Next Steps at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

BWRC hosted its first Breakfast Talk of 2019 on March 15th. Last fall, the Brooklyn Navy Yard publicly released an ambitious Masterplan for the future development and growth of its 200 acre-plus campus. Adam Lubinsky, AICP and Managing Principal of WXY Studios, introduced the community to the civic and physical infrastructure that are included in the Masterplan. Once the largest employer in the five boroughs, the Navy Yard was decommissioned in the 1966 by the federal government as an active defense industry site. Although the city maintained the property and leased some low-cost production space to tenants in the following decades, the ramifications of losing nearly 70,000 jobs had a tremendous impact on the surrounding communities. Since taking over management of the Navy Yard in 1981, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC) has put great efforts into revitalizing manufacturing and creative industries in Brooklyn by leasing production and office space at below-market rates to a variety of tenants.

Competition is already fierce for available space on the campus, and the limited availability also limits the growth, and thus employment, potential of the industries operating there. Currently, about 8,000 jobs are held at Navy Yard firms. All pre-existing buildings have now been rehabilitated and filled, which leaves BNYDC with only one option: to build more. BNYDC and WXY Studios project that with the new buildings, the Navy Yard could host nearly 30,000 jobs. Lubinsky walked the audience through a birds-eye view of the future, highlighting critical design elements like “vertical manufacturing” buildings, pedestrian, ferry, and bike connectivity to the surrounding community, and the integration of social infrastructure like day care, public programming, and educational facilities.

The opening of the Brooklyn STEAM Center (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) in Building 77 earlier this winter marked a watershed moment for innovative public education and career training in New York City. The morning’s second speaker, Katie Beck-Sutler, Vice President of Workforce Development at BNYDC, presented the structure and guiding ethos of the STEAM Center within the Navy Yard. The STEAM Center is managed and run by the Department of Education and pulls junior and senior high school students from eight Brooklyn schools. Students spend a half day taking courses at their base high school, and then spend a half day at the STEAM Center, working closely with industry experts and entrepreneurs in fields like coding, digital design, culinary arts, construction, and media arts. Students receive on-the-job training, industry-recognized credentials, and leave with a portfolio of work that can jump-start their next step after graduation. More importantly, noted Beck-Sutler, students are immersed in a professional environment. In addition to the technical skills they learn in the classroom, students are exposed to the subtle “soft” skills that are critical to career advancement. Working directly with entrepreneurs and firms in the Navy Yard is a huge advantage because it develops a pipeline of talent aligned with industry needs that will benefit both student and employer, encouraging company growth and economic development in Brooklyn.

We’d also like to remind you that on April 12th, BWRC will be hosting its annual conference at CUNY City Tech. “Living in Brooklyn: Housing along the Brooklyn Waterfront” will feature panels discussing affordable housing policy and financing, various development strategies, the role of organizing and tenant’s rights in preserving affordability, and what the future may hold for residents along the waterfront as sea levels and storm surges continue to threaten the viability of housing.


Visions for Newtown Creek

BWRC hosted its first Breakfast Talk of the semester, “Visions for Newtown Creek,” on October 12th, 2018. Speakers representing the Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper outlined their comprehensive, community-driven Vision Plan for the remediation of Newtown Creek.

Lisa Bloodgood, Director of Advocacy and Education at the Newtown Creek Alliance and Chrissy Remein, the Community Project manager at Riverkeeper, presented this ambitious plan starting with a brief history of the challenges inherent to environmental restoration in a densely-populated urban industrial environment. Among the most pressing concerns for residents in the area is the chronic issue of combined sewage overflow (CSO), which occurs when sewer systems are overloaded with rainwater run-off, diverting a mixture of sewage and stormwater to the nearest water body–in this case, the Newtown Creek. Watch this video by the Center for Urban Pedagogy to learn more about CSO.

Although it was designated as a Superfund site by the EPA in 2010, the formal environmental remediation process in Newtown Creek has yet to begin. While the EPA continued its research and feasibility studies, community and environmental advocacy organizations formed the Superfund Community Advisory Group (CAG) with local residents, businesses, and environmental advocacy groups to develop a long-term planning strategy, culminating in the 85-part Vision Plan.

At the heart of the Vision Plan is a commitment to protect and support Newtown Creek as a site of industry and employment in the community. The various strategies outlined by the report intend to strike an appropriate balance of uses between recreation and industry by reimagining what these public spaces can achieve for future generations.

Autumn 2011 Waterfront Roundup


At a public meeting on November 22, seven of the city’s biggest developers unveiled competing plans for a hotel and condos in what are currently two empty parcels sandwiched between Pier 1 and Furman Street (the two will be separated by a courtyard and a pedestrian bridge over Furman Street up to Squibb Park in the Heights). The proposals feature designs that would have 150 to 180 condo units and 170 to 225 hotel rooms. The larger parcel will feature a building with the hotel, some residential units, and a restaurant/cafe, and can be no taller than 100 feet; the second parcel will contain all residential units and must be 55 feet or less in height. You can download a PDF of the formal presentation here.

The developers are Dermot, Extell, RAL, SDS, Starwood Capital Group, Toll Brothers, and the DUMBO-based Two Trees. The real estate website CURBED has previews of each design, and conducted a poll of the readers’ favorites. CURBED has extensive Brooklyn Bridge Park coverage here, including news on new construction beginning in January–a picnic area on Pier 5 and the Squibb Park pedestrian bridge–as well as the park’s failure to receive any bids for a “winter bubble” for recreational activities on Pier 5.


A new research group at Columbia University, the Center for Urban Real Estate, headed by innovative urbanist Vishaan Chakrabarti, proposed the creation of a new Manhattan neighborhood, “Lower Lower Manhattan,” by filling in a land bridge between the Financial District and Governor’s Island. Chakrabarti unveiled this radical idea at a day-long conference entitled “Zoning the City” on November 15. The massive amount of dredging that the Army Corps of Engineers has to do over the next fifty years to keep the harbor’s shipping channels at a proper depth would provide the needed earth. The city’s strict regulations about building on landfill (passed after the construction of Battery Park City, which used earth from the original WTC to expand the shoreline) makes the idea highly unrealistic. The idea sounds a bit less far-fetched when place in a global context. Chakrabati notes that such techniques have been used in Hong Kong and other global cities to great success, and that New York needs to consider such options to stay competitive. The project would also include a bridge to Governor’s Island from Red Hook. For more details, check out this New York Times piece detailing the proposal.


In November, New Jersey developer Ironstate–a firm that has done much work along the Hoboken and Jersey City waterfronts–signed a deal with the city to create 900-unit rental apartment complex at the Homeport, site of a former naval base in the Stapleton neighborhood (the Navy left in 1993). A somewhat opinionated Times piece that discusses this development in terms of Staten Island’s supposed “image problem” can be found here.


Brooklyn waterfront pioneer and violinist Olga Bloom passed away on Thanksgiving Day. Her vision of using an old coffee barge as a 150-seat venue for chamber music certainly seemed a bit bizarre along the forlorn Brooklyn waterfront of the 1970s. But the space soon evolved into one of the premier venues in the city. For a brief but lovely appreciation, see this Times piece by longtime reporter Francis X. Clines.



Crain’s New York published this reevaluation of Mayor Bloomberg’s failed effort to obtain the 2012 Summer Olympics for the city, not surprisingly written by Jay Kriegel, the former head of the NYC2012 effort. The piece relates the findings of a report by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management that reveals that most of the rezoning goals linked to the bid have been accomplished, notably those that fostered the redevelopment of the Greenpoint and Williamsburg neighborhoods. Kriegel may be an uncritical cheerleader for these developments, but he does bring up a forgotten but important aspect of the mid-aughts building explosion.


Perhaps the biggest Brooklyn waterfront news of Fall 2011 was the forced removal of American Stevedoring Inc. (ASI) from the Red Hook Container Terminal at the end of September. As it turns out, ASI owner Sal Catucci has had a rough relationship with the Port Authority since the company started operations on the site in 1992. ASI had not paid rent since the renewal of a ten-year lease in April 2008, claiming that the lease had been signed under duress. ASI has pursued a lawsuit contesting the lease. For more details, see this report in the Red Hook Star-Revue by George Fiala (the link will open as a PDF).


We here at the BWRC are thrilled by the new BLDG 92 Brooklyn Navy Yard Center, a museum that opened on Veterans’ Day, Friday, November 11. The Center is housed in the the four-story Building 92, which consists of the former Marine Commandant’s Residence with a newly built glass and steel annex. It also houses a Resource Center, which contains the Navy Yard’s archives, which are open to scholars.

Much of the first exhibition, “Brooklyn Navy Yard: Past, Present and Future,” focuses on the site’s career as one of the U.S. Navy’s premier shipbuilding yards from 1801 to 1966. It also features information on the site’s pre-colonization inhabitants, the Lenape Indians, who sold the land to the Dutch in 1632, as well as some exhibits relating to some of the 240 businesses that now occupy the Yard.

The Center is free and open to public Wednesdays through Sundays, 12 to 6pm. You can take a two-hour bus tour of the Yard for $30, a one-hour version for $18, or a bike tour for $24. You can read a Times story about BLDG 92, a more historically minded piece at the New York Observer, and a short piece in The L Magazine that features a slide show.


Our Breakfast Talk series had a strong start on Friday, November 18, when Evan Hughes came to discuss the relationship that many of the writers that he wrote about in his book,  Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life, had with our borough’s waterfront. About thirty folks came out at 8:30 am to hear Evan speak and enjoy some coffee and danish. In Evan’s talk, one locality that came up again and again–from Hart Crane to Norman Mailer–was the infamous “Barbary Coast” just outside of the Navy Yard, especially along Sands Street, a now forlorn strip cutting through the Farragut Houses and under the BQE. Saloons, brothels, and tattoo parlors lined the street. Several of Hughes’s subjects could not resist the pull of “authentic” working-class life that they found there. We thank Evan again for his fascinating presentation. Look back here soon for details on our next Breakfast Talk in February.

Coastal Flooding Zones and Brooklyn Waterfront Development

Whether or not the media overhyped Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene (the hype was indeed justified for the once-in-a-generation flooding event in upstate New York and Vermont), the storm did bring New York City’s planning for potential flooding into the broader public consciousness, and perhaps helped to foster a new kind of awareness of Brooklyn’s intimate relationship with its watery perimeter. The map above, created by WNYC’s web guru John Keefe (you can find the original interactive, “zoomable” version here), vividly illustrates Zones A, B, and C, areas of varying threat gradation from hurricane storm surge. Zone A, the area most likely to flood with storm surge from a hurricane of any intensity, includes the recently developed “Gold Coast” of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, as well as all of Red Hook and Coney Island, two other “hot zones” of current and future development. (This zone was under a mandatory evacuation order; it would be interesting to know how many denizens of the new high-rises complied.) As climate scientists and meteorologists almost universally concur that we are entering a new phase of more violent weather events and rising seas, could Irene serve as an urgent reminder that future waterfront development needs to take these contingencies seriously? And might the city’s evacuation zoning have some sort of impact on the real estate market? Or will these concerns quickly evaporate as Irene’s media cycle expires?

Irene prompted an even more granular analysis of storm surge effects in the NYC metro area and Long Island by Steven Romalewski, the Director of the CUNY Mapping Service, which you can find at his blog, Spatiality. His August 30 entry is password protected, but there are some other great resources here.

Gribbles and Shipworms! A Cleaner NY Harbor Creates a Problem for New Waterfront Parks

Make sure to check out this fascinating article in today’s New York Times about the cleaner water in New York Harbor enabling the return of two sea creatures–gribbles and shipworms–that snack on the wooden pilings supporting several new waterfront parks that are under construction, most notably Brooklyn Bridge Park. Mitigating the problem has added millions to construction costs.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe is quoted in the piece, pointing to the irony of the situation: “We literally have a clean harbor, but it’s causing incredible devastation to the physical infrastructure of the waterfront, and it’s costly to repair and replace.”