By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Bridge Park on Friday released a long-awaited Request for Proposals for development and re-use of the Empire Stores warehouses in the Empire Fulton Ferry section of the park.
The Empire Stores are a complex of seven four- and five-story warehouses that were built in 1869 and for many years were used to store coffee, tea and other materials. As the shipping industry left the neighborhood, the warehouses fell into disuse and became vacant in the 1950s.
In the 1970s, the buildings, along with the nearby Tobacco Warehouse, became part of the newly created Empire Fulton Ferry Park.
Two Trees Management (in the 1980s, in conjunction with what is now NYU Polytechnic) and Boymelgreen Developers (in 2002) both were designated to develop the warehouses in response to earlier RFPs. However, both of these deals fell through, according to Maureen Lynch, a spokeswoman for Brooklyn Bridge Park.
As recently as the mid-2000s, one of the buildings was used as office space for the state Parks Department, which administered the park before it was absorbed into Brooklyn Bridge Park.
“The Empire Stores warehouses have played a vital role in the development of the Brooklyn waterfront, and it is important that these historic structures be preserved,” said Regina Myer, president of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
“This development ensures that we preserve the long-vacant Empire Stores and is critical to our ability to fund park maintenance and operations in years to come,” she added.
An agreement earlier this year that settled an unrelated controversy over the development of the Tobacco Warehouse also reaffirmed the park’s commitment to developing the Empire Stores, and earmarked the buildings for commercial and retail use. By contrast, the Tobacco Warehouse has been designated for cultural and community use.
The New York Landmarks Conservancy has included the Empire Stores on its “Endangered Buildings Initiative.” Peg Breen, president of the Conservancy, told the Eagle that commercial and retail use would be ideal for the buildings.
Breen added that she believes the Empire Stores to be less structurally stable than the nearby Tobacco Warehouse. Although the Tobacco Warehouse has no roof, she said, it was stabilized, in part because of the efforts of the Conservancy, when it was in danger of falling down in the 1990s.
Lynch, however, said that “Empire Stores is in better condition than the Tobacco Warehouse, which has no roof.” She pointed out that “Empire Stores are easily accessible from Water Street and Main Street, and we also hope to have the building accessible from the park side as well.”
The buildings, which contain approximately 327,000 square feet of space, are bordered by Water, Main and Dock streets and the park itself.
Responses to the RFP are due on Dec. 10. There will be a site visit and information session on Nov. 1.
The Request for Proposals can be obtained from the official park website.