Empire STORES: Retail headed to Bridge Park warehouses, planners say

Empire warehouses could be home to concert hall
The Broklyn Papers / Julie Roseberg

Park officials and developers are moving to turn Brooklyn Bridge Park’s crumbling-but-historic Empire Stores building into a waterfront retail hub with ground-floor shops and cafes topped with offices, jump-starting a long-proposed plan to generate cash to maintain the expansive greenspace.

The abandoned Civil War–era warehouses just steps from the Brooklyn Bridge will become “a year-round commercial and retail space,” according to a proposal released by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation soliciting developers to refurbish the neglected piece of real estate gold.

“It is important that these historic structures be preserved [and] it’s critical to our ability to fund park maintenance and operations in the years to come,” Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation president Regina Myer said.

The retail-boosting proposal calls for developers to rehabilitate the five-story former tea warehouse — and for operators to enter into long-term leasing agreements inside the building, which is more than five times the size of the White House and is divided into seven sections.

Critics are happy to see a plan that revives the long-shuttered landmark, but are also calling for space at the site to be dedicated to arts-culture-and-recreation-centric operators — a proposal not detailed in the plan.

“There’s money to be made in culture, art, and heritage — it could have been a great museum space,” said Doreen Gallo, who sits on the park’s Community Advisory Council.

The plan comes five years after state officials deemed the buildings decrepit and dangerous and 10 years after authorities wrestled control of the site away from DUMBO developer David Walentas and gave it to rival Shaya Boymelgreen, who wanted to construct a Chelsea Market-style shopping mall, but never realized his dream.

It also comes after a long-standing conflict over use of the public park land, sparked by a unique and controversial public-private agreement requiring the park to raise its own cash to fund maintenance.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation’s “request for proposal” now aims to “attract residents and visitors seeking remarkable views and world-class park amenities.”

Some of the spaces inside the building poses real estate challenges — they are “deep-set” and dimly lit in some cases. But representatives heading the project claim those obstacles can be overcome with the right tenant (hear that, Apple?).

Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation also plans to place advertisements for the space in real estate publications and will hold a “site visit” and information session on Nov. 1.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.