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

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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 or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:36 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mike from Williamsburg says:
I hope this building has retail. Parks never have that. The vision that parks should be removed from urban life isn't working.

A museum? So you have to pay every time you want to go into the building? At least stores are open to the public for free.
Oct. 10, 2012, 8:57 am
Sid from boerum hill says:
I love these buildings and wish them well with retail BUT 1 brrooklyn bridge plaza has retail that has been empty for a long time. South street seaport mall has not been successful at all with many vacant stores and major retailing closed over the years.
Museums don't bring in money: they are money pits see the South Street seaport Museum across the way...maybe they can use an other space in Brooklyn.
The new Fulton Street mall(part of the WTC) has lots of space to absorb as well...and they could not find an operator for a restaurant as part of the WTC tower..

How about a college?
Oct. 10, 2012, 11:56 am
Pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:
Wow that entire building just for American Apparel, Urban Outfitters and Apple stores?
Oct. 10, 2012, 11:56 am
ty from pps says:
Apple is not going to set up shop in a location that is barely accessible. It's a great location for certain things, but not a retailer that needs/wants huge volume. The subways are a 1/2 mile away.
Oct. 10, 2012, 1:15 pm
boxarch from dumbo says:
How about a TV studio on the top floors. Imagine the news with view of the Bridge and Manhattan. Retail has to be "destination" retail, ie things you would go someplace special to get - not impulse stuff. Even a local "Reading Market" for local foods and/or products would I think have traction. Or perhaps a restaurant that features different chefs every month or two. C'mon guys, no one comes to NY to go to a mall. People told that to Rouse 30 or so years ago and he didn't listen. Now they have to completely redo the Seaport which from the beginning was a disaster.
Oct. 10, 2012, 3:45 pm
John from Westminster says:
What about a hotel? It might liven up the area. Tourists go to heavily trafficked locations, even to a mall if its like the Time Warner Center. The Dumbo/Fulton Ferry area is funereal at night.
Oct. 11, 2012, 12:17 am
Billy from DaBurg says:
Is there anything about this park they don't want to commercialize? Already there will be condos and a hotel, now they want to put in a mall? In historic buildings?

There have got to be tons of different uses for these buildings that don't cheapen a park we are already paying so dearly for.
Oct. 11, 2012, 8:45 am
sid from boerum hill says:
There is`already a hotel being built on the otherside of fulton st-by pier one. The dock street building is under way. The Tobacco warehouse is being adaptively built as a theater(after the community sued to stop it)...what else would you suggest. dock street will contain a middle school. its pretty lively many nights now and more is coming.
Oct. 11, 2012, 11:15 am
sid from boerum hill says:
Fairway went into a similar warehouse in Red hook. the top floors are the dreaded condos...but of course that also has the much hated public parking ...and nice super market is useful....
Oct. 11, 2012, 11:22 am
sid from boerum hill says:
Fairway went into a similar warehouse in Red hook. the top floors are the dreaded condos...but of course that also has the much hated public parking ...and nice super market is useful....
Oct. 11, 2012, 11:22 am
ty from pps says:
Umm, Billy. These are commercial buildings. Historic or otherwise. You can pay for just keeping the buildings vacant and pretty if you'd like.

Maybe they should be warehouses...
Oct. 11, 2012, 4:49 pm

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