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Demolition Not Necessary to Redevelop Admiral’s Row

admirals row

MAS Convenes Experts and Community in Visioning Session to Explore How to Incorporate Historic Buildings in Revitalization of Brooklyn Neighborhood.

In mid-August, MAS brought together community representatives, architects, preservationists, and other experts in a brainstorming session to develop alternatives to the proposed demolition of Admiral’s Row. 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 U.S. Army National Guard Bureau.

The Admiral’s Row site includes ten houses, formerly home to high-ranking naval officers, constructed between the mid-nineteenth century and 1901, and a timber shed used primarily to store ship masts while they cured dating from 1838. The latter is the oldest building on-site, and is believed to be the only surviving mid-nineteenth century example of this building type in Navy yards in the United States. Although these historic buildings 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. Together they form a remarkable collection of residential and accessory military buildings that are of great significance to the history of the Navy Yard, the borough of Brooklyn, and the U.S. Navy.

Currently, the National Guard is in the process of selling the property to the City of New York/Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC) which plans to demolish the buildings to accommodate the construction of a 65,000-square-foot grocery store (approximately the size of the Fairway store in Red Hook), a large parking lot, and additional retail and industrial space. BNYDC claims that its plan is the only way to meet its twin goals of providing additional industrial space and jobs while addressing the need for a grocery store for the community. The sale of the property has triggered the federally-mandated Section 106 process, which gives the public the opportunity to comment on the buildings’ demolition and to suggest alternatives that could prevent or mitigate the demolition of the historic structures.

Viable Alternatives to Demolition – MAS has long questioned whether the development of a much-need grocery store and additional retail and industrial space necessitates the demolition of the Admiral’s Row buildings, since the historic buildings only occupy approximately 25% of the six-acre site. With funding from the Daniel K. Thorne Intervention Fund of the Northeast Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, MAS hired architect Russell Crader to develop initial site plans that investigated several different alternatives incorporating the approximate square footage for the BNYDC’s proposed grocery store, industrial space, retail space, and parking, as well as the retention of the historic buildings.

admirals row visioning

Held at the Pratt Center for Community Development, the visioning session participants from the Fort Greene Association, Pratt Area Community Council, Architecture for Humanity New York, Historic Districts Council, and several other groups and individuals, used these initial plans as a departure point for investigating the feasibility of the BNYDC plan and how the preservation of the buildings can help further the needs of local residents and the mission of BNYDC. While each participant brought a unique perspective on the future of the site to the table, they concurred that, in addition to the preservation of the buildings and meeting the needs of BNYDC and the local community, public open space should be retained and incorporated in the site plans. The participants also agreed that the 350-400 surface parking spaces proposed by BNYDC are problematic, and that alternative solutions like rooftop, or decked, parking, or a reduction in the amount of parking are necessary. The idea of using both new construction and the rehabilitation of the historic buildings to create a new retail cluster along Flushing Avenue was also popular.

These ideas were incorporated into the initial plans and officially presented to the National Guard, the BNYDC, and other interested parties at a Section 106 meeting on August 20. In the fall, MAS, in conjunction with key local groups, will continue to expand and enrich the alternative plans by presenting them to the public for feedback and input. The National Guard will host additional Section 106 meetings in late 2008 and early 2009. Within this time-frame, MAS is tasked with convincing the National Guard and the BNYDC that the preservation of the Admiral’s Row buildings and the new construction proposed by BNYDC are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

The writer is Kress/RFR Fellow for Historic Preservation and Public Policy.