Sunset Park

Industry City launches ad campaign to build support for rezoning

Opponents say it won't work

April 12, 2019 Ned Berke
Industry City has agreed to delay filing its rezoning application to allow community involvement to continue. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

Industry City‘s backers rolled out a marketing campaign in an apparent effort to build support for their rezoning proposal, a plan stalled at the request of Sunset Park leaders who say they want more community input.

The organization is spending hundreds of dollars a day on Facebook ads, a campaign that began on April 4. The marketing appears to be an effort to demonstrate public support for the project to Councilmember Carlos Menchaca and Community Board 7 Chairperson Cesar Zuniga, who are leading the charge to delay the rezoning process.

Industry City representatives would not say if the ad campaign’s goal was to put pressure on Menchaca and Zuniga or to kickstart the rezoning process. Instead, they framed the marketing as part of the complex’s ongoing advertising strategy.

“From the time the effort to reactivate Industry City was launched six years ago, community engagement has been an essential element of our success. The latest round of advertising and outreach continues that practice and is meant to encourage people who want a job or support with growing their business to tap into Industry City’s resources as a community partner,” said Industry City spokesperson Lisa Serbaniewicz.

A screenshot of two Industry City ads from Facebook's political ad archive.
A screenshot of two Industry City ads via Facebook’s political ad archive.

The ads ask viewers to “Please Show Your Support” and “Send a Letter Now,” linking to a form letter the viewer can send to Menchaca and Zuniga.

The letter says that Industry City has “proven that they are good neighbors and are active and engaged members of this community.” It closes with the following statement:

Industry City’s proposal is an opportunity to bring thousands of new jobs and new opportunities to Sunset Park, which will benefit people like me, my family, my friends and my neighbors. I urge you to join me in support of this proposal and help bring opportunity to our neighborhood.

The Facebook ads don’t explicitly mention rezoning, but they do tout Industry City’s plan to “create 15,000 on-site jobs and another 8,250 in the community,” key selling points of the proposal. They also showcase the facility’s “progress” in attracting businesses and local spending.

Industry City officials took the first step last month toward a 10-year, $1 billion redevelopment when they announced they filed an application to rezone. The proposal would increase the complex’s total usable space from 5.3 to 6.6 million square feet and create 15,000 on-site jobs through the building of hotels, retail space and academic centers.

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Menchaca, who represents Sunset Park, threatened to quash the plan in the City Council if its backers didn’t slow down the process and allow for more community input. He issued the warning to Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball in a joint letter with Zuniga. Industry City withdrew its application.

According to CB7’s Zuniga, the marketing campaign isn’t having much of an impact on his stance.

“We got about 40 form letters without addresses from people who support [Industry City]. I assume most are workers or business owners, but they are useless without telling us their connection to the community. They might as well be from Neptune,” he said.

Menchaca said that the spending highlights an imbalance of resources between Industry City’s backers and the grassroots opponents.

“This campaign reminds us that Industry City is a well-resourced private actor that wants the community to listen to them,” Menchaca told the Brooklyn Eagle. 

Zuniga agreed that Industry City is better resourced, but emphasized his commitment to creating a more community-led development process.

“Is it a fair fight? Of course not. I’m a community board chair, a volunteer. Our budget is limited, but that’s not going to stop me from using the small microphone we have to engage as many people as possible to have a conversation about this.”

Seven versions of pro-rezoning ads have appeared on Facebook, with four active as of April 12, according to data in Facebook’s library of ads containing political content. The database shows broad ranges of spending and viewership for political ads on the platform. Industry City’s seven rezoning ads have shown up in Facebook users’ feeds somewhere between 114,000 and 266,000 times.

Industry City officials declined to say how much they were prepared to spend on marketing to push rezoning forward. According to the Facebook database, the organization has already spent somewhere between $1,700 and $6,900 — between $185 and $767 per day of the campaign.

It’s a small amount in the context of New York real estate advertising, but more may come if the rezoning marketing campaign extends beyond Facebook.

“Industry City has been advertising for the past several years on a mix of platforms, including social media, print media, community newspapers such as the Brooklyn Eagle, digital publications and a myriad of others,” said Serbaniewicz.

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