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The Economic Development Corporation is offering businesses $1.5-million to operate a test kitchen in the building, again

A Dean deferred: Crown Heights office plex looks to replace 3rd Ward, but city mum on where the money went

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The city might have a food fight on its hands — winner take $1.5-million.

That is the amount that the city pledged to do-it-yourselfer company 3rd Ward to start a foodie business center in Crown Heights before company execs abruptly pulled the plug on their whole operation in October, leaving artists and teachers in Williamsburg and Philadelphia cut off and without refunds and the grant and the Dean Street space up for grabs.

The city says it handed the corporation a chunk of the $1.5-million grant before it folded, but it will not say how much. The money was meant to jumpstart a so-called “food incubator” as part of a development in the former Studebaker service station between Franklin and Classon avenues. The Mayor’s Office, Borough President Markowitz, and the city’s Economic Development Corporation hand-picked the artsy company for the foodie project in February 2012, but the company collapsed suddenly last month after failing to raise $1.5-million to plug an apparent budget hole, leaving members and employees with just days to pack up their stuff.

Now the city is asking business owners to pitch their plans for how to run the culinary business center that will serve as a workshop for small-batch picklers, salsa-makers, and their ilk, according to an Economic Development Corp. spokesman.

The Mayor’s Office and the city development corporation refused to speak on the record about the status of the grant money given to 3rd Ward, as did Brooklyn Flea founder Jonathan Butler, who is financing the development. 3rd Ward and Next Street, a bank that reportedly took over some of the art company’s assets did not respond to requests for comment.

Borough President Markowitz would not discuss the money either, but did issue a statement.

“This food incubator, which continues to move forward, promises to be a crucial component to economic development in one of the most economically-challenged areas of the city,” Markowitz said, emphasizing that minority business owners should be considered to run the project.

The rest of the building’s office space is proceeding on schedule, with an opening planned for Jan. 2014, said Chris Havens, a realtor who is quarterbacking the project on behalf of Brooklyn Flea founder and investor Jonathan Butler.

The four-floor industrial building will include a 250-seat ground-floor food court and a beer hall on the Bergen side of the building, Havens said. And at least six “creative” tenants have inked leases for the building’s top three floors.

According to the real estate broker, all the interest in the project shows there will be no trouble finding an operator for the test kitchen or the building’s shared office space, which 3rd Ward was also supposed to run.

“There’s never been less space or more demand in Brooklyn,” Havens said.

The Dean Street office complex also has the financial backing of BFC Partners and Goldman Sachs.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at jlutz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.
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