Gowanus soundstage fights for its life at City Hall

Eastern Effects continues battle against NYC DEP

June 16, 2016 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Cinematographer Chris Scarafile with his daughter, Darwin, on hand to support Eastern Effects. Eagle photos by Andy Katz
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Eastern Effects, Inc. Founder and CEO Scott Levy brought his battle with New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to the heart of the enemy camp on Wednesday. At City Hall, he joined his supporters who were armed with thousands of letters in support of his beleaguered Gowanus soundstage, which now faces eminent domain proceedings as part of an agreement between the EPA and DEP.

“In all cases, eminent domain should be avoided,” U.S. Rep. of the 7th District Nydia Velazquez wrote, adding, “EPA did not require that NYC exercise eminent domain.” In a statement of support already delivered to the EPA, actress Edie Falco had written, “If they cannot find space, productions will turn to other cities, costing New York City jobs and valuable tax revenue.”

MORE: Gowanus studio that films FX’s ‘The Americans’ fighting closure

On June 7, the EPA officially accepted the city’s plan to raze Eastern Effects’s 270 Nevins St. location to build a staging area for the excavation and emplacement of a combined sewage overflow tank [CSO], which the EPA has deemed necessary before actual dredging of the Gowanus Canal can begin.

“Scott has worked so damned hard building Eastern Effects,” said Thomas Dodd, owner of the Bushwick studio Brooklyn Fireproof.

Settling in Gowanus nearly two decades ago, Levy expanded Eastern Effects, Inc. into a campus of three buildings. The soundstage at 270 Nevins St. is the largest, measuring some 40,000 square feet, and currently the production site for FX’s acclaimed show “The Americans,” which has been renewed for at least two more seasons, as well as numerous other TV and film projects. Levy has spent $5 million transforming the one-time factory into a class two stage, fulfilling the NY State Office of Film and Television’s stringent requirements that ensure producers a substantial tax break when using such a stage.

Beneath a hot late-spring sun, Levy mustered his forces, passing out boxes of letters to be hand-delivered to City Hall officials. Briefly coordinating their entry into City Hall proper with a member of the mayor’s staff, Eastern Effects supporters marched up the steps, led by Levy; cinematographer Chris Scarafile; his daughter, Darwin; and SAG-AFTRA board member Marc Baron. Inside the columned rotunda, City Hall staffer Jessica Ramos received the boxed letters.

“The ball’s in City Hall’s court now,” Levy said.

The DEP agrees. “The city is substantively engaged with Eastern Effects, continues to look at all possible staging sites and will work diligently and creatively to find the best path forward,” DEP spokesman Ted Timbres told the Eagle.

Even Mayor de Blasio — who has been criticized by some community groups and film industry players for what they claim is maladroit handling of the tension between small business and the imperative to clean up the continent’s most polluted waterway — offered assurances during a press conference later that same day: “We want to help Eastern Effects, and we’re very willing to. Our folks are engaged with them, and there’s time. I certainly understand their sense of urgency, but there’s time, because the actions — from what I understand — [that] would negatively affect them are some distance in the future. So we’re going to work very hard with them to find a solution.”

But Levy argues that productions are chary of booking space in a location that might not exist, even if the actual time-line of destruction is still off in the future.

Next on the agenda is a proposed tour of the studio scheduled for June 24, which Levy hopes will persuade key players in the eminent domain drama that his studio is worth preserving in its present location.

“This is my life,” he concluded. “Everything in my life has led up to this studio.”


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