Andre Mitchell remembers the days when Spring Creek between Schenck Avenue and Fountain Avenue was a wasteland.
It was where the kids who couldn’t afford summer camp went to play. Mitchell, one of eight children to a single mother in public housing, would ride his bike there, past the marshland and piles of illegally dumped trash.
Now the founder and director of Man Up!, an organization that seeks to empower young people and stop street violence, Mitchell sits in a new office on a new street in the middle of the former dump.
The office opened in May and belongs to East New York Restoration Local Development Corporation, where Mitchell is board chairman. The organization was created to oversee the fulfillment of a $3 million Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) negotiated four years ago with the developer of the Gateway Phase II project, Related Companies.
The CBA has become the subject of a contentious debate among community groups and City Council candidates. While supporters say the CBA will help East New York residents take advantage of the area’s transformation, critics say too few community groups were included in the negotiations or stand to benefit from the agreement.
A second ‘Gateway’
Gateway Phase II is a development project on the land south of Flatlands Avenue and north of Related’s presently existing Gateway Mall. The project includes a new school campus opened last year, more than 600,000 square feet of retail space to be completed by the fall of 2014, over 2,200 units of affordable housing completed or under construction, a day care, new parkland, a bus station, and additional infrastructure. The mall expansion alone will generate 800 construction jobs and 1500 permanent retail jobs, says Joanna Rose of Related Companies.
The project follows the completion of the Gateway I mall in 2002, the same year Councilman Charles Barron took office. Barron says that Gateway I, while successful, provided fewer jobs than the community had originally expected and did not empower local business people, motivating him to pursue new forms of engagement with the developers.