By Zach Campbell
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
WILLIAMSBURG — It won’t be held in the decrepit Depression-era swimming pool this summer. Nor will it take place in the 7-acre waterfront park that was once slated to become a waste treatment plant and truck depot. This summer’s waterfront concert series in Williamsburg will be in a new location — an unassuming, empty lot between two warehouses on the corner of North 12th Street and Kent Avenue.
The lot is part of a much larger plan. The concerts were first put on by the Open Space Alliance (OSA) at McCarren Park Pool to draw attention to the then-crumbling structure, central to this north Brooklyn neighborhood. Profits from the concerts, which drew thousands of people, were funneled directly into the site’s renovation and, within two years, the space caught the eye of New York’s elected officials. After a $50 million investment from the city, the pool is now set to open again to the public this summer.
Similarly, the concerts proved a means for drawing attention to and developing unused public space. The lot that is now the East River State Park (also known as the Williamsburg Waterfront) was set to become a waste treatment plant and later a truck depot. At the convincing of one of the area’s state Assembly members, the lot’s owner eventually sold it to the state to be turned into a park.
By holding concerts in these unused spaces, explained Stephanie Thayer, director of OSA, the community was able to draw attention to and raise funds for their renovation and conversion for public use.
“Think about McCarren Park Pool before the concerts. There were trees growing out of the middle of the pool, people sleeping in the structure,” Thayer said. “This completely neglected space will be available to the public year-round starting this summer.”
As for the East River park, Thayer explained, “We came in and did the concerts, and by the time we left after three years, we had donated more than $300,000 to the park and paid more than $200,000 in fees to the state. They were able to make real improvements to the park because of that.”
The Open Space Alliance last week announced an architectural competition for designs that will rejuvenate the new concert space. They are looking for creative ideas for how to turn the abandoned lot into a public recreation area, with specific input on the space’s lighting, safety barriers, shade structures and other features.
“They’re looking for something that reflects the creativity and the roots of the community, and draws attention to the fact that this lot has not yet been developed — we’d like to see it developed into a park someday,” said state Assemblyman Joe Lentol, whose district has included all three of the OSA concert spaces and who was originally responsible for the sale of the East River park.
Lentol hopes OSA can tap the neighborhood’s creative talent to redesign the space, turning it into, he says, “what a space in Williamsburg is supposed to look like — something that reflect the roots of the neighborhood.”
Not everybody in Williamsburg has favored the concerts, though. The last three summers have seen a small number of complaints about noise and crowding on the streets. By moving the concerts to a new space in a more industrial part of Kent Avenue, OSA hopes to soothe any potential concerns coming from the community.
Thayer hope the new space will be another opportunity to turn an abandoned lot into useful public space, with this competition as a way to take input from local creatives.
Unlike the McCarren Park Pool and the East River Park before it, the new space has no natural beauty or redeeming historical qualities.
“The neighborhood has been on the forefront of arts and culture, and I really believe we can take this and turn it into something extraordinary,” Thayer added. “It’s just a chain-link asphalt lot — I don’t know what they’ll come up with, but I’m really excited to see.”