Brooklyn: A Developing Story

Brooklyn Bridge Park is set to expand, part of a larger trend of reclamation along the borough's coastline.

Photo by: Pearl Gabel

Brooklyn Bridge Park is set to expand, part of a larger trend of reclamation along the borough’s coastline.

Over the past 10 years, Brooklyn has been at the center of a major development spree in which Atlantic Yards was just one part. From Carroll Gardens to Greenpoint, Crown Heights to Coney Island, the borough is getting a facelift that proponents say will bring new jobs and enhance quality of life, but opponents fear will rupture communities. Although much restoration and construction has been planned, some sites are seeing more change than others, with some showing no progress at all.

Gowanus Canal

Perched between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, the Gowanus Canal is a far cry from the bustling cargo transportation center it once was. Through the years, the push to clean up this waterway and enhance the living experience for the community surrounding it has been rocky. Heavily polluted by former industrial neighbors and overflows from the sewage system, the area nonetheless attracted development interest—the Toll Brothers, a luxury construction company, was preparing to build $5 million in high-end residential units in the area—and the Bloomberg administration planned a clean-up. But over objections from developers and City Hall, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added the area to its Superfund National Priorities List on March 2, 2010.

Since making this list, the state of the Gowanus Canal has continued to depreciate, according to Bill Appel, executive director of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, who opposed the Superfund designation. Appel says the clean-up is complicated by where the site is situated. “We are in an urban area. There is a difference when you have environmental issues in an urban area,” he says. “I’ve always said it is a 50-acre wasteland.”

The EPA did release a study of options for cleaning up the site last month, but there’s no word on when the cleaning will start. EPA administrator Judith Enck described this as a “step toward a full-scale cleanup that will protect people’s health and revitalize this urban waterway.”

Although the canal awaits remediation, progress is visible nearby on 3rd Avenue, where a property is being transformed into a Whole Foods.

Greenpoint/ Williamsburg Waterfront

When the city rezoned the Greenpoint/ Williamsburg waterfront in 2005 to permit more residential development, residents were promised more park space. The residential development has arrived, but the parks largely have not.

“The city got in a position where even though they controlled zoning they didn’t acquire property for these parks. The rezoning is expensive and the city has no money but these parks were promised,” says Dewey Thomson, a member of Community Board 1 and co-chair of the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning Committee.

According to the Parks Department, the city has acquired some 16 acres of property toward the planned 28-acre Bushwick Inlet Park, and the public will be permitted access to at least some of that territory later this year. The city points to new, privately owned open space and a soon-to-be-completed multimillion-dollar public renovation of McCarren Pool as evidence that it has kept faith with its promise to the neighborhood. (There’s also a new state park in the area.) But half the proposed waterfront park remains in private hands and beyond the reach of the cash-strapped city, at least for now.

In addition to the concerns about parks, the rezoned are has seen residential displacement and the shuttering of several industrial businesses, whose landlords opted to seek more lucrative residential rents available under the new zoning.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Brooklyn Navy Yard is in the process of constructing a major supermarket. The site will also include industrial space, creating the potential for hundreds of jobs in the area. Because of these prospective amenities, “this is truly a win-win-win for the people of Brooklyn,” Senator Chuck Schumer has said. Residents can expect a 74,000 square-foot supermarket and 79,000 square feet of additional retail space. A Brooklyn Navy Yard representative said that the project will be done in a few years, but no set date has been disclosed.

The most significant part of the current site might be Admirals Row, an 8-acre set of Civil War-era buildings. The transfer of the Admirals Row site from the Army to the Brooklyn Navy Yard Corporation, which manages the Brooklyn Navy Yard on behalf of the city, has taken 25 years, but a final agreement to do so was announced in late January. Nearly 127,000 square feet of industrial space will be developed on Admirals Row, but the plan also calls for the preservation of two historical sites.

Crown Heights Armory

Crown Height’s Troop C Armory, a 150,000-square foot building, is as huge as its future is unsettled. Over the years, the armory has been used for films such as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (featuring Nicholas Cage), housed the National Guard and served as a homeless shelter. It is now vacant. Last month, a community meeting was held at Medgar Evers College focused on questions about this site; there were few answers.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has said he’ll allocate $1 million to form a Bedford-Union Armory Task Force. Some believe the group may oversee the conversion of the Armory into a resource like the Park Slope Armory, renovated in 2010, which now serves as a multi-purpose athletic and educational center. Students from NYU have taken interest and are working on a report to serve as a potential guide for the armory.

“It is really in the beginning right now,” said Carlos Scissura, senior adviser in the Brooklyn Borough President’s office. “It is in state hands and will be transferred into the hands of the city within the next few months.”

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Brooklyn residents are in for greenery and clean, modern designs at the Brooklyn Bridge Park where two main sites, Pier 1 and Pier 5, are in the midst of construction.

Nearing completion is Pier 5, a former Port Authority property used for shipping until the mid-80s. A new plan evolved for this site in 2009 when the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation decided to start demolishing pier sheds to make way for new developments. According to Helen Ryan, Vice President of Partnership for Brooklyn Bridge Park, “Pier 5 is our first large scale recreation which will be used for multi-recreational use with BBQ pits and umbrellas for [the] public.” Residents and visitors can expect this project to be completed by the fall of this year.

Also in the works is Pier 2, which will serve as an active sports court with six basketball courts, inline skating, swings and water fountains. By this spring, Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. will start to repair the piles underneath the pier. Athletes won’t have to wait too long to take advantage of this site because, “we expect to complete that in the summer or fall of 2013,” says Ryan.

Developers are also working on a smaller project at Squibb Park Bridge, namely a pedestrian overpass that will connect Brooklyn Heights’ residents to the park to increase access to neighboring communities.

Coney Island

Located at what was once the Steeplechase Amusement Park on W. 16th Street and W. 19th Street, Coney Island’s Steeplechase Plaza is expected to cost approximately $29.5 million and create 144 construction jobs, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

The plaza is expected to offer more retail space, as well as public performances and art. At the heart of this will be the B&B Carousel, Coney Island’s last historic carousel, to be featured on the eastern side. Additions include 50 hand-carved wooden horses, 36 jumpers and two chariots. The cost of renewal is an estimated $2 million. The plaza and B&B Carousel will open by 2013.

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