Developers Bail on Gowanus Canal

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The canal!
The canal! Photo: New York Magazine

Toll Brothers, a development company, once imagined it would turn the banks of the Gowanus Canal into a sprawling, modern, 500-unit apartment complex, where young professionals would stare out their glass windows and watch water taxis glide by like gondolas. Unfortunately, the canal itself is an odorous body filled with sewage, algae feeding on human waste, and substances described as "black mayonnaise." Still, Toll Brothers had vision — until now. Since the federal government designated the waterway a "Superfund site" in March, against the wishes of Mayor Bloomberg, a $500-million, ten-plus year Canal cleanup has begun, and that's just too long for Toll Brothers to wait to develop the site, so they've bailed on the project. “Fifteen years of having our money out the door and not having a return didn’t make financial sense," said David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice-president for the development company. Toll Brothers left behind a $5.75-million down payment they'd already made on canal-front land south of the Carroll Street bridge.

Though the city and developers opposed the "Superfund" label, fearing it would stigmatize the canal, some people who live around there are okay with all this: "This is the right thing for the Gowanus corridor,” said area resident Linda Mariano. “The land might sit there for now, but we still have a future. We want healthy water and healthy land and open space. It shouldn’t just be for people who live in condos and co-ops.” One day, ten years down the road, the canal might even hold substances that just look like regular mayonnaise. [Brooklyn Paper]