Brooklyn Boro

$8.3 billion spend begins, creating more local jails

Brooklyn work set to begin this year, project here has history of opposition

June 27, 2021 Raanan Geberer
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In a move that is sure to have ramifications on Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday announced the beginning of construction on a parking garage and community space alongside a new jail in Kew Gardens, Queens.

The construction marks the first major activity in the Borough-Based Jails Program, an $8.3 billion effort to construct four “new, smaller, and more humane” jails in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens to replace the violence-ridden jails on Rikers Island. The adjacent Queens Detention Complex will begin demolition during the garage construction, and then the new Queens jail itself is slated to be built.

“Later this year,” according to the Mayor’s Office, “The Department of Design and Construction expects to award a contract to dismantle the Brooklyn Detention Center (at 275 Atlantic Ave.) and construct a temporary swing space to facilitate the DOC’s transfers for court appearances until construction of a new jail at the site is complete.”

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This development has long been publicized, but is not necessarily welcomed by all in the Brooklyn community, especially in the Downtown area. The city’s plan would more than double the current building’s height to a maximum of 295 feet, and would increase the number of beds from 815 to 1,437, according to previous reports in the Eagle. 

It would include 292 underground parking spaces, an answer to longtime community complaints that jail staffers take up too much streetside parking, as well as ground-floor retail and community space. 

A rendering of the planned Queens Parking Garage and Community Space adjacent to the future new jail in Kew Gardens, Queens. Photo courtesy of NYC Mayor’s Office

In preparation for the reconstruction, in January 2020, the inmates and staff were transferred to other city correctional facilities.

One of those who criticized the city’s plan for the Atlantic Avenue facility was Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who said in 2019 that the new facility should only have 900 beds. 

“What we are proposing advances the city’s goal of closing Rikers while providing real benefits to the surrounding community,” he said. As he is likely the city’s next mayor, it’s unclear what this will mean in the future.

At a 2018 ULURP hearing in the community, local leaders also criticized the plan. “It would be almost twice as large as any structure permitted in Downtown Brooklyn under current zoning,” Peter Bray, then executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said. 

Similarly, Sandy Balboza, president of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, said, “They want to rush to get this done before the mayor gets out of office.”

The building, originally called the Brooklyn House of Detention, was constructed in 1956, long before neighboring Boerum Hill became a fashionable area. It was closed in 2003 except for a skeleton staff, but then renovated with a visitors’ center and reopened in 2012.

As far as the Queens parking facility is concerned, to minimize the effect on the environment and the City’s infrastructure, the garage and adjacent community space will include a partial planted green roof, solar panels and on-site stormwater retention. As a result, the community space portion of the project is expected to qualify for LEED Gold certification for environmental sustainability. The project may also be the first in the city to qualify for Parksmart certification, the only certification program that recognizes high-performing, sustainable garages.

The Queens Parking Garage and Community Space is being created by the design-build team of Hunter Roberts Construction Group along with the architecture firms Marvel and Urbahn Architects. The NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) is managing the overall Borough-Based Jails program citywide.

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