The historic Empire Stores warehouses, a remnant of Brooklyn’s industrial past, have sat empty and crumbling along the East River for decades, but now a development team has been selected to rehabilitate the dilapidated structures into a commercial complex composed of dining, office, retail, and public green spaces.
Brooklyn Bridge Park announced that Developer Midtown Equities and STUDIO V Architects—along with Rockwood Capital and HK Organization—will restore the seven contiguous, Romanesque Revival–style warehouses, while adding ontemporary design features to make the structure more suitable for commercial use, connect with the park, and engage the local community. Midtown Equities beat out nine other developers, including Jamestown Properties, the brainchild behind Chelsea Market, and DUMBO revitalizer Two Trees, to secure a 96-year operating lease. “Midtown Equities was identified as the most qualified developer based on its design excellence and willingness to provide exciting opportunities for public interaction within this historic structure,” said Regina Myer, President of Brooklyn Bridge Park, in a statement.
STUDIO V’s proposed renovation of the warehouse balances a keen understanding for the demands of historic preservation with a modern approach to the overall design. The firm, led by principal Jay Valgora, seeks to respect the integrity of the original buildings by exposing the timber beams and stone schist walls, while also updating the complex to accommodate new uses. Valgora explained that even though the bones of the structure are robust, it was designed to house coffee beans in a cool environment, and requires necessary changes to make the interior inhabitable.
“We’re going to strictly follow the standards required by the National Park Service. As an architect, history is essential to your city. Old buildings should be restored, rehabilitated, and used,” said Valgora. “We are going to meticulously restore the massive structural arches and brick walls to the highest standards and then complement that with a very light and transparent architecture that will be of our time.”
The roughly 347,000-square-foot complex will include seven floors of spaces and offer public access along with a host of other amenities, including an expansive food market, farm-to-table restaurants run by up-and-coming and established chefs, and five floors of office space. In addition, there will be a series of terraces and courtyards sprinkled on the upper floors, as well as a sizeable green roof. The Brooklyn Historical Society is currently in talks with Midtown Equities to occupy a 3,000-square-foot space on the second floor reserved for a local cultural institution. The development will also feature retail: DUMBO-based West Elm, the furnishings store, plans to move its store and headquarters into the building.
“We really want to create a rich and unique program that responds to the design of the building, and to pull the park up through the top of the building,” said Valgora.
With the Empire Stores warehouses situated right in the flood plane and only steps away from the East River, flooding must be addressed. STUDIO V has said they will take measures to prepare the structure from future storms by placing electrical services on the second floor and employing a dry proofing strategy that will add floodgates around the perimeter of the buildings at the ground floor to cover large openings.