Proposals for DUMBO’s Empire Stores include green roofs, retail, office space

April 22, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Ten design firms have submitted ambitious proposals for the development of the long-empty Empire Stores coffee warehouses on the waterfront in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

The proposals aim to generate income for the adjacent Brooklyn Bridge Park while preserving and reusing the landmarked 19th century structures.

The designs include retail, office and cultural space, and have built in features like terraced green roofs, glass structures, outdoor decks and restaurants.

On April 19 the Community Advisory Council (CAC) provided feedback to Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is mulling over the proposals. The design firms will remain unnamed so as not to “bias” the process. The park hopes to announce the winning firm sometime this summer.

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The seven contiguous buildings at 53-83 Water St. are four and five stories in height. Their brick walls feature distinctive round-arch openings and iron shutters, which can be seen from the Brooklyn Bridge. According to the New York Landmarks Conservancy, architect Thomas Stone constructed them in 1869, with additions in 1885.

The Tobacco Warehouse, a similar landmarked structure just south of the Empire Stores, is also being developed. Rogers Marvel Architects presented to a Community Board 2 subcommittee on April 18 a set of renderings for St. Ann’s Warehouse, a theater to be built inside the structure.

The Tobacco Warehouse was granted to the private St. Ann’s Warehouse theater company as part of a deal that would cede a plot of city-owned land under the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO to Brooklyn Bridge Park. As part of the arrangement, the Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores building were removed from the park.

While picturesque, the Empire Stores are in poor condition. According to the Landmarks website, “Its huge scale, limited fenestration, and deteriorated condition pose reuse problems which, thus far have proven insuperable.” In 2004, the Empire State Development Corporation issued a Request for Proposals and received several reuse ideas, but did not designate a developer.

The firms submitting proposals this time around were told that their proposals must preserve and restore the landmarked structure; generate revenue for park maintenance; “activate” the building along with Brooklyn Bridge Park and Water Street frontages; seek “design excellence” for adaptive reuse; and transform the building into a “vibrant destination that complements Park and surrounding areas.”

All the proposals can be seen at http://www.brooklynbridgepark.org

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