Industry City: The Rise, the Fall, the Resurrection

During the last decade of the 19th century, Irving T. Bush built a massive warehousing complex along the Gowanus Bay on land inherited from his father. The Bush family had owned an oil refinery, which Irving’s father sold to Standard Oil, and when he died, Irving received a huge inheritance. He bought the land back from Standard and began building warehouses to store the many products that were coming into and out of New York Harbor at the time. He soon built addition800px-Bush_Terminal_Fairfield_North_aerial_-_1958 resized w captional larger buildings and rented space to companies that needed it and added huge piers, each of which could accommodate the docking of four large cargo vessels and all the cargo they unloaded.

 After some years of success, Irving expanded his operation to include shipping the products he and his tenants were storing, adding more buildings and a network of railroad tracks, including a huge rail yard, and was soon loading and unloading products and materials to and from at least eight regional railroads, including the Baltimore & Ohio, the Erie-Lackawanna, the NY Central and others. He even had his own railroad company, the Bush Terminal Railroad (BTRR). Bush built a line of tracks from the terminal to existing Pennsylvania railroad tracks. At least two of the terminal railroad tracks curved past the warehouses and ended right at the water, where groups of entire cars were pushed onto car floats that were then guided across the harbor by tugboats to New Jersey, from where they carried their goods across the country.

 By the end of World War I, the terminal spread over twenty city blocks, has seven piers along more than 3,000 feet of waterfront and held more than 100 warehouse and manufacturing buildings, its own railroad, and upwards of 25,000 workers.

 Irving Bush died in 1948, and soIC Mini Golf w captionon after, external factors led to a fall-off in the shipping portion of the Bush Terminal Company’s business. Bush Terminal Company sold the buildings in 1963. The port remained active until 1974, while the buildings remained almost fully occupied by a rotating series of tenants through the 1990s.

 In 1956, a huge explosion rocked the entire neighborhood. Sparks from ironworkers making repairs in one of the pier sheds ignited materials below and the fire soon moved to coils of fuse material that exploded. The blast was felt miles away. Ten people were killed and hundreds injured.

The complex changed hands more than once, and finally sold in 1983 to a group that changed the name to Industry City. Today, Bush Terminal’s physical plant has been resurrected. Industry City is a sparkling wonder, with hundreds of tenants that include artists, design, media, retail, manufacturing, and technology companies, along with government agencies, non-profits, and of course, warehouse space. It’s also an entertainment venue, with such events as the Brooklyn Crush Wine and Artisanal Food Festival and Rock and Roll Playhouse, a free summer concert series, a brew festival, Table Tennis Tuesday, and many other events throughout the year.RR Car in IC captioned

That said, much of Industry City is currently empty or underused. The current owners have recently begun the process of rezoning the complex and its immediate area to allow for additional businesses to come in, to convert up to 272,000 square feet to hotel space, and renovating 387,000 square feet for academic use, 900,000 square feet for retail space, and 43,000 square feet for event space. The entire process up to the beginning of the work could take eighteen months or more.

For now, the area retains its industrial flavor, and the railroad tracks remain embedded along First Avenue, curving every block into one of the docks built between the wings of Bush’s original buildings.

 

 

BAM: Brooklyn’s Gold- Standard Venue

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn in Fort Greene, is the oldest continuously operating performance arts center in the country. It is a world-class institution with venues in multiple buildings, presenting programs of theatre, dance, music, opera, and movies by highly regarded, internationally known performing artists and companies, attracting audiences from around the world.

The original academy, opened in 1861,BAM Concert Hall 1908 w caption 400w
stood on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, now the site of a mid-rise apartment building (180 Montague Street). Built for the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, it had a 2,000-seat theatre and a smaller concert hall. Contemporary luminaries including Edwin Booth and Ellen Terry performed there, and music and theatre productions professional and amateur filled its stages for over forty years.

In 1903, an early morning fire destroyed the Academy and a good portion of the block. It had become a major institution by that time, and a push to build a new structure began immediately. The architectural firm of Herts & Tallant, which had designed the New Amsterdam and Longacre theatres in Manhattan, won the contract to design the Academy, and the current building opened in 1908 with a performance of the Metropolitan Opera starring Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar.

The new Academy had a Beaux Arts façade and two side-by-side main theatres, the Concert Hall and the Opera House with one grand lobby across the front of both. In addition, a gBAM Opera House A Hughes 400wrand ballroom graced the second floor. The institution thrived until World War II, when all attention and resources were given to the war effort. Afterward, the entire Borough experienced a decline as the returning soldiers married and moved out of the city to the new suburbs in Long Island and New Jersey. Attendance and programming at the Academy declined.

That ended in 1967 with the appointment of a new executive director, Harvey Lichtenstein. Under his leadership, the Academy slowly but surely returned to city-wide, national, and international prominence. The concert hall was reoutfitted as a full-fledged theatre and renamed the Helen Carey Playhouse, and in 1983, the annual fall Next Wave Festival began. This world-renown series features contemporary and cutting-edge theatre, dance, and music from around the world, featuring the likes of Peter Brook, Steven Reich, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Pina Bausch, Robert Wilson, and literally hundreds of other first-class artists.

The physical plant has blossomed, as well. The ballroom was converted to a black box theatre in the 70s, and then to its current use, the BAMcafé, in 1997. The playhouse received a BAM Harvey Theatremakeover into a multi-screen movie house, the Rose Cinemas, also in 1997.  The 874-seat Harvey Theatre (Formerly the Majestic, renamed for Lichtenstein) on Fulton Street debuted in 1999, and the BAM Fisher theatre on Ashland Place opened its doors in 2012.  A brand-new space, the BAM Karen, is under construction as part of a new 31-story tall residential complex at 300 Ashland Place, across the street from the main building, which is now known as the Peter Jay Sharp building.

The rejuvenation of the Academy has spawned a growth or arts and arts-related organizations in the immediately surrounding area, and this section of downtown and Fort Greene is now an arts mecca, which in turn has attracted more people and other support businesses, including many restaurants and other stores. The entire area is in full-flowered renaissance, in no small part because of this great institution.

 

There’s Life Anew in [the] Gowanus

Gowanus. For many old-time South Brooklyn natives, the very name draws a chuckle and a shake of the head. For them, Gowanus isn’t a neighborhood, it’s a canal, and a foul-smelling, gag-inducing one. But that was the old days.  Today, it’s the canal, still dirty but no longer the fetid deadwater it was fifty years ago, and the neighborhood covering two blocks on either side of it on the north end and two blocks on the east side further south. And like many other once-written-off areas of Brooklyn, it is fast on the rise, with new businesses, increased residential development (and corresponding rising housing prices), and lots of places to go and things to do.

The Gowanus area in colonial times was a wide saltwater tidal marsh. The Native Americans living there when the Europeans first arrived, the Lenape, sold the area surrounding Gowanus Bay to the Dutch in 1636, and the new owners immediately built several thriving industries in the area, the largest being oyster growing, milling, and farming. The names of the early settlers now grace numerous streets in the area, including Luquer, Denton, Cole, Boerum, and Bergen. The earlier settlers, the Lenape, had a leader named Gouwane, and the Dutch perhaps named the area for him. In any case, the name Gowanus dates from the earliest European settlement of the region.

The area played an important part in the Revolutionary War. During the Battle of Brooklyn, near the Old Stone House a regiment of Maryland troops fended off the British army long enough for the Continental Army to retreat to Manhattan and avoid being destroyed. Many of those Maryland troops are buried in a mass grave next to the FVW post on Ninth Street near Third Avenue, where a wall plaque marks the site. The Old Stone House behind the playground at Fifth Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets is a reconstruction of the original. The commander of those brave Maryland men was William Alexander, whose name is the official moniker of M.S. 51 in the next block across Fourth Street.

In the early 1800s, as Brooklyn grew and industry increased on the Gowanus creek, the need to accommodate large vessels and people to work the docks resulted in the building of the canal and the filling in of the marshland for urbanization of the area. The chosen design for the canal was the cheapest of all those proposed, and the finished waterway was open only at the harbor end, and there was no way to flush the water and keep it clean. Built for its times, the canal soon attracted more industry, and the surrounding new neighborhoods quickly filled with workers and stores. Those neighborhoods were constructed in a way that the sewage from those areas flushed into the canal. That combined with the waste dumpings from the oil refineries, mills, cement factories, and other toxin-producing industries lining the canal quickly fouled the waterway.

By the 1950s and ‘60s, the construction of the BQE/Gowanus Expressway and then the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge obviated the need for water shipping for many of the companies along the canal, and the economic decline in the city during the ‘60s and ‘70s drove many companies away or out of business, and many of the empty spaces were claimed by small-scale artisans and artists for use as studios and small manufacturing. There is a large number of these types of tenancies remaining in the area, and they attract a large contingent of visitors during periodic Open Studio events.

Today, Massive cleanup efforts for the canal are well underway, a flushing tunnel that was first built in the early 1900s has been refurbished and now pumps water from Buttermilk Channel in the harbor into the canal to move the water downstream,  on-and-off dredging operations take place, and rezoning has led to residential building once again, this time large apartment complexes like 365 Bond Street, which sits directly on the canal at Second Street, and others along Bond Street and Fourth Avenue. It’s even possible now to go canoeing on the canal, with the reopening of the Gowanus Dredger’s Club launch site at the foot of Second Street on the East side of the canal.

The neighborhood today is garnering attention for its relative low rents in the older buildings, and its growing hip (not hipster) vibe. With the general influx of younger, more affluent residents, support businesses have sprung up faster than one can keep track of. Newcomers such as Taheni, Dinosaur BBQ, Pig Beach, and Ample Hills Ice Cream are all along Union Street, and microbreweries with attached beer gardens flourish on President and Douglass Streets between Third and Fourth Avenues. There’s also Whole Foods at Third Avenue and Third Street. These and many others complement less recent and older, established places such as 2 Toms, Monte’s, Runner and Stone, Little Neck, and the Bell House. There’s plenty to do and plenty to eat and drink. That’s a neighborhood worth living in!

Prospect Park: Brooklyn’s Outdoor Treasure

DSCN9039If you live in Brooklyn, you know Prospect Park. You’ve been there to run, bike, play ball, whether baseball, football, basketball, soccer, tennis, pétanque, or extreme Frisbee (okay, that’s not ball), lay out in the sun, take the kids to the myriad playgrounds, ride horses, build a snowman, work out, hike the ravine, go to a summer evening concert, paddleboat in the lake, see fall colors, go to the zoo, sit on a bench and read, cross-country ski, ride the carousel, watch birds, watch fireflies, play chess, take your pup to the dog pool, have a picnic, collect leaves, play in or listen to conga jams, ice skate, visit a museum in a colonial house, feed the ducks, go sledding, throw a party, have a barbeque, or even, on a summer night, walk into the trees and listen to the amazing cacophony of a million singing bugs.

Prospect Park is a draw not only for Brooklynites. Even if you don’t yet live in Brooklyn, there’s a chance you’ve been to our crown jewel of leisure. Designed by Olmsted and Vaux, the same team that created Manhattan’s Central Park, Prospect Park is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Like all of the city, the park has been through cycles of highs and lows through the years, and at this time is riding as high as it’s ever been. Fueled by support systems including the Prospect Park Alliance, The Friends of Prospect Park, and the rangers of the National Park Service, the park in many areas within its 526-acres has been refreshed, renewed, and, when necessary, restored, with a wide range of clean-up/fix-up projects completed, many others ongoing, and more big ideas in the planning and development stages.

Access to the park is easy, with the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, Q, F, G, and Franklin Avenue Shuttle trains all stopping within a block or two from a park entrance, so whether you live in Greenpoint or Brighton Beach you can get there with one train ride. With all that the park offers, it’s no wonder that many people moving to Brooklyn, especially those in Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Prospect Heights, and Crown Heights, were sold on the area because of Prospect Park. And that’s not to mention the nearby Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, all lined up next to each other along Eastern Parkway just across Flatbush Avenue from the park.

If you’re moving to or within New York City, we know you’ll be looking at Brooklyn. If you’ve never been to Prospect Park, you must spend a day or two getting to know Prospect Park. There are a million great reasons to move to Brooklyn. Prospect Park and the areas around it hold many of them. Check it out.

Is Brooklyn’s Business Boom an Empty Dream?

Brooklyn has been a strong magnet for residents for many years now, but what about the business community? Many former industrial waterfront areas in DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint have been either retooled for or replaced with condos, none of which seem to have too much trouble finding eager buyers. The past few years have seen a push to create office space, as well.

Some big-name retailers have moved into downtown on Fulton Street to serve the new residents coming into all the nearby condos that have sprouted up. Well beyond downtown, the race to create office space is instead resulting in a glut of empty space. According to a recent article on Bloomberg.com, there are plans by various developers to build about seven million square feet of office space in the next few years, mainly in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Sunset Park, as well as the old Watchtower Building in DUMBO. The article sites 23 projects due to open by 2020. That much space will require either a ton of small companies taking out leases or help from a few big companies that will take several floors of space at once. The problem experts are seeing is that the big guys don’t seem too eager to make the move.

Prices on Manhattan office space have plateaued, and there is room for negotiation there, so big companies with no real yen for Brooklyn have little incentive to pay for a big, expensive move and to uproot their employees for possibly newer digs and beautiful offices in a place that’s frankly not that easy to get to from Westchester, New Jersey, Connecticut, or even Manhattan and Queens. Big companies that have recently moved to the NYC area, including Facebook and Alphabet (Google), have settled into Manhattan, and those that have come to Brooklyn have put pieces of their businesses in rather than move the entire company.

Several commercial real estate experts interviewed for the Bloomberg article remain upbeat. Although the signing of a 100,000+ square-foot lease would be newsworthy and perhaps a shot in the arm, Andrew Hoan, the CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, noted that Brooklyn has added jobs faster than any other borough, and related his feeling that not being dependent on large companies is “a good thing.”

So, bring on the office space, we say. As long as it’s being concentrated in otherwise unused or underused buildings like those in the navy yard or Sunset Park’s Industry City, it’s a plus for Brooklyn, and in time, we feel, for the patient developer as well.

Read the full article on Bloomberg.com:
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-04/brooklyn-as-the-next-hot-spot-for-new-york-offices-not-so-fast

 

Cuomo Taps $$$ for Central Brooklyn Reno

Governor Cuomo last week announced a plan for a major infusion of money–$1.4 billion–into central Brooklyn, with the main focus to be in poverty-afflicted areas like Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Crown Heights, and East New York.

Thank you, governor.

Of course, at this point, the plan, called Vital Brooklyn, is just that–a plan. The governor hopes to have the money allocated in his next budget, but that will mean convincing majorities in the Assembly and Senate to go along with him, never a sure thing when it means spending money.

According to an article about the plan in The New York Times, fully half the allotment, $700 million, would be used to fund initiatives related to health care, generally a huge problem for residents in the targeted area. Other monies would address neighborhood quality-of-life issues such as crime and violence, unemployment, and a lack of green space, “aiming to eliminate so-called park deserts by building green spaces and renovating athletic facilities within a 10-minute walk of every neighborhood.” It’s estimated that 7,600 jobs would be created, a network of 36 ambulatory care centers would be built, and 1,200 people would receive training to work in the construction industry. An additional $1.2 million would be used for youth development programs.

The Times article reports that the plan received positive initial responses from various experts in the fight against poverty, though some warned that, for continued success, any programs established or supported through Vital Brooklyn would need ongoing funding to maintain their level of activities.

Another piece of Vital Brooklyn includes the construction of 3,000 units of affordable housing in the area. While decent affordable housing is a noble idea, some current residents are wary of the plan, feeling that the new housing and all the upgrades in parkland could make the area more attractive to real estate developers, eventually pushing housing prices in the newly improved neighborhoods beyond their means. Residents will be happy for any improvement, but not if it eventually costs them their homes and their place in the neighborhood.

As mentioned above, the money for the plan will be included in the governor’s budget this year; whether or not it stays in will be up to state lawmakers.

To read the entire Times article, click here.

You Get What You Pay For; Should We Say It?

Brooklyn is considered by many to be the best place in the world to live. You may think that all those “many” people live here in the world capital of cool already, but the fact is, demand for homes of all sorts has been high for many years, and it’s all those buyers banging on Brooklyn’s door that have pushed prices to record highs and made Brooklyn New York City’s most expensive outer borough in which to buy a house.

According to NY Real Estate Trends, (www.nyrealestatetrends.com) Brooklyn has led the city in average sales price for the past twenty years, but in the last ten years the price differential between a home in Brooklyn and those in the other outer boroughs has increased dramatically. In 1995 Brooklyn was already the most expensive of the four outer boroughs, but by just a few percentage points. In 2005, Brooklyn remained ahead of the pack, but only by about 10% over Queens. By 2015, however, Brooklyn led Queens, its nearest competitor, in average price for a single-family home by 48.3%: Brooklyn’s average price was $838,977 vs. Queens’ $565,656, according to the NY Real Estate Trends data.

We get it. We know that living in Brooklyn is five or ten times as great as living in Queens or Staten Island, so in our mind, paying only 50% more for a house is a bargain! Buy in Brooklyn and you’ll get much, much  more than you paid for.