Developer for South Bronx High-Rises Trying to Move on From Controversial Party

It's been three months since a party designed to generate buzz about a South Bronx neighborhood triggered a backlash by residents. Now, the developer who threw the bash is trying to clear the air and move forward. NY1's Erin Clarke filed the following report.

Developer Keith Rubenstein says his company, Somerset Partners, plans to transform the South Bronx neighborhood of Port Morris when it breaks ground on high-rises along the waterfront this year.

"Imagine in a couple of years from now when this is kind of open space along the water for the public, with park benches and lights and planting, and people could come and walk with their children here and feel safe," Rubenstein said while near the waterfront. "I think that's a good thing."

But that vision was overshadowed by a Halloween party that Somerset threw to get people talking about the area. Some thought it sought to romanticize the Bronx is Burning era.

"It was insulting," said Mychal Johnson, the co-founder of South Bronx Unite.

The developer says he wasn't trying to glorify the bad days.

"What we would have done differently was make sure our message was clear," Rubenstein, who is the president of Somerset Partners, said. "There was a whole misunderstanding of what was meant as art."

Now Rubenstein wants to make clear his goals: improve the neighborhood by hiring locally for construction work, create green space to reduce the high asthma rate, and empower local artists, points that he made in a recent op-ed.

"He's talking about all the things that all of us want, and it was so refreshing," said Vaness Polanco, the owner of Verde Flowers.

From the backlash, the developer found a silver lining.

"The great thing about it was that it got us thinking about more interaction with the community," Rubenstein said.

"The stir that came from that party was not necessarily a bad thing," Johnson said. "I think we need to show people that we're watching."

The question is, though, are the people who had such a strong reaction and the business owners in this area willing to forgive and move forward?

"People make mistakes," said Charles Said, the owner of Charlie's Bar & Kitchen. "I think anything that we bring to this neighborhood to help the growth and the development is a positive thing."

But one of the most vocal critics is still cautious.

"This piece was just a reaction to all of the negative press, that's all it was," Ed Garcia Conde, the founder of Welcome2The Bronx.com, said about Rubenstein's op-ed. "Until they show me otherwise, I don't know what to say."

Rubenstein says he'll keep his word.

"I think that we'll make them feel that they were right to give us a chance," he said.

The project is to be completed in 2020.

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