Henrik Krogius and Joanne Witty untangle the tale of the ‘jewel’ of the Brooklyn waterfront
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Bridge Park is a remarkable park with a remarkably complex history – and now two insiders who were there from the beginning are working together on a book chronicling the story of how all the moving pieces came together.
Henrik Krogius, Emmy-award winning news producer and recently-retired editor of the Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News, is writing the park’s history with Joanne Witty, a director at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation.
Author of "The Brooklyn Heights Promenade," the history of that earlier project, Krogius has followed the story of Brooklyn Bridge Park closely from the outset, even preceding his 22 years as editor of the Heights Press. Witty, named president of the park’s LDC after it was formed, brings a wealth of inside information about the councils and debates that led to the compromises necessary to get the park built.
Covering the development that led to Brooklyn Bridge Park “has to be the biggest single story we followed,” Krogius said.
While stakeholders had been mulling what to do with the Brooklyn Heights piers after cargo ship operations ceased in the early 80s, the “first, clear, direct proposals” for a park along the waterfront were developed in 1988, he said.
The story covers several decades, from the closing of the piers by 1983 to the eventual construction of the park (which continues to this day).
Sometimes called the “jewel” of the Brooklyn waterfront, Brooklyn Bridge Park -– with a unique mandate to be self-sustaining -- is also one of the most controversial parks in Brooklyn history.
The park was developed “through persistent community pressure and the working out of many differences both with government bodies and between neighborhoods,” Krogius said.
What has he found most surprising? “The degree of competing interests among the different communities –- the Heights, DUMBO, Fulton Ferry Landing –- was greater than I thought,” he said.
Another surprise was how worries about transportation to the park played out. “In the beginning, everyone worried about traffic and parking,” Krogius said. “That was the number one concern early on. Now, traffic concerns have very much faded as the park is getting to be used."
“It’s very complex –- and it still is contentious,” Witty said. “But very satisfying.”
The most surprising thing about Brooklyn Bridge Park is “that it was built,” she said. “The idea that a project of this kind was largely planned by the community planning process, was adapted and funded by the government, and is being built essentially the same as conceived is remarkable.
“The people who were there can look at it and see things they talked about with the planners. They did it. Everybody can be proud of it, everybody who was there. A few things were taken out of the plan, usually for a good reason -– environmental issues, for example. But basically this is the plan, and it got built, and it’s remarkable.”
The original plans by the Port Authority to offer the piers for private development were challenged by the Brooklyn Heights Association, which promoted the vision of a "Harbor Park," Krogius recounted.
For over a decade Anthony Manheim spearheaded that effort, encountering repeated opposition from the Port Authority and city agencies, until, in 1998, a Local Waterfront Development Corporation (LDC) was established with state and local government support to carry the project forward.
The book describes the evolution of the 2000 master plan, and the controversial inclusion of luxury housing as a way to finance the park in a revised plan in 2004.
Krogius describes working with Witty, who was instrumental in developing the community process that formed the park during its early days. “I wrote three chapters and she revised them. Then she wrote the fourth chapter and the introduction and I revised them,” he said. The book will be profusely illustrated with diagrams, renderings and photographs, many of them by Krogius himself.
This is Krogius’ third book and Witty’s first. Krogius “is so knowledgeable, he’s wise, he has a sense of humor, he’s a great photographer and he writes beautifully. It’s really fun,” Witty said.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is a work in progress. Still under construction are the uplands to Piers 3 and 4, and Pier 2. The remaining phases include the housing and commercial developments, and more parkland features as additional funding becomes available.
The book’s publication date depends on the park’s construction, Krogius said.
“We don’t want the book to come out prematurely; probably not for at least a year. Then we will know what will happen clearly.”
To read more about Krogius’ insights following two decades of change in Brooklyn and his books “New York, You're a Wonderful Town!: Fifty-Plus Years of Chronicling Gotham;” and “The Brooklyn Heights Promenade” visit www.brooklyneagle.com