Save Domino Leads Williamsburg’s Fight Against Overdevelopment

The rain did little to dampen the spirits of the crowd outside Magic Cobra Tattoo Society in Williamsburg at 4am last night. It was the wee hours of Friday the 13th—a typical Brooklyn 24-hour tattoo marathon. Big drinking holidays like New Year’s and Halloween are slow days in the ink biz. But Friday the 13th’s are big. There was a three-hour wait, but a hot Brooklyn crowd saw it as an event.

DJ and fashion statement Valissa Yoe held court, Vala Durvett, the manager of The DL, popped in after work. New Raven GM, ex-Le Baron, ex-subMercer Armando Alexander blistered with a Fiona Apple handbag.

Luca Venezia (a.k.a. Drop the Lime), founder of dance label Trouble and Bass got a ladder with 13 steps. He will be celebrating the 7th anniversary of his party at Sullivan Room tonight. He told me he has brought in old-school Brit rave duo Altern-8 to play along with Jesse Rose and Oliver Dollar. James DeLuca scurried over after his gig at Clockwork.

It was like that. Club employees who sleep in BBurg riding the wave of fun. Williamsburg is all things to some people. It is a ghetto of love for those who call it home. The restaurants are mostly good and reasonable. The boutiques and even delis cater to a mindset long ago abandoned in Manhattan. This is all in danger. New building development along the waterfront promises to bring hordes of the less fabulous as 40-story dormitories for slaves are being planned.

The problem is that the ‘hoods are overcrowded as it is now, with pockets of new construction everywhere. Rents are near Manhattan level or more and the artistic, creative types who gathered by the Vagina Tree in McCarren Park and other landmarks can’t afford to live here anymore. There are lines to get on the L train in the morning rush. It’s hard for anyone to complain as the hipsters displaced the Latinos, Polish and Italians in a gentrification wave that started around a decade ago.

At Magic Cobra, the crowd was indifferent to the dilemma, coming down off work or drinks and merely wondering what $20 tat to get. For the record, I got a snail with the number 13 formed in its slime. Amanda got a diamond on her finger. She hinted she always wanted one there. Inside, hordes of tattoo artists—including Adam Korothy, Joe Truck, Kati Vaughn and Woodz—satisfied all with 13-related ink. They’re still there as I write this.

There are people out there trying to stop this lifestyle-threatening development. A culture is at stake. Tomorrow, Main Drag Music and Save Domino (a not-for-profit community group fighting the proposed demolition of the Domino Sugar Refinery to make room for an additional 2,200 luxury apartments) are co-hosting a magical rooftop show "to celebrate the diversity and culture of Williamsburg" at 330 Wythe Avenue starting at 4:30pm and running till midnight. Comedian Seth Herzog will headline. Bands include Dragons of Zynth, See Through, Desert Stars and Heaven.

I asked local hero Janelle Best, the event’s co-organizer, to give me her three cents:

"This event is a protest concert. I am a musician who has lived in the area for at least a decade. Change is inevitable, and over the last decade a lot of change has occurred: Local businesses have flourished, turning our neighborhood into a cultural aesthetically pleasing place to live, which is definitely a plus. But the waterfront development is a huge crisis. They are going to be building 40-story buildings along what is considered a floodzone, almost doubling our population. And now all of what makes Williamsburg interesting and alluring is being pushed out. Businesses are unable to afford rent and greedy brokers are finding corporate businesses who can afford the rent to come in. As artists, we are all about aesthetics, and the aesthetics and charm of our neighborhood is vanishing. Our rents are getting too high and eventually the musicians and artists are going to be pushed out as well. Many have already left the neighborhood. It was easy to reach out and get my fellow band pals to hop on this event because it is a matter close to all our hearts. We want to protest the overdevelopment of our neighborhood and bring more awareness to the community."

I also had a chance to ask Save Domino founder Rufus some questions.

What’s the mission of Save Domino?
We at Save Domino have built a grassroots campaign that takes a hard look at overdevelopment occurring in our community: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Since our inception, we have garnered thousands of supporters via our online petition at and from our canvassing street teams in all five boroughs. Our aim is to preserve and protect the cultural integrity of the Brooklyn waterfront from exploitative new developments. Our objective is to expose developers with the support of our friends and Council Member Steve Levin (District 33 Democrat) who has promised to uphold the vision of outgoing New York City Planning chair Amanda M. Burden. Levin has gone on record insisting our community needs to have much better and affordable housing options, culture, living wage jobs and more open green spaces. 

Do you think that’s possible?
It’s very possible now that New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn will no longer stand in the way of our councilman, who can assuredly make decisions for himself—keeping in mind the best interests of our community, not developers as Quinn has always supported. Culture and diversity are the building blocks for any community, not condos. We have to remember that Williamsburg is a unique community with lineage tracing back to the working class and building up to the current generation of middle-class innovators.

Which developers are you currently targeting?
The developers we are attempting to fight back are Two Trees Management of the Domino Sugar project and Park Tower Group of the Greenpoint Landing project.

How bad has overdevelopment become in NYC?
Keep in mind this fact: Since 9/11, nearly 40 percent of the city’s landmass will have been rezoned by the end of Bloomberg’s reign—probably his most significant legacy, especially considering the new construction the zoning changes enabled. Sadly, all of this is targeted to people of a higher socioeconomic status, which means displacing thousands of current residents, predicated on the broken promises of affordable housing and jobs for their community. In a September 8 New York magazine article discussing the Brooklyn waterfront, Amanda Burden said, "When we propose projects like this, the only thing we can trade on is people trusting us. So to have that trust eroded at all—it’s painful every time I go there." Hence, SAVE DOMINO//SAVE BROOKLYN is the last wall of defense for our community.

Does gentrification have to displace the lower income class from their communities?
Apparently yes, according to the "self-certifying" processes of Housing Preservation & Development for the City of New York. A required process of ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) now allows faulty infrastructure data based off "expired" environmental impact studies. This process of malfeasance steps aside the necessary data to accurately portray the needs of a community, leading to serious issues with hyper-density when it comes to urban planning. Such issues include waste management, sanitation, sewage, traffic and transportation, just to name a few.

Can you give an example?

A well-known example is the Bedford Stop subway platform. It’s a fact that during operation, 50 percent of the time it runs at or above maximum capacity for safe operation. The fact is that the city is placing development over infrastructure and it’s the community that suffers, displacing those who needn’t leave and creating perpetual cycle that feeds the insatiable appetite to sell, sell, sell off the ‘hood. The data doesn’t support what’s being built and will not be able to sustain itself.

How did you get the performers for tomorrow’s event?
We have been in the neighborhood for quite some time and we are working with people who have lived in the neighborhood their entire lives. Together, we have an extensive reach and were able to pull in some vibrant creative talent.

image: Aymann Ismail

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