Cobble Hill

Atlantic Avenue is at once a celebration of key elements: History, commerce & culture

March 21, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue, aside from being one of the longest avenues in the borough (Bedford is officially the longest), has many significant historic landmarks. Some, like the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, are not readily visible. But the corner that most people think of as simply ‘Atlantic and Court’ has a profound place in American history.

On a recent walking tour with Kelly Carroll, the new Executive Director of the Atlantic Avenue BID (Business Improvement District), Kelly brought along one of her biggest budget items: the crew who takes care of housecleaning on the street. The tour was led by Kelly and Andrzej Drozd, a supervisor for Block by Block, the company contracted to clean Atlantic Avenue.

The tour paused in front of the historic South Brooklyn Savings Bank building (now a Trader Joe’s that can boast having the largest open cubic space of any retailer on the Avenue). The historical marker on the front of the building celebrates a place and an event of the Revolutionary War. The plaque celebrates a reference to a Dutch name, Ponkiesberg, which translates into ‘Cobble Hill.’ This rocky hill, between 60 and 80 feet high, was the point from which General George Washington is said to have observed the emergence of the British forces marching through Gowanus toward downtown.

Kelly Carroll standing by one of the historic street lamps.

As the British began what would become the famous Battle of Brooklyn (aka the Battle of Long Island), Washington realized his army would be crushed if he didn’t escape with part of his troops. Books have been written about the amazing last minute retreat Washington made across the East River at Fulton Ferry, to escape and fight another day. Meanwhile, brave volunteers and mercenaries led by Lord Stirling held the British at bay while Washington fled with the bulk of his army.

If Washington had not done so, with insights gathered from his observations on Ponkiesberg Hill, the British would have crushed the American forces then and there, winning the war. Indeed, the British were so upset when they realized he had escaped, they leveled Ponkiesberg Hill to the elevations we see today (still one of the high points of Atlantic Avenue).

While the influence of the Dutch and the British is less visible on most of Atlantic Avenue, this particular corner is rich with history. Today, many diverse cultures are represented on the avenue, including a prominent Middle Eastern community that has led Atlantic Avenue to be called ‘Little Arabia.’

“It’s a very busy commercial strip, to say the least,” says Kelly Carroll, the new head of the Atlantic Avenue BID. “Most of our budget at the BID is actually keeping this place clean, and the guys do a great job.”

Atlantic Avenue comprises the southern edge of one of the fastest growing downtowns in America. It also extends through the heart of the Arena District, where Barclays arena and the Long Island Railroad Terminal bring together commuters, shoppers, tourists and hundreds of thousands of fans attending events.

The Eagle interviewed Kelly Carroll on her recent appointment as the Executive Director of the Atlantic Avenue BID. We share her insights with out readers.

Ponkiesberg plaque

EAGLE: How many members are part of the Atlantic Avenue BID, and when was it established?

KELLY CARROLL: The BID was established in 2011, and comprises just over 400 properties. Each individual affiliated with a property in the district is automatically a member of the BID.

EAGLE: Your particular BID covers from the harbor to 4th Avenue, correct? Are all the building owners within that area automatically members?

KC: The BID’s boundaries include most buildings with frontage along Atlantic Avenue between the BQE interchange on the west, to 4th Avenue on the east side, as well as properties with frontages on the side streets between State and Pacific Streets. BID membership is not limited to only building owners. For every tax lot included in the district, there are different classes of members. For example, an owner of an Atlantic Avenue building is a member, but so are the merchants that lease space from the owner, and also residents that lease space. All of these people are BID members.

Eddie sweeping in front of Trader Joe’s

EAGLE: We know the BID is taking care of enhanced street cleaning and doing a great job of it.

What’s happening with traffic mitigation, things to make Atlantic Avenue more pedestrian-friendly?

KC: Atlantic Avenue is a DOT Vision Zero Priority Corridor, and traffic mitigation is a constant battle. We are actively engaged with DOT via the BQE Central workshops, and are members of the Community Visioning Council and BQET. We are pushing for a comprehensive redesign of the deadly Atlantic Avenue interchange, including a closure the Atlantic Avenue eastbound ramp to the BQE. The Atlantic Avenue ramp is documented as one of the worst designed ramps in NYC, and its closure would create a safer pedestrian connection between Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the ferry landing at Pier 6. It would also help reduce the traffic volumes on the Atlantic Avenue corridor and Hicks Street.

Ramadan lights on Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Atlantic Avenue BID.

Atlantic Avenue has wide sidewalks, and protecting them is always a high priority in the context of future changes that may arrive on the Avenue. For example, if we were to get a bike lane on Atlantic Avenue, we would not want it to come at the expense of a reduction in the size of our sidewalks. The retention of the Avenue’s sidewalk footprints are imperative to the preservation of the public realm. Our clean team is the bedrock of the BID.

EAGLE: Is it part of the BID’s job to survey existing goods and services and work to bring balance to the street? What is the predominant business category on Atlantic Avenue?

KC: A future goal I have for the BID is to conduct a CDNA, which is a Commercial District Needs Assessment. It’s a deep dive of how our corridor functions as an organism, including analysis of the storefront and retail mix, conducting door-to-door merchant surveys and consumer and shopper surveys, and an inventory of streetscape conditions that affect the shopping experience.

Atlantic Avenue has several predominant business categories, which is what makes our corridor a distinct destination. People visit here because of the multi-dimensional experience: one can spend the afternoon shopping for artful homewares and hand-made clothing, or bounce around to our thrift and consignment shops. Eating and drinking on Atlantic Avenue offers the same breadth of experience — there’s such a spectrum of price and diversity of cuisine, that you can create just about any dining experience you desire. We really are a 24-hour corridor, with professional services shops opening early in the morning, to our bars staying through the “wee hours.”

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