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Under the Brooklyn Bridge, new parkland takes shape

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The plaza takes design cues from the historic structure above it

Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation/Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission

Little-used land under the Brooklyn Bridge will soon transform into a plaza, linking acres of Brooklyn parkland and capping a years-long revamp of the formerly industrial waterfront.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) this week approved plans by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation to revitalize a currently fenced off lot at Water Street into a two-acre pedestrian plaza, along with reshaping the Fulton Ferry Lawn just north of the bridge.

The new space will connect the Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO sections of the park, and create a “release valve” for foot traffic that is currently forced to bypass the waterfront on a narrow, often congested, sidewalk, says the head of the group overseeing the park.

“A huge piece of this project is about circulation and connectivity from one end of the park to the other,” said Eric Landau, the president of the semi-private Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, during the LPC’s Tuesday virtual hearing. “In a time obviously where we are focused on social distancing and creating more space, this project couldn’t come at a better opportunity.”

Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation/Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates courtesy of the LPC

The $8 million project, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is the final piece of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which officially opened its gates in 2010. The plan calls for the installation of new greenery and benches along with plenty of space for visitors to meander along the waterfront and effortlessly transition from one section of the park to the next.

Those paths, chiefly the section directly under the Brooklyn Bridge, draw inspiration from the span itself with a pattern of concrete pavers that mirror the length and width of the deck above to create a cohesive space that pays homage to the 183-year-old landmark.

“[We’re] giving a moment of pause so that you can understand the deck above, and really create something special while having it feel like it’s part of this industrial and historic plaza,” said Paul Sek, principal at Michael Van Valkenberg, during the LPC hearing.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation/Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates courtesy of the LPC

Now that LPC has given the project the green light, park officials plan to break ground in the fall and wrap up construction in December 2021. The plaza is the final component of overhauling a 1.3-mile stretch of once working waterfront into a green haven that hugs the East River with gardens, lawns, and sports fields.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation has long envisioned the plaza under the bridge as a “grand civic space” with programming that could someday include seasonal markets, festivals, and educational events, according to the park’s website.

Other ongoing improvements to the park include the recently opened Squibb Bridge, after years of renovations to fix the problem-plagued span, and the Pier 2 Uplands project that is set to add 3.4 acres of parkland, a water feature with spray jets, and a sprawling lawn with seating made from salvaged granite. That project is expected to wrap up this summer.

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