5Pointz owner defends move to gentrify area

By Bill Parry

An anti-gentrification banner found hanging along the front of the doomed 5Pointz warehouse on Jackson Avenue in Long Island City did not faze the building’s owner, Jerry Wolkoff.

“I have nothing against it. I just didn’t understand it,” he said. “What, did they think they were hurting me?”

Two street artists from Brooklyn, known only as gilf! and BAMN ( By Any Means Necessary) put up the banner Sunday morning. Fashioned after yellow caution tape found at construction sites, the banner read “Gentrification in Progress” in bold black letters.

“It’s a conversation starter,” gilf! said. “I understand the need for housing, but at what cost? We don’t have to destroy years and years of graffiti and hip-hop culture for another soulless glass structure. There’s got to be a better way.”

Wolkoff thought the banner’s message was a positive one.

“I don’t take it as a negative because it’s true — gentrification is in progress,” he said. “I’m going to change the whole neighborhood and make it great.”

He said the new population that moves into the two high-rise towers he will build will transform the area and make the neighborhood businesses thrive. But first he has to tear down the building, at 22-44 Jackson Ave., which was known around the world as 5Pointz, the graffiti mecca, for the last 20 years.

An asbestos abatement project inside the block-long complex is nearly finished and, contrary to rumor, Wolkoff said it was being done by union workers.

“There are two different unions. I chose one and the other one is upset about it,” Wolkoff said.

He went with Local 12A instead of Local 78 and Wolkoff believes that is where the rumor started.

Local 12A President Jaime Soto said, “Yeah, it’s them because they’re not on the job. I’d be saying the same thing if Wolkoff was using Local 78.”

Several calls to Local 78 were not returned.

Wolkoff said the asbestos abatement should be finished in two weeks and then he can apply for the demolition permit so he can tear down the building, making way for the 1,049-unit residential towers.

“We’re not stopping. I can’t wait to get into the ground and get these buildings started,” Wolkoff said.

Wolkoff got the green light from a Brooklyn federal judge in November and then enraged the artists community by whitewashing the 350 graffiti murals under the cover of darkness. The last of the artists, Meres One, closed his office and left when his lease expired Dec. 1.

But still the tourists come. On Friday, New Zealander Lee Farrell climbed down from the roof on a rusted fire escape.

“Any idea how to get into the building, mate?” he asked.

The 29-year-old backpacker had just flown in from Berlin, where the street-art scene is still thriving.

“They all talked about 5Pointz, so I had to see it. I had no idea the graffiti was covered over and the building is coming down,” Farrell said. “At least I had a great view of the city from the roof.”

When told of the visitor, Wolkoff said, “Maybe I better take down those fire escapes before someone gets hurt.”

He added that he has people keeping an eye on the complex, but he does not have security guards on-site.

“I have it fenced off and locked up,” he said. “I don’t need security because there’s nothing in there. What are they going to steal, a doorknob?”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718.260.4538.

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