After quietly moving their headquarters in late 2013, crowdfunding giant Kickstarter held a public housewarming in Greenpoint on the heels of its five year anniversary. The outdoor, day-long festival celebrated the people and organizations who have benefited from the peer-to-peer support platform and garnered the attention of political leaders looking both to support new businesses and local communities often skeptical of change.
From her time as a city councilwoman, Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna recalled, “the most common complaint from the [established] community was ‘We are not invisible.'”
Reyna then saw the event as a test case for Kickstarter’s community openness, due both to Greenpoint’s rapid gentrification and the company’s aspiration to act, in CEO Yancey Strickler’s words, as a public trust working in “the interests of everybody.”
On Saturday tensions were noticeably absent as the PitchBlack Brass Band marched down Kent Street to start the festivities. With instruments blaring they strode past tents housing various Brooklyn-based Kickstarter campaigns like Snap Hot Dogs, Bender Bound and Greenpoint’s own Boneyard Pets.
Throughout the day attendees also toured the company’s new home inside the renovated Eberhard Pencil Factory, where a gallery of Kickstarter-funded artwork and interactive media, like 10-person arcade game KillerQueen, were available for public consumption.
The curated art, food and entertainment “represented the diverse range of amazing, wacky and fun projects [on Kickstarter],” said spokeswoman Julie Wood. The creations appealed to an array of visitors, though among the thousands of attendees the majority appeared to be the young 20-and 30-something creatives comprising the platform’s most loyal users.
Still, some long-time Greenpoint residents attended thanks in part to Kickstarter’s offline advertising. According to Wood, they posted signs, wrote letters to neighbors and reached out personally to others in the area.
Garret Savage, a film editor and 17-year Greenpoint resident, attended with his wife, Dia, and two children. “They seem very open to being involved in the community and respectfully doing so. This is the first real interaction they’ve had,” he said, “but I think this is good.”
Wood affirmed that for the Kickstarter team, “the best aspect of the event was meeting creators, talking to our neighbors and just connecting with the community in real life.”
Supporting community is clearly important to the platform that sees itself working in the public interest. Kickster-funded BBox Radio, which DJ-ed the day, highlights voices and tastes that previously lacked an outlet while Butter and Scotch, a dessert and cocktail bar, used a recent campaign to purchase a brick and mortar location in Crown Heights that hopes to employ 15 people.
Yet despite advertising offline in addition to emailing supporters, some longtime residents were unaware of the event, let alone the company’s move.
“I hadn’t heard anything about it,” said Betty Hulsen, President of the 94th Precinct Community Council which meets monthly around the corner at the Church of the Ascension.
Hulsen and other leaders in the Community Council are supportive of the neighborhood’s overall transformation, she said. There simply seemed to be a lack of information as others on the Council who did attend the event came away impressed.
“It really is an amazing renovation,” said Tony Argento, founder and President of Broadway Stages and fellow Council member, “They’re bringing a lot of energy to the neighborhood that I think we could use.”
Residents at a recent council meeting worried instead about the Greenpoint Landing towers on the waterfront and their impact on the neighborhood, part of a gentrification conversation that has little direct relation to Kickstarter’s new office.
“What we’ve seen a block up is the mom and pop pharmacies are gone and they’re being elbowed out and there’s a lot of banks moving in. I think that kind of stuff hurts,” said Garret’s wife Dia Sokol Savage. “I don’t think of this as a tech-attracting Mecca.”
Perhaps not a Mecca, but the warehouse renovations will continue. “We have become a tech giant…Brooklyn is going to have more Kickstarters,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is supportive of the crowdfunding company’s headquarters.
But, added Adams, “when we meet with Kickstarter or those Kickstarters of the future, we want to know what their community commitment is.”
With a team of 81 people in what has fast become one of New York’s best known tech businesses, Kickstarter’s actual footprint isn’t overwhelming. But the brand will likely carry much further into the neighborhood and less than a year in their new home, just how and to what extent remains to be seen.
“Sometimes I feel like there’s a fine line between cool and unlivable,” said Sokol Savage, just as a Kickstarter team member ran by wearing a hot dog costume. “I don’t know where there line is, but we’re probably going to find out.”-30-
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