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Philip DePaolo, "Terminal Marketing" in Real Estate, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Philip DePaolo writes:

"Terminal Marketing" in Real Estate

Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Philip DePaolo

Today’s article in the The Real Deal really got me going. Let’s review the facts...

An ad on craigslist.com in March 2006 for the Greenpoint Terminal Market showed the property on the market at $481 million.

The ad stated, “Land, Land and More Land, On The Waterfront, 852,160 SF, 10 Lots, $481,000,000 ... Investors, Developers ... Contact Broker & Dealmaker Frantz.”

The ad went on to include extensive descriptions of the individual lots, zoning calculations, lot coverage and the public waterfront access plan (as required by the new zoning regulations).

"Offers were being made daily on this piece," Joseph Kosofsky, a lawyer for Mr. Guttman, said in a May 4th NY Times story. "Everybody wants to be your partner."

One prospective buyer stood out: Baruch Singer, 52, a veteran developer. His offer did not have the sort of restrictive clauses and riders that Mr. Guttman found in the others, Mr. Kosofsky said.

"It was all cash," Mr. Kosofsky said. "It looked like a slam-dunk, in terms of a simple deal. They were going to buy it without any conditions or anything else."

Mr. Singer was involved in a dispute in 2000 with tenant groups and the federal Housing and Urban Development Department. The department blocked Mr. Singer from bidding on a Harlem property the department owned after it was alerted to a long record of complaints against him. Over the years, city housing officials have cited Mr. Singer's buildings for thousands of code violations.

According to the lawsuit Mr. Singer has filed in connection with the deal for the Greenpoint buildings, he planned to develop two of the property's six sites into condominiums quickly, and then pour the proceeds into the four remaining sites. Mr. Guttman agreed to help the deal through the maze that is familiar to anyone in theNew York City real estate business, the lawsuit states.

"All of it looked like it was a go," Mr. Kosofsky said.

Mr. Guttman had hired Perkins Eastman Architects to prepare a proposal for development of the site. Their proposal called for about 2.6 million square feet of residential space over 14 acres stretching from Oak Street to Greenpoint Avenue.

Several tall buildings were in the proposal, the biggest being 35 stories.

But the developers found that they could not begin work on the two fast-track sites until they won approval from the Department of City Planning for a "master plan" for the whole property.

That would have been impossible to do before the Jan. 17 closing date, the lawsuit states. A spokesman for the planning department said there was no requirement for a "master plan," but that a plan for waterfront access was required.

Mr. Singer's financing for the property fell through, Mr. Kosofsky said.

Mr. Singer contends in the lawsuit that they "orally agreed" to put off the closing date for at least six months. He says Mr. Guttman, continued to help him with the Department of City Planning after the closing date had passed.

"But Guttman has apparently had a change of heart and now pretends there was no agreement to extend the closing. The lawsuit says Mr. Guttman has kept the $42 million down payment. Some of the details of the troubled sale were reported in the May 3rd New York Sun.

Members of the Municipal Art Society and the Williamsburg Greenpoint Waterfront Preservation Alliance along with the Preservation League of New York State were attempting to preserve and Landmark the site.
In fact, the League named the industrial architecture of Williamsburg and Greenpoint to its list of Seven to Save, or the Empire State’s “most threatened historic resources” list, for 2006.

Then on May 2nd 2006 the Greenpoint Terminal Market burned to the ground. It would take ten alarms, 80 pieces of FDNY apparatus, and 400 firefighters 36 hours to bring the blaze under control. It was the city's biggest single fire in more than a decade, the most extensive department operation since 9/11

The size of the blaze made it look like arson, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

"The level of fire when they arrived was consistent throughout the location. In other words, it didn't look like it started in one spot," Kelly said.

Also, what happened to the alleged security Guttman was supposed to have the night of the fire? The Terminal Market mills were built to burn slowly, to give workers time to escape and fire crew’s time to arrive. Fire was an ever present hazard in mills. This fire had help getting going. Although these were old, abandoned buildings, they still should've burned slowly. Multiple buildings were fully engulfed within six minutes.
WNYC'S Brian Lehrer and Tony (FDNY) Scalifani stated fire marshals had found five spots in the area that burned where accelerant had been poured I had also heard this from sources. Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said that arson was immediately suspected because the fire began shortly before dawn, when the area was deserted, and many buildings were burning fiercely when the first engines arrived — both indications of "suspicious origin," he said.

Then on June 7th 2006 the authorities declared they had their man, Leszek Kuczera, a homeless alcoholic.

Cops reported Kuczera had confessed to setting the fire while burning the insulation off copper wire he had hoped to sell a scavenging practice known as "mungo."

Amid feelings that he'd been set up as a classic fall guy one fire marshal told me, "If that's a mungo fire, its the biggest mungo fire in history. Kuczera soon unconfessed. According to Sam Getz, Kuczera's Legal Aid lawyer, Leszek, who speaks very little English, was "hung over" when questioned and his "confession" was nothing more than a jumbled memory of a different fire that had occurred the year before. Plus Kuczera had an alibi.

Zbigniew Sarna, a contractor living in Pond Eddy, a small upstate town, near Monticello, swore Kuczera was working for him the morning of the fire.

The alleged arsonist Leszek Kuczera said he was clearing brush at a campground more than 80 miles northwest of New York City when the 10 alarm fire broke out at the former Greenpoint Terminal Market in Brooklyn on the morning of May 2 2006.

"I never told them I did it,” "They must have misunderstood." Mr. Kuczera, said that detectives who interrogated him after his arrest were confused by his words. He never admitted to starting the fire, but had told investigators about a similar fire he started a year ago in the warehouse. Mr. Kuczera, said he was hung over during his interrogation.

The New York Police Department's top spokesman, Paul Browne, said witnesses have told police that "the suspect was in Greenpoint before and after the fire."

Zbigniew Sarna, a mason in Pond Eddy, N.Y., has said that Kuczera was working for him at the campground from April 19 until May 11.

A month later investigators, from the Police and Fire Departments and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, invited Mr. Sarna to the sheriff's office inMonticello, N.Y., and sat him down in a small room on the second floor. They grilled him for about 10 hours. They did not offer him water or food, he said. Mr. Sarna said, the detectives showed him pictures of eight or nine men. One of them was Mr. Kuczera, he said.

During questioning, a detective told him that the police had a videotape of Mr. Kuczera taken in Brooklyn on the day of the fire, Mr. Sarna said.

"He said: 'I got video evidence. I got video of Kuczera drinking in a bar in Greenpoint. Someone is buying him drinks.' "Mr. Sarna described the detective as "unfriendly." Another investigator, a Polish speaking woman, refused to speak to Mr. Sarna who speaks English haltingly in Polish, he said.

Mr. Sarna said he picked up Mr. Kuczera and two other men in Greenpoint on April 19 and drove them north to his house, where, he said, Mr. Kuczera stayed until May 12.

So if the NYPD had a tape of Leszek drinking in a bar the day of the fire and witnesses that they claim saw him the day of and after the fire I think they would have wanted to go to trial after all this was the largest fire in NYC since 9-11

They had no case!

Leszek Kuczera accepted a plea bargain in State Supreme Court that spared him any prison time. Under a deal with prosecutors, Mr. Kuczera will spend about eight months at an inpatient alcohol treatment center upstate, then serve three years' probation,Leszek admitted no guilt, and in fact denied guilt to the judge and was allowed to simply plead "no contest" in order to get the deal.

So now our community has no closure. We still have no answers as to what happened and who was responsible. I have asked our Councilmember David Yassky to request access to the reports by the fire marshals and all state and Federal agencies assigned to the Greenpoint Terminal fire, and if the Fire Department won't provide those reports, the Councilman should subpoena them. I will not let this issue rest until our community receives the truth