Warehoused! First shop opens in Empire Stores — don’t expect the rest until 2017

Warehoused! First shop opens in Empire Stores — don’t expect the rest until 2017
Community News Group / Lauren Gill

This warehouse is still a bare house!

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s long-awaited Empire Stores warehouse redevelopment finally opened its doors on Thursday with the arrival of high-end Dumbo furniture hawker West Elm, but don’t start planning a big shopping expedition there just yet — no other stores will open there until next year, according to a spokeswoman for the developer.

Builder Midtown Equities was originally slated to open its retail, restaurant, and office complex inside the seven connected Civil War-era buildings in 2015, though in May of this year told this paper it would open the compound in the fall. But the rep now claims there haven’t been any delays, and this was the plan all along.

“Fall 2016 was the estimate for the first store, so we’re on track,” said Midtown spokeswoman Tina Clabbers. “West Elm was first to move in, and now others will start.”

Construction on the rest of the landmarked Water Street property is “nearing completion,” she said, and other tenants — which include a satellite museum of the Brooklyn Historical Society, an outpost of popular area eatery Vinegar Hill House, a rooftop beer garden, and a storefront for hip watchmaker Shinola — will soon begin their decking out their spaces for an expected opening of winter 2017.

Still, early shoppers say they like what is there so far — especially West Elm’s in-house cafe, which has views looking out over the East River.

‘Nearing completion’: Much of Empire Stores is still very much under construction.
Community News Group / Ruth Brown

“I think it’s beautiful, they did a really good job preserving it,” said Dumbo resident Christy Gibb, who visited the emporium on its opening day. “The coffee shop has the best view going.”

The makeover is a long time coming for the historic structure, where coffee barons the Arbuckle brothers once stored and packaged their famed Ariosa brand in the late 19th century, but has been sitting vacant and decomposing since the 1960s.

Dumbo real-estate tycoon David Walentas of Two Trees Management first secured the rights to redevelop the property in the mid-1980s, when it was part of Empire–Fulton Ferry State Park, but the state in 2002 handed it over to rival developer Shaya Boymelgreen, who planned to remodel the storehouse into Chelsea Market-style mall.

The state then took it back after four years of inaction, claiming Boymelgreen left the already decrepit buildings to languish into a dangerous state of disrepair. And finally in 2013, the city — now in control of the land after Brooklyn Bridge Park subsumed the state park in 2010 — tapped Midtown Equities for the job, granting it a 96-year lease.

Final fantasy: The designs for the finished Empire Stores.
Visual House

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill