New Plan Proposed for Redevelopment of Domino Sugar Factory

Updated rendering of new proposed Domino redevelopment. Image courtesy of SHoP Architects.

Updated rendering of new proposed Domino redevelopment. Image Credit: SHoP Architects.

New owners intend to use building for office space instead of previously approved residential plan. On December 17, 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on an application by Two Trees Management for a certificate of appropriateness for the  2007 individually landmarked former Domino Sugar Refinery, located at 292 Kent Street in Brooklyn. In 2008, Landmarks approved a redevelopment plan for the factory that included a glass roof addition.  In 2010, the City Council approved associated special permits and rezoning that would permit the residential conversion of the building as a centerpiece of a large-scale redevelopment of the Williamsburg area that would include four new mixed-use buildings.  Two Trees acquired the site from original developer CPC Resources in 2012.

At the hearing, Two Trees Principal Jed Walentas stated that Brooklyn Community Board 1 has embraced the latest plan to use the building as commercial office space, with ground-floor retail. Walentas said the new proposal, which constitutes “a much better and more respectful plan,” enjoys “tremendous” community support. He stated that the commercial space would serve the building and the needs of the neighborhood better than residential use. He said the integration of commercial space into the neighborhood was good public planning, leading to a more vibrant mixed-use community, rather than a “residential enclave.”

Architect Jack Beyer, of Beyer Blinder Belle, the firm behind the previously approved plan, reiterated that the dilapidated factory was “completely unsuitable” for reuse and would require structural work and restoration of the interior and facade. Beyer said the revised plan would not only reenergize all four faces of the building, but also incorporate many design elements that Landmarks had approved for the previous plan. A similar rooftop addition, composed primarily of steel and glass, would be included in the new plan. The addition would be arranged in a symmetrical composition around the factory’s chimney. The rooftop addition would be four feet higher than the previously approved addition in order to accommodate commercial use, and a new three-story addition would be built on a lower roof of the building facing Kent Street.  The first floor of the main four-story rooftop addition would be recessed to give the impression of a floating three-story roof structure. Beyer noted that both additions would be “proudly visible.”

The new project would include the removal of some ancillary structures that would increase visibility of the historic fabric of the building. An industrial steel canopy with a miniature replica of the factory’s famous “Domino” sign would be installed above the building’s entrance. The project would also add windows and balconies to the factory building.

The repurposed building’s ground floor would be accessible to the public, provide a pedestrian passage to the East River, and host an exhibit on the Williamsburg waterfront. A waterfront park would be created, in which remnants of the factory’s past as a sugar refinery, including a tracked gantry and syrup silos, would be placed in the riverfront park.

A representative of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz testified in support of the proposal. The representative stated that the new plan was superior to the prior residential plan, and commended it for acknowledging the site’s industrial past. A representative of Assembly Member Joseph Lentol said the proposal would contribute to the “long-term economic interest of the borough” and function as a “high-profile waterfront destination for a generation job seekers.” A representative of the Brooklyn Brewery called the project an “exciting expression of a revitalized Brooklyn,” which would serve the neighborhood by “attracting and nurturing the new and dynamic creative community.” A member of the Brooklyn Historical Society praised the retention and display of industrial artifacts, and said the plan maintains the landmark’s “sense of place” and would “preserve this magnificent building.”

The Historic District Council’s Nadezhda Williams recommended that the applicants move the bulk of the addition away from the river side of the building, so as to not detract from the “main view of the individual landmark and its iconic chimney.”

Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney noted that when the Commission designated Domino in 2007, it was with the understanding that the vacant factory would be modified for adaptive reuse. Tierney found that the new proposal would not detract from the landmark. He also stated that the restoration work was “impressive and the reactivation of the building would constitute a “singular achievement” in the history of the waterfront.  Commissioner Libby Ryan also found that the proposed additions did not distract from a clear understanding of the original structure, but asked for modifications to signage and to the entryway. Commissioner Diana Chapin commented that she was pleased to see commercial, rather than residential, use of the building. Commissioner Michael Devonshire found that the addition facing Kent Street obscured the building’s roofline, and recommended that it be lowered one story. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter found the landmark to be “subdued” as compared to the larger planned development, and that the plan was “not letting the building breathe.” She found the roof addition reduced the importance of factory’s smokestack, and felt the arrangement should be more variegated.

Chair Tierney asked the applicants to refine their design in light of commissioner comments, and return to Landmarks at a later date.

LPC: Domino Sugar Refinery, 292 Kent Street, Brooklyn (14-6970) (Dec. 17, 2013) (Architect: Beyer Blinder Beller). 

By: Jesse Denno  (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).

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