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WHERE THE CREATIVE CLASS GOES TO WORK: THE BROOKLYN NAVY YARD, INDUSTRY CITY, BROOKLYN ARMY TERMINAL & THE NEWLY OPENED EMPIRE STORES

These mammoth buildings were once home to heavy manufacturing and storage. Now, they’re where tomorrow is taking shape

By TAMARA GLENNY
In the digital age, how we work is constantly evolving, and that holds true for where we work, too. Today, the old factories, industrial parks and warehouses along the East River that have been key to New York’s labor legacy are being reinvented. These sites now are 21st-century workplaces, like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Empire Stores, where developers and their tenants are re-imagining what we think of as office space. The inspiring architecture and designs are as exciting as the talent that they attract. Here’s what’s happening, what’s new and what’s next.

BROOKLYN NAVY YARD

What it was: One of the country’s most storied naval shipyards, established in 1801. It once employed 70,000 workers building vessels like the U.S.S. Missouri, the battleship on which the peace treaty ending the war with Japan was signed in 1945.

What it is: A sprawling 300-acre complex of tech start-ups, textile designers, equipment makers and artists’ studios, along with rooftop bars and event spaces.

Where to find it: Between the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges, Brooklyn

Closest ferry stop: Schaefer Landing/South Williamsburg. From there, it’s a ten-minute walk (or a five-minute bike ride—there’s a Citibike dock at the ferry and the Navy Yard has three of its own).

Number of businesses: 330

Major tenants: New Lab, a former hangar rebuilt as an 84,000-square-foot design and manufacturing incubator in fields such as artificial intelligence and robotics; Brooklyn Grange, a 65,000 square-foot rooftop farm selling commercially and to the public through markets and CSAs; Steiner Studios, where they shoot TV shows and movies ranging from Girls and Boardwalk Empire to The Wolf of Wall Street and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Overall vibe: Mix of adventurous artisans, blue-sky tech and community outreach, such as Refoundry, which trains ex-prisoners in furniture-making skills in order to set them up in their own businesses.

Cool feature: NYC’s first rooftop wind turbines and vineyard/winery Rooftop Reds which will pick its first harvest this October for an inaugural 2017 urban vintage). There is also Terreform One’s prototype sustainable-protein cricket farm!

What’s next: Upstate supermarket giant Wegmans (coming in 2018); a huge food hall for Building 77 whose anchor tenant will be Russ & Daughters, the beloved Lower East Side bagels-and-lox institution, as well as the Brooklyn Brewery, both scheduled to open in 2017; Mast Chocolate (opening next year).

brooklyn navy yard industrial building
brooklyn navy yard honeybee robotics
brooklyn industrial park

INDUSTRY CITY

What it was: Formerly known as Bush Terminal, this 200-acre manufacturing, cargo and railroad complex was built between 1892 and 1925.

What it is: An expanding retail and office hub with a 40,000-square-foot food hall, coffee bar and café, full-service gym and shared spaces for billiards, bocce and chat. It’s home to Brooklyn Flea/Smorgasburg in the winter; and there’s a top-floor tasting room bar (open Fridays and Saturday afternoons) run by vodka maker Industry City Distillery.

Where to find it: Sunset Park, Brooklyn (bounded by 29th and 39th Streets to the north and south and Third and Second Avenues east and west)

Closest ferry stop: None yet; when the next new East River ferry route opens next year, IC will be between the Red Hook and Brooklyn Army Terminal stops (a ten-minute bike ride). The developers are lobbying for a landing. In the meantime, the nearest subway stop (the D, N and R lines) is a block away at 36th Street and Fourth Avenue.

Number of businesses: More than 300

Major tenants: AeroBo, a year-old drone maker producing off-the-shelf and custom-made models for commercial clients. Others include the Brooklyn Nets, in a 90,000 square-foot training facility, Design Within Reach, West Elm, Motivate—the people behind Citibikes—and Time Inc.’s tech department and online mag The Drive.

Overall vibe: Manhattan-in-a-warehouse

What’s next: Fashion giant Gap is building a design studio at IC and the architectural restoration and conservation group EverGreene is moving in from Manhattan.

brooklyn industry city
brooklyn industry city courtyard
brooklyn industry city mural

BROOKLYN ARMY TERMINAL

What it was: During World War II, the U.S.’s largest military supply depot and world’s largest concrete building—and the spot from which Pvt. Elvis Presley shipped off to his military service in Germany in 1958.

What it is: A mashup of light manufacturers—both cutting-edge, such as Altronix, a maker of surveillance electronics, and seriously old-school, like Lee Spring, which has been producing wire parts in Brooklyn since 1918. There are also biomedical researchers, graphic designers, dance troupes, museum back offices and importers.

Where to find it: Sunset Park, Brooklyn (bounded by 58th and 63rd Streets to the north and south and between Second Avenue and the East River)

Closest ferry stop: The new Bay Ridge stop is scheduled to open in 2017, right outside the terminal. Until then, there’s a shuttle bus that does regular pickups and drop-offs at the 59th Street R train station.

Number of businesses: 97

Major tenants: Candyman Jacques Torres. His chocolate chip cookies are insane (the secret: he chills the dough for 36 hours before baking). Others include artisanal gift retailer Uncommon Goods and eco-friendly furniture maker Urban Green.

Overall vibe: Nation-at-war meets retail therapy

Cool feature: Building B’s skylight, which is the size of three football fields

What’s next: Futureworks NYC, a big-push initiative by the city aimed at providing local entrepreneurs and businesses with access to equipment and other manufacturing help, with BAT as its anchor and center.

EMPIRE STORES

What it was: A row of seven iron-shuttered waterfront brick warehouses originally completed in 1869 and taken over in 1920 as a packaging, refining and storage facility for sugar and coffee. Famously photographed in 1936 by Berenice Abbott, the buildings were abandoned in the 1960s but saved from the wrecking ball by a 1977 designation as a state landmark.

What it is: Old bones—low-tech materials like red brick, original schist walls, pine columns and reclaimed wooden beams—combine with state-of-the-art sustainable systems. With two all-glass floors added above the original four, that makes for 430,000 square feet of coolly contemporary office and retail space.

Where to find it: DUMBO, Brooklyn, bounded by Water, Front and Dock Streets and the river

Closest ferry stop: Fulton Ferry Landing, three minutes’ walk away.

Number of businesses: 10 and counting

Major tenants West Elm, already a pioneering DUMBO-based company, is the anchor, taking on 150,000 square feet for its corporate HQ and a new store starting in September. Also moving in: LA advertising firm 72andSunny; in negotiations for 70,000 square feet is Wenner Media, owner of US Weekly and Rolling Stone.

Overall vibe: High-end yet earthy media chic meets the greatest views in New York City

Cool feature: Jane’s Carousel, the 1920s merry-go-round, directly between the Stores and the river, which belongs to and was restored by the Walentas real-estate developer family. The ride is open-year-round.

What’s next: A rooftop beer garden and serious restaurant, opening next year, and a new branch of Detroit-based oddball luxury-goods store Shinola.

—additional reporting by Caitlin Powers

West Elm photo: Megan Swann/Jenna Bascom Photography

brooklyn industrial park empire stores rendering
brooklyn industrial park empire stores aerial
brooklyn industrial park empire stores west elm

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