Donald Capoccia, New Chair of the Battery Park City Authority, Plans to Execute Resiliency Plan

Capoccia, a developer at BFC Partners, told Straus News that he’s excited to see the BPCA’s Resilience Action Plan move forward under his chairmanship. The project looks to gird Lower Manhattan against the effects of climate change. He also hopes to contribute $120 million in BPCA treasury funds towards affordable housing, which would be unlocked after the Authority strikes new ten-year agreements with city agencies.

| 08 Nov 2023 | 10:15

The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) wants everybody to know that “it has a plan.” Specifically, it has a Resilience Action Plan. The public-benefit corporation–founded in 1968, responsible for 92 acres of Lower Manhattan known as “Battery Park City,” and named after former NY Governor Hugh L. Carey–has adopted a new modus operandi. It involves “a greater focus on innovative and sustainable maintenance strategies that meet the challenges of a changing climate,” an imperative that became increasingly clear after the ravages of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Donald Capoccia, the new chairman of the BCPA’s board (and a member since 2011), is aware that the resiliency plan will shape his tenure. Fortified flood barriers are already complete, a southern “coastal flood risk management system” is under construction, and a northern element is being designed in parallel. (FAQs about both the Northern and Southern BPCA resiliency initiatives can be found here.)

Capoccia also has extensive experience in affordable housing, another core plank of the BPCA’s mission. After all, he’s the founder and managing principal of BFC Partners, an outfit responsible for developing a slew of banner housing projects.

Such vast undertakings inevitably draw bubbles of community opposition. The historic version of Wagner Park recently fell victim to the BPCA’s coastal transformations, and not everybody was pleased. Capoccia, ever-cognizant of rising sea levels, has plenty of thoughts on whether to weld ambitious design to adequate public input. He also told Straus News about stewardship, past resiliency mistakes, and what works best when it comes to multiplying NYC’s affordable housing stock.

What experience do you hope to bring to your leadership of the BPCA’s board? What will you focus on?

There are four basic areas I’ll be focusing on, priorities that are also supported by my fellow board members: housing affordability, our waterfront Resilience Action Plan, our great public parks, and ensuring that we’re responsible stewards of public resources. The ground underneath all of the buildings in the BPCA is a resource that needs to generate revenue.

Where is the Resilience Action Plan headed? It’s obviously a very active process.

We are in construction of the first phase of the southern project. We’ve had a few delays here and there, but not anything that you’d consider unusual for a project of this size. We’ve had a lot of cooperation from our neighbors. The job is going well. Unfortunately, part of this project was the removal of Wagner Park. I have to say that I think Wagner Park represents about ten percent of our park area, so we still have 90 percent open and available. The timeline for the project overall is another year or year-and-a-half. That completion will not only be the sub-grade and waterfront structural component, but will also be a beautiful brand new park.

As far as affordable housing goes–a specialty of yours–what is the BPCA doing on that front? What do you hope to accomplish?

We have been in discussions with both condominium and rental buildings over the last several years. We were able to successfully incentivize some rental owners to expand the number of affordable units they have. It’s modest, but it’s important whenever the opportunity arises to add even one affordable unit to the stock in New York. It’s a good thing. The other area of housing affordability, which is much more substantial, is something called the Joint-Purpose Fund. We convey millions of dollars to the city of New York via net revenue that is not used to run the BPCA. There’s a formula that generates funds. The city, through the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), uses that money as gap funding for affordable housing projects. The last Joint-Purpose Fund agreement termed out three years ago, and we’re in the process of drafting a new agreement for a ten-year term. With 120 million dollars in our treasury earmarked for the Joint Purpose Fund, we believe that it will have an impact throughout the five boroughs.

As far as event programming goes, what is the BPCA looking to do in the near future? What is the BPCA excited about in terms of public involvement?

Our northern phase of the resiliency project, which is in design right now, has had extensive and very broad involvement from local residents. They have been invited to every public meeting that we have on design questions and issues. We’ve given a fair number of walking tours, where we’ve been able to explain to the residents not only the nature of the project, but how it’s going to impact the spaces that they’re looking at right now. Public engagement is paramount. Our residents are essentially our partners, and have they have to be brought into the mix. I’ve always believed that the more eyes there are on a project, the better.

What are you personally most excited about with your new appointment to board chairman?

The prospect of shepherding this resiliency project through construction. I would love to get through the southern first phase with the team. To me, this work can’t be called anything other than essential and critical to the future of New York. I’ve been on this board for quite some time, since 2011. I was there during Superstorm Sandy. I saw firsthand the terrible damage that was done. We came up with an interim resiliency plan, which involved deployable devices. Obviously that’s not the answer. We now have construction documents approved by all parties, so the new plan is gonna come to be.