While there are dozens of television shows that currently film in New York City, there only a handful of studios throughout the five boroughs that can accommodate those series. (Well, really, it's three boroughs—they're all located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.) And the number of studios that work with just one series is smaller still; complexes like Silvercup in Queens or Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where many series can film on several stages at once, are closer to the norm.
And then there's Eastern Effects in Gowanus. Though it's small compared to those other studios, it's a large presence in the neighborhood: The company, founded by Scott Levy back in 1999, owns and operates four different buildings in Gowanus, including a facility in the former Kentile Floors building on 9th Street. Since 2012, it's been home to The Americans, the FX drama starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as KGB spys in 1980s Washington, D.C.; its writers are currently plugging away on the series' penultimate season at offices on DeGraw Street.
The series films at Eastern Effects's studio at 270 Nevins Street, its largest facility, occupying the entire block between Sackett and DeGraw Streets. But that location puts the company in the crosshairs of a project that's dominated the neighborhood conversation for the past few years: the impending clean-up of the Gowanus Canal.
As part of the remediation of the polluted waterway, NYC's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have recommended placing retention tanks at two different sites in the neighborhood, which will help with the combined sewer overflows (CSO) that push contaminants and, well, crap into the canal. The DEP has said that it will use eminent domain to seize nearby private property—including the current site of Eastern Effects's Nevins Street studio—that can be used as temporary staging areas for the tanks.
On a recent tour of the Brooklyn facility, Levy choked up when talking about the possibility that Eastern Effects would have to close for the canal clean-up. "Why did [the DEP] choose this building? There's no common-sense logic [to the decision]," he said. Levy, along with a group of supporters that includes the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation (SBIDC) and the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, alleges that the DEP hasn't fully considered all of the options before making its decision, and that there are several vacant properties nearby (including ones directly across the street from Eastern Effects) that would have worked just as well without displacing a thriving business.
In addition to the more than 30 full-time staffers the company employs, it's also responsible for bringing hundreds of jobs to the neighborhood when filming is underway. "We need to take a stand to ensure that these jobs are still around and stay in the neighborhood," Justin Collins of the SBIDC said on the tour. "There has to be a better way."
Then there's the eminent domain issue, which was already facing community opposition. It's especially challenging for Eastern Effects: When the company signed a 20-year lease on the Nevins Street building, they did so with a clause in place that ensures that the landlord would be protected if the building is seized by eminent domain, but Eastern Effects would basically be screwed. "That clause states that if eminent domain occurs, we get nothing," says Levy—which could affect the company's other facilities, and indeed, its livelihood.
A public comment period on the placement of the tanks is underway through the end of today, but Levy and other neighborhood organizations have taken matters into their own hands. The company has identified several sites that it sees as alternatives to the space at 270 Nevins, and is in the process of gathering letters of support to give to Judith Enck, the EPA region 2 Administrator who approved the proposed placement of the tanks, along with city officials (including council members Brad Lander and Steven Levin). They're proceeding with plans for a new facility in East New York, and The Americans will keep filming on Nevins Street until a final decision is made on the tanks.
And in the meantime, Levy and the rest of his crew are remaining hopeful. "We've been inclusive of the community for a long time," says Levy. "We're going to continue to give, and we want to stick around."