Artists, residents voice outrage over 5Pointz demolition

File photo / THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

5Pointz will soon be gone, replaced by two high-rise apartment buildings.

At a public hearing hosted by Community Board (CB) 2 on Wednesday area residents packed the MoMA PS 1 lobby to discuss the special permit application by thee Wolkoff family, owners of 5Pointz for decades, to build the complex.

The plan looks to demolish the graffiti adorned warehouses, located on Jackson Avenue and Davis Street, and begin the construction of the rental apartment towers by the end of the year.

“It [Long Island City] is in the midst of great change, positive change,” said David Wolkoff, who is leading the development. “We believe that with the new and attractive addition to the Jackson Avenue corridor that we are adding to this fantastic transition. It’s a transition from the past and present into the future.”

The two buildings, one reaching 47 stories and the other 41 stories, are planned to have close to 1,000 rental apartments, 30,000-square-feet of outdoor public space and 50,000-square-feet of retail space on the first two floors.

But residents and members of the Long Island City art community are looking to save their “beautiful landmark.”

For the past 11 years, 5Pointz has welcomed aerosol artists to use the property, free of charge, just as long as the art was community friendly. Through that time, the warehouse has blossomed into an canvas for artists from all over the world.

Trying to keep the art community involved in the development, Wolkoff said the plans include art walls where murals can be painted, seven artists’ working spaces and a gallery for works to be presented.

“The building will be a homage to art and artists while creating a new and wonderfully exciting place to live and to play,” said Wolkoff.

Yet, though Wolkoff strongly emphasized continuing to work with the art community, members of the audience, including artists who have left their marks on 5Pointz, questioned his intentions and voiced their opposition to the proposed plan.

“In the past when development happens, the neighborhood is going to change and I’m not sure if the local artists are going to be here,” said Gabriel Roldos of Local Project, an arts nonprofit which is one of the tenants at 5Pointz.

Jonathan Cohen, founder and curator of 5Pointz, took the stand Wednesday night to thank the Wolkoff family for giving him the chance to take on the project 11 years ago.

Yet Cohen’s appreciation quickly shifted to disappointment.

“My only regret is that the same people who allowed me to, unknowingly, create such a cultural gem don’t see it as I do,” said Cohen.

As the meeting progressed, protesters gathered outside holding signs against the floor-to-ceiling windows. Some of the signs, reading “FOR THE GOOD OF L.I.C.? OR THE…WEALTH OF WOLKOFF??”, accused the family of neighborhood neglect and one sign asked CB2 chair Joseph Conley to listen to the community carefully.

“In America there is change, but there are also some things that ought not be changed,” said George Colon, a graffiti artist and founder of SSB, one the largest graffiti crews in New York City. “If the price of this is worth the future generations, then it’s your conscience.”

Angel Del Villar, whose claim that the community owns the building was met with cheers, asked those present to join him in the future to make a chain around the building to prevent the demolition.

“Do you guys think that any of that stuff is as attractive as the most beautiful building in the whole world,” asked Del Villar. “Is it mandatory to change things we’ve gotten right? Why don’t we change the things we’ve gotten wrong?”

Community Board 2 will vote on the special permit application at its next meeting on June 6 and if the first step is approved, 5Pointz is planned to be demolished by the end of the year, with the first tower constructed by 2015.