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John Petro

A New Dawn in Sunset Park?

This week, the New York Times ran a piece on the massive, but vacant, Federal Building No. 2 in Sunset Park. The building itself is a symbol of both the challenges and the opportunities that the waterfront district know as Industry City poses for both Sunset Park and the city as a whole.

Writing for the Times, Jonathan Sederstorm reports:

At 1.1 million square feet, the 94-year-old edifice in Sunset Park, commonly referred to as Federal Building No. 2, has one of the largest floor plates in the borough and may be the largest vacant structure for sale in the city. The city’s Economic Development Corporation is marketing it for the federal government, with the goal of filling it with light manufacturing operations.

If that goal is fulfilled, it could spark a rebirth of Sunset Park’s rich industrial legacy. It would mean jobs for the neighborhood’s predominantly Hispanic population—critically, industrial jobs, which tend to pay higher wages than the retail and services jobs that are making up an increasingly larger portion of the city’s job market. The city’s Economic Development Corporation believes that Industry City has the potential to add up to 11,000 new jobs and to contribute to “the diversification of the New York City economy.”

But first significant challenges must be overcome. In order for Federal Building No. 2 to house light manufacturing jobs (think food preparation, specialty furniture manufacturing, and skilled crafts as well as design, film and media, and hi-tech product development), a significant amount of money must first be invested in the building to adapt it to modern needs and uses.

Currently, the city is looking for a buyer for the building. But ideally the city should replicate the successful model of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where a non-profit corporation manages the property under a contract with the city, which owns the property. The Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation is responsible for leasing space, developing, and modernizing the Navy Yard. This model has been highly successful. Over 5,000 workers are employed at the Navy Yard and space is highly in demand--over 100 companies are currently on a waiting list to get in the Yard.

Like Federal Building No. 2, in order to achieve its full potential, Sunset Park is in need of new infrastructure investments and modernization of existing infrastructure. Luckily, the city’s Economic Development Corporation has a plan. The plan focuses on four goals: maximize the efficient movement of goods through improvements in rail and roadways, protect and grow industrial employment, promote green practices, and balance neighborhood needs for open space and waterfront access.

It is encouraging to see the city invest in a new industrial future. But are these plans ambitious enough? Are the plans adequate to mitigate the environmental hazards in the neighborhood, such as the traffic-choked Gowanus Expressway, the sludge treatment plant, and power plants that harm the quality of life for neighborhood residents? And what about plans for a Cross-Harbor rail tunnel to transport cargo between Brooklyn and New Jersey and points to the west?

City investments are already coming to the neighborhood. The city just recently announced that it will take over the plan to construct the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, a 14-mile off-street path with connections to major parks and open spaces.

It will take aggressive implementation of the city's plan in order for it to be truly successful. But the economic and environmental benefits would be a boon not just for Sunset Park, but for the city as a whole.

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Posted at 2:52 PM, Apr 02, 2010 in Urban Affairs
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