The new owner of the Domino Sugar factory revealed its billion-dollar vision for the iconic Williamsburg site, calling for massively tall and architecturally bold skyscrapers that would redefine Brooklyn’s skyline.
With one mega-development, Two Trees Management Co. principal Jed Walentas plans do to the sleepy section of industrial waterfront what his father did to DUMBO one building at a time: construct a bustling neighborhood where people will want to live, work, and play.
But instead of refurbishing old warehouses in piecemeal fashion like his dad David, or sticking to Domino’s original monolithic development blueprint, Walentas wants to build a “family” of post-modern towers that evokes the skylines of Shanghai and Dubai clustered around the landmarked refinery.
The new high-rises dreamt up by Barclays Center builders SHoP Architects are far taller, and undoubtedly more eye-catching than the original Domino design — one tower is shaped like a giant zero, another balances apartments atop offices with a hole in the middle, a third features terraced residences stacked along Kent Avenue, and the southernmost edifice is a pair of pencil-thin towers connected by a bridge that could become Brooklyn’s tallest structure at 598 feet and 55 stories.
These dramatic alterations, including a request to build 20 stories taller than the previous owners Community Preservation Corporation Resources, will force Two Trees to take the project through the city’s approval process for a second time.
The initial public review of the now-scrapped plan was contentious — but Walentas said he had to ditch the shorter Community Preservation Corporation Resources design for something more innovative and iconic.
“We were very concerned about opening old wounds, but we knew there was room for improvement,” said Walentas, who snatched up the beleaguered Domino project for $185 million — more than three times the sum the previous owners shelled out in 2004. “If we’re going to spend the next 15 years of our lives with this being a major part of our day and invest a billion dollars or whatever it comes out to, I want it to be something that I’m really excited about.”
The aggressive architecture is new for Two Trees, but its game plan for Domino reads right out of the company’s DUMBO playbook.
The builders banked on office space in their bid to turn DUMBO upscale, using the neighborhood’s new nine-to-fivers to lure amenities such as cafes and restaurants, which have since helped make the community attractive to residential tenants.
At Domino, Walentas wants to boost the amount of office space in the project six-fold, converting the entire historic refinery building into a hub for businesses instead of residences, and filling the glassy leg of the northernmost tower with commercial tenants.
Office space will rent for less than residential space — about $25 per square foot instead of $55 — but Walentas believes workers will add value and character to the development, creating a vibrant atmosphere that’s alive at all times of day, eventually making the project more profitable.
“It’s necessary to accommodate the commercial-job creating opportunity without compromising too much else,” said Walentas.
“Our interest is creating the best place we can for the long term.”
The project looks vastly different than the original Domino proposal — but the residential plan is largely unchanged: Two Trees plan calls for 2,284 apartments, down from 2,400 under Community Preservation Corporation Resources.
Walentas claims he will not abandon a non-binding promise by the previous owner to offer 660 units of below-market-rate housing, and says the sizes and finishes of those more affordable units, which will be scattered throughout the development, will be will be indistinguishable from the higher-priced units.
The SHoP-designed buildings would be almost twice the height of the previous Rafael Vinoly-designed towers, but the new architects say their soaring structures would make far better neighbors thanks to the massive cut-outs in the cores of the structures.
“When you’re on the neighborhood side of the project over here on Wythe [Avenue], you can actually see light and air and every morning, the sun will rise on the community, and every evening, the sun will set on it,” said SHoP principal Vishaan Chakrabarti, whose company is so wedded to constructing things with prominent holes that it not only built the borough’s new arena oculus, but even distributes business cards where the “o” in SHoP has been cut out with a hole-punch.
Two Trees wants to use the buildings’ missing midsections to gain permission to construct taller towers with roughly the same population density as the initial design.
The higher, thinner skyscrapers would take up less of the site’s footprint, leaving more than six times as much open space, which could be used for recreation, farmers markets, and games such as volleyball, bocce, or horseshoes, the developers say.
The plan also calls for the construction of a community center and a school — similar to the firm’s educational offering at its controversial Dock Street development at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Walentas aims to get city planning and council approval by the end of the year, ensuring the project will pass through the city’s uniform land-use review procedure under a pro-development mayor. If it is approved, the entire plan could take up to 15 years to complete, said Walentas.
“Each building is a hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars project,” he said.
The new Domino plan is the latest proposal for a massive build on the Williamsburg waterfront, but Walentas and the crew at SHoP say their ambitious, holey skyscrapers don’t just one-up their homogenous neighbors such as Schaefer Landing, Northside Piers, and the Edge — they’re also a clear winner over the initial Domino design.
“The old plan was like the Edge four times over flanking the Domino refinery,” said Chakrabarti.