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Admirals Row alternatives presented

The Municipal Art Society presented six different alternative plans to the U.S. Army National Guard Bureau, each demonstrating that it is possible to retain the historic buildings on the Admiral’s Row site while also allowing for the construction of a much-needed supermarket and new retail and industrial space.

In addition, the MAS plans showed that reconfiguring the planned new buildings could allow for additional green space, pedestrian accommodation and community uses instead of a suburban-style sea of parking.

The MAS alternative plans were developed after a visioning session in which community representatives, architects, preservationists, and other experts came together to brainstorm about ways to save the buildings and use their preservation to further the needs of the surrounding community and the mission of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC).

The future of the Admiral’s Row buildings is in question because the National Guard is in the process of selling the site to the City of New York, which will lease it to the BNYDC. The BNYDC proposes developing a 65,000-square-foot grocery store (approximately the size of the Fairway in Red Hook), a large surface parking lot for at least 300 cars, and additional retail and industrial space on the site.

The BNYDC maintains that its plans can only be accomplished if all of the site’s existing buildings are demolished. However, MAS believes that the development of a grocery store and retail and industrial space does not necessitate the demolition of the Admiral’s Row buildings, especially since the historic buildings only occupy approximately 25 percent of the six-acre site.

“Creative site planning with involvement of the community enabled us to create alternative plans that meet the Navy Yard’s program for a grocery store and retail and industrial space while allowing for the restoration and reuse of the historic buildings,” said Lisa Kersavage, director of advocacy and policy for MAS.

Kersavage continued, “BNYDC’s plan calls for a sea of nearly 400 parking spaces in the fashion of the suburban-style supermarket model. By contrast, MAS’s alternative plans show that by reconfiguring or even reducing the parking and shifting the location of the new buildings, a greener and more pedestrian-friendly site can be achieved.”

Located on the edge of the Brooklyn Navy Yard at Flushing Avenue and Navy Street, Admiral’s Row is a collection of 11 National Register-eligible historic buildings currently owned by the US Army National Guard Bureau. The site includes 10 houses, constructed between the mid-19th century until 1901, which housed high-ranking naval officers until the early 1970s. Also on the site is a timber shed from the 1830s, believed to be the only mid-19th survivor of this building type among all the Navy yards throughout the United States. Long and narrow, the timber shed’s form made it ideal for storing ship masts as they cured.

“Together, these buildings are a remarkable collection of residential and naval service buildings that are incredibly significant to the Navy Yard, the borough of Brooklyn, and even the larger history of the U.S. Navy,” said Melissa Baldock, KRESS/RFR Fellow for Historic Preservation at MAS. “The buildings of the Brooklyn Navy Yard were executed on a grander scale with more ornate details than comparable buildings at other navy yards throughout the United States. Although they have been abandoned and allowed to deteriorate since the early 1970s, they retain a great deal of both exterior and interior architectural detail, and most are structurally sound.”

The participants in the MAS visioning session developed several principles to guide the preparation of the alternatives. These included: saving ideally all of the buildings on the site, but in a worst-case scenario, only losing three or four of them; retaining green space; reducing substantially the number of surface parking spaces; and providing a use in the historic buildings that would provide public access, serve the needs of the community, and help foster small businesses and new employment opportunities.

Renderings produced by Andrew Burdick of the studio collaborative and Architecture for Humanity New York, illustrate the stark differences between the concept behind one of the MAS alternatives and the BNYDC’s proposal. In the MAS alternative, the historic houses along Flushing Street are retained and are used on their ground floor as retail to encourage pedestrians to walk between the houses into a central green space.

Additions connecting the upper floors in the rear of the historic buildings could enable them to be used as a business incubator or startup business center. The timber shed in this scheme is elongated and used as a farmer’s market. By contrast, the same viewpoint in the BNYDC’s plan simply shows the suburban-sized supermarket and acres of asphalt and concrete.

The MAS plans did not make specific recommendations for the uses of the new buildings, as it will seek more ideas from the community and others about possibilities. Ideas that have come forth so far are small retail uses, incubator spaces for small businesses, community centers, art spaces, galleries, theaters, day care centers, and health clinics, among others. Also, the idea of adapting the timber shed into a farmers market or another type of food market was put forth. MAS is working with developers to study ways to finance the restoration of the buildings, including using possible revenue from the plans’ retail component.

The MAS presentation was part of a federally-mandated Section 106 process, which provides the public with the opportunity to comment on the buildings’ demolition and to suggest alternatives that could prevent or mitigate the demolition of the historic structures. MAS received funding from the Daniel K. Thorne Intervention Fund of the Northeast Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the development of the alternative plans.

The Municipal Art Society of New York fights for intelligent urban planning, design and preservation through education, dialogue and advocacy. The organization was founded in 1893.

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