Collective Real Estate: A New Model for Vanishing Public Spaces?

By Oona Milliken | [email protected] 

 

After an 18-month long fight, advocates for halting the sale of Greenpoint’s Park Church to developers GW Equities LLC are still pushing. In front of an audience gathered in the backroom of The Palace on Dec. 13, Jeremy Hook, an activist pushing to keep the church intact, announced that the sale has been paused by the Attorney General’s Office until January and community members can find a way to get enough money to buy the church. Hook’s proposal, under the name Commonplace, is to pool money from interested investors in order to own the property as a community collective. 

 

“This is an opportunity that we can win,” Hook said. “There is a mechanism that exists by which many, many, many hundreds, even thousands, of people can collectively raise funds to purchase property in New York City.” 

 

According to their website, Commonplace is meant to be a public space that is open to Greenpointers of all ages and walks-of-life to have a spot to gather. Their website reads: 

 

“What if there were a space in your neighborhood, like a giant living room, where you could meet your neighbors for a communal meal, play ping-pong with a stranger, see a concert with friends, schedule a meeting with collaborators, practice your hand at life drawing, or dance until late under a spinning disco ball?” 

 

The collective’s obstacle is raising enough money to make the proposition a reality. Hook said his goal over the holidays was to show the Attorney General Office that enough people had pledged money to halt the sale, approximately $1.25 million of the $4.8 million needed to beat GW Equities’ offer of $4.7 million. Hook said that people have already pledged $375,000, with $825,000 left to go. 

 

“I think we need it pledged, not in a bank, just pledged on a sheet that I can forward to the judge and say ‘Call any of these numbers,’” Hook said. “And these people will say that, ‘I did indeed pledge that amount of money,’ now I’m going to try and turn that pledge into a mechanical thing.”

 

The Attorney General’s Office was not available for comment to verify Hook’s claim. 

 

Commonplace is working with NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative, a non-profit organization that seeks to make the process of collectively buying land and property in New York easier. David Glick, a co-founder of REIC, said the money collected from community members would go into an existing bank account that could be used to purchase the church. 

 

“We see [REIC] as a way of democratizing the tools that are normally restricted to a few, putting them in the hands of everyday workers to have more of a voice and be empowered through crowd investment,” Glick said. 

 

Lyn Pinezich, a filmmaker and a Greenpoint resident, said the Commonplace proposal was incredibly exciting. Pinezech said she has been disappointed in seeing so many semi-public spaces being converted into real-estate developments and did not know that organizations like REIC existed.

 

“In the past, this would have been a slam dunk for the developer,” Pinezich said. “However, these sorts of structures that are apparently in place now that I hadn’t ever heard of before, are really encouraging, because I do feel that these communal things that benefit a community outweigh the value of an individual person, especially in a building that has never been a commercial space.” 

 

Mikel McCavana and Sam Palumbo, attendees of the presentation, said they would both pledge money to try and make Commonplace a reality. McCavana said he had attended music shows at Park Church before the pandemic and valued the church’s role as a community gathering area. 

 

“My first memory of the church was going to this ambient noise and projection show. Very sick,” McCavana said. “I’m really happy living in this neighborhood and I would be sad to see a space, like a potential community space, not being used to its full potential.” 

 

On whether or not the Commonplace plan would become a reality, McCavana said he wasn’t sure, but wanted the proposal to go through. 

 

“I have no ability to conceive of whether or not it’s going to be successful, I have no idea. I want it to be, love it to be successful,” McCavana said. 

 

With the January deadline looming, Greenpointers have a ways to go before Commonplace can be set into motion. Still, Pinezich said she wanted the residents of the community to stay hopeful and not give up on Park Church quite yet. 

 

“This is not a pie in the sky idea, that a community can value something and it carries weight for once,” Pinezich said. 

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