Empire Stores project seeks big-time chefs, artisanal food producers

Developer Midtown Equities is trying to draw top-flight foodies to a “large open marketplace” planned for the first floor of long-abandoned Empire Stores in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Midtown Equities – which the park's board of directors tapped in September to restore Empire Stores – is working to nail down tenants for nearly 380,000 square feet of office, retail, restaurant and event space.

Empire Stores fell into disrepair after going unused for decades. Photo courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

“We'd really like to do something special for Brooklyn,” Jay Valgora, principal of STUDIO V Architecture, hired by Midtown Equities for the project to rehab and re-use the seven historic coffee and dry-goods warehouses, told a Community Board 2 Land Use Committee meeting Wednesday night.

“We've met with every great chef in New York, the great chefs in Brooklyn, artisanal food producers, ” he said. “We want to do something special here that really reflects the unique character of this borough, of this community.”

Restaurants, cafes and outdoor dining are also planned for the waterfront complex, which has been largely unused for half-a-century and has seen numerous renovation plans come to naught.

Midtown Equities, headed by Joseph Cayre and sons Jack and Michael, is seeking tech tenants for the upper floors of the buildings, Valgora said. Furniture seller West Elm, which is located in DUMBO, is Empire Stores' first tenant, he said. West Elm signed a 20-year lease for 150,000 square feet, Crain's New York Business previously reported.   

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

Manhattan-based Midtown Equities, which has nearly 1 million square feet of development properties in Brooklyn, beat out nine other bidders for the 96-year lease of the 19th Century warehouses. The firm's partners in the $150 million project at 53-83 Water St. are Rockwood Capital and the HK Organization.

The CB's Land Use Committee approved STUDIO V's design, which calls for the addition of two glass-clad floors on the warehouses' roof. The vote was 8 in favor, 2 against and 2 abstentions.

Up on the roof …. of proposed Empire Stores makeover. Rendering by STUDIO V Architecture

The committee okayed the renovation plan despite community advocates' objections to the proposed rooftop construction.

“The rooftop addition is designed as a massive structure that will change the building's historical value and character forever,” Lee Meirowitz of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance testified.

Valgora said the developer is taking a “sensitive approach” to building restoration. Metal shutters will be salvaged when possible, along with chutes that were used to slide sacks of coffee.

The design includes greenspace on the roof and a pathway through the center of the buildings, which would increase public access to the extraordinary properties.

The buildings, which were flooded during Hurricane Sandy, will have their mechanical systems installed on mezzanines, well above the floodplain, he said.

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

The renovation plans are scheduled for a mid-December review by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Retail space in the project is in strong demand, Jack Cayre revealed Thursday at a real estate forum.

“I wouldn't be exaggerating to say there's three tenants for every space lining up there,” Cayre said at the Future of Brooklyn Summit, staged by event-planner Bisnow at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott.

After the panel presentation, Cayre told the Brooklyn Eagle that deciding which tenants to choose will be “one of the biggest challenges” of the project. He declined to reveal the would-be tenants' names.

“We can make it the best project in the city,” he said.

Historic map of waterfront Brooklyn from STUDIO V Architecture presentation about Empire Stores renovation project. Image courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture 

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