Real estate powerhouse Two Trees Management Company has closed on its purchase of the former Domino Sugar factory, acquiring the massive real estate gem but not yet revealing whether it will stick to the original-but-controversial redevelopment blueprint or draft something new.
Two Trees, the development company famous for its game-changing work in DUMBO, sealed the deal last Friday, taking the former sugar plant off of the hands of the beleaguered Community Preservation Corporation Resources Inc. for $185 million.
Community Preservation Corporation bought the site in 2004 for $55.8 million and won a hard-fought approval for a plan build 2,200 apartments — 660 of them charging below market-rate rents — on waterfront land that had sat largely vacant since the late 1990s.
But after defaulting on a $120-million loan, the ambitious plan fell through — leaving the would-be builders looking to offload the property despite the efforts of investment partner Isaac Katan, who filed a handful of lawsuits to block the sale.
The last of those suits was thrown out last week.
Now, Two Trees says it will reach out to the community before determining if it will stick to the initial proposal — which despite its guarantee of “affordable housing” was the subject of vocal opposition and protests during the site’s contentious rezoning — or come up with something new.
“Over the coming months, Two Trees will be spending significant time in Williamsburg, listening to and learning from the local residents and community leaders who will be our new neighbors,” said Two Trees principal Jed Walentas. “This dialogue will help inform our decision whether to build the approved plan under the existing zoning, or to seek to improve upon it through a new public process.”
Two Trees appears better prepared to actually develop the Domino site than the previous owners, according to Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg) — and after talks with representatives from the company he likes the ways they have suggested deviating from the original plan.
“I think they have some ideas of things they’d like to do differently, like having more open space, more economic development, more green jobs,” said Levin.
But there is one part of the plan that Levin says must stay in place: the promised units of below market-rate housing.
“When we do a rezoning like this, the developer makes hundreds of millions of dollars overnight,” said Levin. “That commitment needs to be honored.”
Community Board 1 member and longtime Domino opponent Esteban Duran agrees.
“We look forward to working with them to make those commitments a reality,” said Duran.
CB1 member and land-use expert Ward Dennis said Two Trees will need to seek another rezoning if it plans to allocate anything less than 20 percent of its apartments as “affordable” units — but he is cheered by talk of a redesign.
“There is a lot that could be done better than the old design,” said Dennis. “It’s encouraging that they are looking to make improvements with the open space and the urban design.”