Protesters crash Industry City wine festival

May 14, 2019 Jaime DeJesus
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Sunset Park residents took to the streets on Saturday to rally for a second time against Industry City’s plans to rezone — this time, interrupting a “wine and artisanal food” festival.

Grassroots nonprofit UPROSE, which previously protested the rezoning proposal in March and also organized this weekend’s rally, alleges that Industry City’s plan to expand the waterfront’s usable space would displace Sunset Park residents.

On May 11, residents, clergy members, business owners and members of a group called Protect Our Working Waterfront Alliance joined UPROSE in crashing the complex’s Brooklyn Crush Wine & Artisanal Food Festival, where they stressed the ramifications of gentrification to attendees.

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“This was about [events like] Brooklyn Crush and the commercialization of an industrial sector,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE.

“There are lots of places in New York where people can go for those things, and industrial sector should not be that place,” she said, noting also that Industry City’s current uses “are inconsistent with the community’s needs and the future needs of this community.”

The group wanted festival-goers to understand that their event space comes at a cost for the environment, Yeampierre said.

“People are making the connection between Industry City and the impact it has on small businesses and our residents,” she said. “And they know it means displacement.

Yeampierre added that most people who come to Sunset Park to attend events at Industry City might not share the community’s concerns. “One of the things that we assume of a lot of people that come to Industry City for wine or yoga is that they are concerned about climate change,” she said.

“They may not care about our community and they may not care about our displacement, but they need to know that their decisions are driving climate change.”

The perks proposed by Industry City haven’t impressed UPROSE, Yeampierre said. “[They’re] like, ‘We’ll put on a movie or a concert and you’ll forget that what we want is this land and that we want to be able to generate millions of dollars into our business — but you get a movie,’” she said.

In the view of residents like Yeampierre, Industry City has made it its mission “to repurpose the industrial waterfront for the needs of the wealthy.”

Industry City has argued that it has made efforts to bring jobs to Sunset Park residents, primarily through its Innovation Lab, where not-for-profits run the program.

“They had to do something so that they could use it to promote Industry City,” Yeampierre said. “They’re saying ‘Look what we’re doing with these organizations.’ Some are led by people that don’t even live in this neighborhood.”

Industry City personnel tried to address concerns during the protest. Lisa Serbaniewicz, a spokesperson for Industry City, responded to the rally in a statement.

“Since 2013, Industry City has generated tremendous economic activity — including investing more than $400 million in private funds to reactivate the complex, quadrupling the number of on-site jobs from 1,900 to more than 7,500, and growing the number of businesses from 150 to more than 500 – and has taken great strides to ensure those opportunities stay close to home,” she said.

“The overwhelming support we have in the community and the partnerships with community-based organizations are amongst the factors that have created this success. While we prefer to engage in thoughtful and civil discourse, we welcome all input from our neighbors.”

In April, when asked if the jobs will help long-time residents remain in the area, Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball said, “The answer to gentrification is not to slow down job creation. It’s actually to increase job creation and make sure there is a range of sectors that are accessible to folks at a broad range of education and experience levels. There are entry level jobs available that have pathways upwards, but there are also jobs that are middle range, whether design, production manager or longshoreman.”

Correction (1:30 p.m.): Elizabeth Yeampierre said that she assumes people coming to Industry City for wine and yoga are concerned with climate change, not that they are not concerned with climate change. Her quote has been updated to reflect this correction

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