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Critics throw stones at Empire Stores' glass rooftop plan

The Empire Stores warehouses have been waiting for renovation for decades. File photo by Amy Davis

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Preservationists and DUMBO residents turned out Tuesday to oppose the rooftop addition planned for the historic Empire Stores warehouses in Brooklyn Bridge Park – and the city Landmarks Preservation Commission shared their objections.

At a hearing in Lower Manhattan Tuesday, the commissioners criticized two glass-clad floors and a big bulkhead planned for the roof of the crumbling but iconic complex. One of them spoke of a “slick glass addition.” Another said if construction were to be done on the rooftop, the developer should choose materials that are a better match with the gritty brick of the historic structures.

“I am troubled by its generic quality,” Commissioner Michael Goldblum said of the glass-facade design.

A public greenspace is planned for Empire Stores' rooftop, with killer views of Brooklyn Bridge and the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan - Rendering by STUDIO V Architecture

The preservation agency's staff will write up an advisory report that reflects the Commissioners' objections. The Empire Stores complex is part of the Fulton Ferry Historic District – but the State Historic Preservation Office, or SHPO, has decision-making power over the warehouses' redevelopment.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission plays an advisory role – one that Commission Chairman Robert Tierney hopes the developer in charge of the project, Midtown Equities, will appreciate.

“Take to heart the good-faith advice we are tendering,” he told Midtown principal Jack Cayre, who was present.

Midtown Equities, which won the coveted 96-year lease of Empire Stores, plans a major makeover for the seven warehouses, four built in 1869-1870 and three in 1885. The LPC uses 55 Water St. as their address.

Here's a scene to twist the heartstrings: The iconic Twin Towers,  which were destroyed in the 9/11 terror attacks, pierce the skyline behind the Empire Stores warehouses. File photo by Amy Davis

The warehouses of 19th Century Brooklyn's bustling waterfront - Image courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

Jack Cayre heads the firm with his father Joseph and brother Michael. They hired Studio V Architecture to handle the design for the renovation of the former coffee and dry-goods warehouses.

Commissioners also criticized Studio V for not including a master plan for where signage will be placed on the iconic buildings, which have sat vacant for a half-century.

DUMBO residents and advocates gave Commissioners an earful about Studio V's designs, despite architect Jay Valgora's insistence that the glassed-in top floors would be “very delicate” and provide “appropriate architectural contrast” with the 19th Century brick industrial property.

Empire Stores, dilapidated but stunning, with the Brooklyn Bridge - File photo by Amy Davis

“The massive addition will alter the building forever without making it better,” said Doreen Gallo of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance, one of many opponents who voiced concerns about the project.

Midtown Equities' design would turn the roof  into “a glassed-in party venue destined to become just another wedding mill,” DUMBO resident and property owner Ethan Goldman said in his testimony.

It would wreck the extraordinary views neighborhood visitors enjoy of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, he said.

“This is the first and most important element that brings people from all over the word to DUMBO,” he said. “The neighborhood itself is part of an architectural wonder.”

Midtown Equities plans to build two stories on top of historic Empire Stores, as this design drawing shows. Rendering by STUDIO V Architecture

Midtown Equities is asking a whopping $90 per square foot in rent for offices in the glassed-in roof space, The Real Deal reported last month. Office space that has been rented on lower floors was priced in the high $40s or low $50s per square foot, the real estate publication reported.

Brooklyn Bridge Park's board of directors chose Midtown Equities over nine other bidders. The firm's partners in the mammoth $150 million makeover project are Rockwood Capital and the HK Organization.

Amid the criticism, there was enthusiasm for the project, including a letter of support from outgoing Borough President Marty Markowitz which said the Cayres will take Empire Stores “from blighted eyesore to eye-catching icon.”

Developer Midtown Equities wants to make Empire Stores a place to work, eat and shop. Rendering by STUDIO V Architecture

December 17, 2013 - 6:00pm


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