Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is officially getting a mega bookend to the East River after New York’s City Council gave its final approval to the Two Trees Management-developed River Ring tower complex. Last week, aside from banning gas hookups in new buildings and approving the SoHo and NoHo rezoning, the full 48-member City Council also gave its unanimous blessing to River Ring, the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and James Corner Field Operations-designed pair of skyscrapers, accompanying cove, and site master plan.
First unveiled to the public at the end of 2019, River Ring has undergone significant revisions in the time since but has retained some key core components. Building on existing concrete caissons already adjacent to the site at 87 and 105 River Street, the project will not only bring two mixed-use towers to the neighborhood but a 3-acre public waterfront park, a cove, a 50,000-square-foot YMCA, affordable housing, and other public infrastructure upgrades negotiated for between Two Trees and the surrounding community.
“After more than two years of conversations with residents, stakeholders and leaders, we’re grateful to Council Member Levin, the Zoning Subcommittee, and the Land Use Committee for their support of a precedent-setting project,” said Jed Walentas, principal of Two Trees Management, in an announcement. “River Ring will change how New Yorkers interact with our waterfront while also increasing affordable housing, providing a new model for resiliency, building a new public park and investing in community programs and spaces. We will bring the same commitment and dedication to River Ring that we’ve brought to the Domino redevelopment and Domino Park. Taken together, these two projects will provide approximately 1,000 units of affordable housing integrated within new, world-class buildings. Thanks to Council Member Levin, we have also committed to creating an acquisition fund to support the development of over 150 units of senior housing within Community Board 1. And by connecting River Ring and Domino, we will finally fill the missing link in North Brooklyn’s waterfront greenway.”
So, what’s exactly being built on the East River end of Metropolitan Avenue, just a stone’s throw from Domino Park?
The most obvious additions are the two BIG-designed, gridded towers that twist and slope to the water’s edge to preserve street-level views of the river (with those distended exterior columns carving out public arcade space beneath each). The two towers were originally pitched as 650 feet for the slender southern building and 600 feet for the boxier northern one, but the heights were rebalanced in March of this year after a comprehensive redesign that also saw the facade of both towers changed from a Cor-ten orange to a more muted grey. Now, the taller tower will top out at 710 feet, while the shorter has been reduced to 560 feet.
After three years of community engagement and ongoing discussions with residents, Brooklyn Community Board 1, and Borough President (and Mayor-elect) Eric Adams, River Ring will ultimately hold 1,050 apartments, with 263 set aside as permanently affordable. Two Trees will also fund the construction of an additional 150 permanently affordable units for seniors in Williamsburg.
Thirty-thousand square feet of ground-level retail, 5,000 square feet of community kiosks that will likely be used for kayak rentals, community art shows, and educational spaces, and 57,000 square feet of office space are also all on the docket. Along the river itself, another 3 acres will be carved out for waterside recreation, education, an accessible beach (something of a trend for New York’s waterways as of late), and tidal wetlands, as well as over-water walkways built on top of the caissons. Before being purchased by Two Trees for $150 million, the 3.5-acre site was formerly the No. 6 fuel oil storage complex for Con Edison’s North First Street Terminal. The above-ground fuel tanks were removed when the site was decommissioned, but the caissons and remnants of the bulkhead line remain.
Of course, being so close to the waterfront poses a unique set of climate change-related risks, specifically flooding. Aside from both towers being positioned as totally electric, on the actual mitigation front the breakwaters, berms, marshes, and other park features are expected to dissipate the damaging energy of incoming waves to reduce erosion, while the tidal basin is expected to be able to sequester up to 4 million gallons of stormwater before it floods.
“With the River Ring we close one of the last remaining gaps in the continuous transformation of the Williamsburg waterfront into a post-industrial urban park scape. Rather than stopping at the hard edge of the old dock, Metropolitan Avenue is split into a pedestrian loop extending all the way into the river, connecting the dots of the concrete caissons to form an urban archipelago of recreative islands while protecting a beach with tidal pools and wetlands,” said Bjarke Ingels in the announcement that the project was moving forward. “The radical transformation of Copenhagen’s port into a swimmable extension of the public space that we helped pioneer two decades ago, now seems to be knocking at the door in Williamsburg and the entire East River. The River Ring will be the first of many invitations for New Yorkers to dip their toes in the water.”
River Ring is expected to begin construction in 2024.