by Lisa W. Foderaro, The New York Times on Jul 27, 2015
On a sultry afternoon recently, Regina Myer, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, walked past profusions of swamp milkweed, rose mallows and cardinal flowers. Interspersed with lawns, the red and purple flora carpeted a new area of the park, which stretches for 1.3 miles along the East River. Until recently, Pier 6 near Atlantic Avenue had been largely barren. Now it evoked a Vermont meadow in midsummer.
“Pier 6 is a space where people can really relax and enjoy natural beauty, but atop a concrete deck in the middle of the East River,” Ms. Myer said. “It provides a landscape that you can almost get lost in.”
In recent months, Brooklyn Bridge Park has faced its share of travails, which at times seemed to eclipse the actual parkland. In May, the park corporation, which oversees the development of both the park’s public spaces and commercial real estate, settled a lawsuit brought by a community group, People for Green Space Foundation, over the development of two new residential towers that will include affordable housing. Other groups have complained about blocked views and increased traffic, and the park’s high-design Squibb Park Bridge has been closed for almost a year.
In August, however, attention will return to the innovative landscapes that have made the park, which is built on a series of piers, one of the most popular and publicized spaces in New York. Two new sections — at opposite ends — are set to open, filling in gaps with new lawns, flower gardens, winding waterfront paths and education centers.
At one end is the Pier 6 meadow, at the other is a new area of riverfront paths offering views of the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges; a small plaza with granite benches; and a tidal inlet with original concrete-and-steel footings from the Arbuckle Brothers coffee buildings that once stood on the site.
The Pier 6 portion, in particular, offers a different experience for parkgoers, since many of the features that have opened so far have been designed for active recreation. Pier 6 was intended by the park’s landscape architect, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, specifically for passive use. Thirty-five different plants, encircling a string of small lawns, will bloom at different times from spring to fall.
“When you take a walk through Central Park or Prospect Park,” Ms. Myer said, “you get these wonderful long views, and we’re excited to have that same kind of experience out on our pier.”
The section at the northern end, near the Manhattan Bridge, by contrast, plays up its urban, industrial past. At the foot of Jay Street, landscape designers decided to preserve the old train tracks, embedding them in a plaza that serves as the park’s northern entrance.
“There was so much manufacturing in this area, and the trains brought goods to the docks,” Ms. Myer said, over the din of the B, D, N and Q trains running on the outside of the Manhattan Bridge. “Having that historic vestige here seemed like the right thing to do.”
This area of the park will also include an annex of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum; an Environmental Education Center, to be run by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy; new bathrooms; a rebuilt dog run; a refurbished lawn; and new flower gardens.
The Environmental Education Center will be housed in a refurbished park building, at 99 Plymouth Street, that previously belonged to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.
The outpost of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum will have a small space on the ground floor of a 12-story condominium building at 1 John Street, one of the park’s real estate projects. The space was donated by the developer as part of the original agreement with the park corporation.
Closer to the Brooklyn Bridge, the park’s main shopping draw, called Empire Stores, is now under construction. The retail and office complex will occupy a former coffee warehouse. The 330,000-square-foot structure consists of several contiguous brick buildings, and will house a satellite space of the Brooklyn Historical Society. Ms. Myer said that the home furnishing company West Elm would anchor the project, expected to open in the spring.
Next door is the Tobacco Warehouse, another historic structure, which this fall will become the new home of St. Ann’s Warehouse, a Brooklyn performing arts organization.
The warehouse structure was the focus of lawsuits brought by neighborhood groups that had challenged a city, state and federal decision to turn it over to St. Ann’s. In 2012, the lawsuits were settled, paving the way for the theater’s move while adding city-owned land beneath the Manhattan Bridge to the park.
The park was conceived with an unusual financial model, in which commercial development pays for its costly operations and maintenance.
Local residents appeared eager for the new parkland near Jay Street to open. On the recent afternoon, people were taking pictures of the northernmost section through a chain-link fence. “This is the first time,” Ms. Myer explained, “that there is public access and park development in this area.”
Please click here to read an online version of this article.