enablers,” said Reed. “They’re the thought leaders.”
In addition to the City Council, the new study will also be funded by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and the DUMBO Improvement District. Preliminary study findings are scheduled to be released in 2013.