The New York City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve a plan to turn 5Pointz, the colorful graffiti mecca in Long Island City, into two $400 million towers.
The warehouses that make up 5Pointz, covered in spray paint many layers thick, could be razed as soon as the end of the year to make way for the new development. For graffiti artists around the world who have dreamed of one day seeing their art on its walls, and for many locals who find their eyes powerfully drawn to the colorful site from the nearby 7 train, the demolition will be a sad day.
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But City Councilman Jimmy Van Bremer, the Queens Democrat who represents Long Island City, stressed that there was no way the council could have saved 5Pointz.
“It’s a privately owned lot,” he said. “The owners were always going to tear it down. I want that to be clear.”
The owners of the site, the Wolkoff family, only required council approval because one of the proposed towers, at 47 stories tall, is higher than zoning laws allow. Even if the council had voted no, Van Bremer said, the warehouses would almost certainly have been torn down anyway to make way for a scaled-down version of the development.
“The issue here was to get the best deal we could for the neighborhood,” he said.
Negotiations with the Wolkoffs were focused on preserving the freewheeling artistic legacy of 5Pointz and on how the project would improve Long Island City, he said.
Last week, in an effort to secure more goodwill ahead of the vote, the Wolkoffs agreed to nearly triple the number of affordable housing units in the towers to 210 from 75, out of a total 1,000 units.
The buildings will also include space for art studios, and the artists who have been displaced from the crumbling 5Pointz warehouses will be given priority access. About 10,000 square feet of wall space, most of it along the Davis Street edge of the development, will be designated for aerosol art. 5Pointz graffiti curator Jonathan Cohen, best known by his tag Meres One, will be invited to oversee the new space.
The project will include 32,100 feet of public space and a park that pays homage to the site's artistic past.
Graffiti artist Chayenne Chaka was at 5Pointz working on a mural even as the council voted. He was just one of the many artists who have made the pilgrimage to 5Pointz over the past decade, traveling all the way from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to paint there.
"Something like this isn't just a building," he said. "It's a piece of history."
That view is shared by many devotees of the colorful warehouses, some of whom mobilized a group called Save 5Pointz to petition for the site to be granted landmark status — an effort that ultimately failed.
Van Bremer said he sympathized with the people who were devastated at the thought of losing the iconic site.
“I’m sorry for the people for whom it became a very special place," Van Bramer said. "Maybe artists, or just art lovers. I've met with those folks. They said people had found themselves there and had left the streets because of the community they found there."
"And I agree with all of that, but it doesn’t save the building.”
Additional reporting by Aaron Adler. Follow Emily Johnson on Twitter @emilyjreports