Landmarks Preservation Commission tells Marvel Architects to change its design for 29 Jay St. project

Gelsey Kirkland's ballet school will be demolished to make way for DUMBO office building

September 25, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This is the initial design for an office building at 29 Jay St. It's going to be modified. Renderings by Marvel Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
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Bye-bye, ballet school.

The owners of a DUMBO Historic District warehouse in which famous ballerina Gelsey Kirkland’s dance school is located plan to tear down the structure and construct an 11-story office building.

On Tuesday, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission reviewed Marvel Architects’ design for the  proposed development at 29 Jay St. — and sent the architecture firm back to the drawing board for a do-over.

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In a hearing at the preservation agency’s Manhattan headquarters, several commissioners said the design of the proposed 148-foot-tall Forman Building had excessively large windows compared with the amount of masonry on its facade.

The masonry would be glass fiber reinforced concrete in a beige hue. The construction material is a reference to historic factory buildings in the neighborhood.

The design would be “out of place in DUMBO” and more suitable to an office district like Bryant Park,  the commission’s Vice Chairman Fred Bland said.

Various members of the Forman family have owned the property on the corner of Jay and Plymouth streets since 1974, city Finance Department records indicate. The current ownership structure is a limited liability company with Peter Forman as a member.

In bygone days, Forman Brothers Inc. was a neighborhood manufacturer of metal housewares.

In her testimony, Doreen Gallo of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance applauded the Forman family’s “ongoing commitment to DUMBO” and said the proposed 29 Jay St. project “would be an exceptional addition that will further enhance our neighborhood and therefore quality of life.”

Is it kosher to demolish the existing building?

The low-rise warehouse that now stands at 29 Jay St. was constructed in the mid-1970s. Since 2015 it has been the home of the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet and a theater called GK Arts Center.

Kirkland, one of the most renowned American dancers of her generation, joined New York City Ballet at age 15 in 1968. She joined American Ballet Theater in 1974 at the invitation of dance superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov, who had just defected from the Soviet Union.

Kirkland moved from dancing to teaching and coaching in 1986.

The previous occupant of 29 Jay St. was St. Ann’s Warehouse, which staged theater productions there for several years before it moved to its permanent home in the historic Tobacco Warehouse at the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

In testimony at the hearing, Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City argued that the existing building at 29 Jay St. has value because of its use by artists — who were a factor in reviving the  neighborhood when it fell into disrepair.

“Demolition of the existing building is a serious mistake,” Gough said. “It has a history and a potential cultural mission.”

The city is starting to recognize landmarks for their cultural significance even when they lack “architectural distinction” — like the Stonewall Inn, the icon of the gay rights movement, she said.  

Zoning changes sought

In order to do office construction at 29 Jay St., the Formans need to get zoning changes from the city.

According to paperwork they filed, if they don’t obtain these zoning changes, they’ll do as-of-right residential construction instead.

This alternative development would be 145 feet tall and have 141 apartments, retail space and 45 parking spaces.

Marvel Architects has a distinguished track record in DUMBO. It drew up the award-winning design for St. Ann’s Warehouse, an avant-garde theater at 45 Water St. It was constructed inside the walls of an 1860s tobacco-storage building.

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