The City Council unanimously voted in favor of a land-use variance to transform a warehouse adorned with aerosol art, known as 5 Pointz, into a mixed-use residential complex with artist studios, commercial businesses and a park on Wednesday.
The final decision is no doubt a disappointment to the artists and art enthusiasts for the graffitied 5 Pointz building who gathered on Oct. 3, along with their opponents, in a drastically different setting from the spray-painted walls of the warehouse in Long Island City: the City Council chamber.
“We are in the midst of a great and positive change in Long Island City and taking down these tired industrial buildings is helping to add to this transition,” developer David Wolkoff, whose family owns the building, said at the hearing.
G & M Realty, which owns the property with the Wolkoff family, is confident that a new complex complete with 500 bike spaces, 1,100 residential units, art galleries and 12,000 square feet of designated walls where aerosol artists may continue to paint will be a win-win for everyone. Supporters of the graffiti and street art haven disagree.
“I do not believe this special permit is more beneficial to the community than what is currently standing,” Rebecca Kennedy, one of dozens of speakers, said. “We all remember Sept. 11 at 5 Pointz. Each year they do a tribute and anyone who passes by is allowed to participate.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who represents the area and worked to create a proposal that would allow G & M Realty to develop without sacrificing the wants and needs of the artists and his constituents, said the changes the Wolkoff family and G & M Realty made to their original proposal are a good compromise for the community.
“There is a commitment to the arts in this building,” Van Bramer said before the council voted. “G & M Realty has agreed to increase the amount of artists studio and gallery space to 12,000 square feet.
“Furthermore, this space will be available to local artists at reasonable rents. G & M Realty has also agreed to offer Johnathan Cohen (Meres) from 5 Pointz the opportunity to curate the nearly 10,000 square feet of art panels and walls in the building. It was important for me to honor the history of the building over the last 20 years and to recognize what it had become to the graffiti and aerosol art world. There will be significant amenities to the community as well. The applicant will build a public park that is over 32,000 square feet that will create desperately needed green space.”
But even with the jobs, green spaces and art galleries that the Wolkoff family promises will be included, 5 Pointz supporters say demolishing the crumbling building is disrespectful to the art, the artists and the hundreds of people who take in the painted walls each year.
“Artists are very selfless, and at this point, bigger isn’t always better,” Marie Cecile Flango said. “I am very concerned that the soul of Long Island City is going to be lost and while we appreciate David and Jerry for trying to provide wall space on the new building, I’m afraid it will just remind people of what we lost.”
Jerry Wolkoff firmly assured that while he respects the artists and all they have done, the building would come down regardless of what the City Council decision was as G & M can build 620 units as of right
“Not too many people respect aerosol artists as much as I do,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re taking the building down no matter what and if we don’t rebuild, we wouldn’t have the walls to bring the art back. I keep trying to explain that the people that do the aerosol art are welcome back.”
The hearing continued on and on with the Wolkoff family insisting the art will be brought back and may even be better than ever, while the artists continued to argue that losing 5 Pointz will kill a special part of the city.
“There is nothing like the building that is 5 Pointz in Dublin, where I’m from, or in the world,” Paul Joice, an artist, said. “The building welcomes everyone to come there and be creative, and the loss of 5 Pointz would be a blow to the worldwide art community.”
“We do not plan on forgetting what 5 Pointz was,” David Wolkoff said. “We’re planning to have a rotating exhibit of 250,000 images to continue a retrospective of those pieces that have adorned the walls. Our artist space will first and foremost go to local artists, and we plan on partnering with local arts organizations in the area.”