Last week saw a huge step forward for Williamsburg’s planned Bushwick Inlet Park: the city finally acquired the contested Citistorage site, after a long period of negotiations with owner Norman Brodsky, for $160 million. Now that the parcel of land is in hand, the city can begin to move forward on its promise to bring a 28-acre park to the neighborhood, which has been in the works since the 2005 rezoning of the waterfront.
Several neighborhood groups, led by the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, have been keeping pressure on the city to bring the promised green space to Williamsburg and Greenpoint. And now, with the news that the park may really, truly be happening, one group is hoping to bring more attention to what it’s calling Maker Park, an “alternative design plan” for one portion of the site.
The Maker Park concept calls for turning a seven-acre site that was once home to the Bayside Oil Depot into a park that would, in theory, honor the “creative and dynamic” legacy of the area. There are currently ten 50-foot fuel containers on the site, and under this plan, those structures would be transformed into new spaces with various uses—a theater in one, a green space with hanging gardens in another, and so on. A large building on-site would be turned into a hub for activities like performances and classes, and there would be an abundance of green space. New renderings, seen here for the first time, show what that might look like.
Karen Zabarsky, a creative director at Kushner Companies and a founding member of the Maker Park team, says the idea is to “incorporate these historic structures that are on the site into the design of the park, and adaptively reuse them and breathe new life into them.” She, along with Municipal Art Society public programming director Stacey Anderson and digital strategist Zachary Waldman, developed the idea for the park, and have since brought on a team that includes architecture firm Studio V, landscape architects from Ken Smith Workshop, and a group of environmental lawyers and other consultants who are busy determining the feasibility of this concept.
The idea for a so-called “maker park” came out of the site’s history: Way back in the day, it was the site of Astral Oil Works, founded by Charles Pratt in the 19th century; later, he would use the profits from that company to found the Pratt Institute (hence the whole connection-to-the-arts idea). The seven-acre site later become home to the Bayside Oil Depot, and was acquired by the city earlier this year as one piece of the Bushwick Inlet Park puzzle.
The team hopes that, by preserving and repurposing the existing structures (which Waldman compares, perhaps ambitiously, to Richard Serra sculptures), they can maintain the site’s historical connection while also creating useful spaces for both passive and active recreation. “These structures could become a new face for Brooklyn,” says Jay Valgora of Studio V, which has worked on waterfront projects like Empire Stores in Dumbo (another plan that was based on adaptive reuse) and the master plan for Astoria Cove in Queens.
Still, the Maker Park concept is just that at this point: a concept. There are several hurdles the team would have to clear to put the idea in place: myriad approvals from city agencies, fund-raising, and getting the other groups pushing for the completion of Bushwick Inlet Park on board—a task that may not be so easy.
Steve Chesler, a member of the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, says that the Maker Park plan is “an interesting idea,” but that the reuse of the Bayside tanks is “the antithesis of what people are striving for” with the completed park, because of the decades of pollutants that may be lurking beneath the surface. “Scores of people in the community have been putting blood, sweat, and tears into getting the city to save the full 28 acres.” (Under FOBIP’s site plan, the space that Maker Park wants to use would have planted terraces, a beach, and more open space.)
But the Maker Park team is hoping that the community will give their idea a chance. “We’ve always envisioned the project in support of the acquisition of the full 28-acre park,” says Anderson. “We understand the imperative for open green space.” The neighborhood will get a chance to weigh in on December 6, when the Maker Park team holds an event at Dobbin St in Williamsburg.
And the team argues that when all is said and done, keeping the tanks and remediating the area around them could potentially be done in a way that’s safer and less costly than it would be to tear them down. “The environmental feasibility of this idea is really critical to the future of this project,” says Anderson, and the whole team agrees that ensuring the safety of residents is of the utmost importance. “Whatever happens, the park must be safe,” says Valgora.