Wednesday, September 26, 2007

GL Analysis: Domino Landmarked, but Is It a Victory?

The main buildings of the old Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg were landmarked yesterday in a vote that was, ultimately, a formality. As it's one of the very few preservation victories in North Brooklyn recently, we should be jumping up and down and cheering. The buildings weren't demolished before anyone moved to landmark them, for instance, the way the Old Dutch Mustard Factory was leveled to make room for a pedestrian structure. And they didn't go up in a conflagration sparked by a drunk scavenging copper wire who was later said to be in Upstate New York, the way the Greenpoint Terminal Market did. They're still standing, and they'll be standing in the future. This rare waterfront victory of history over demolition is almost enough to bring tears to our eyes.

So, why are we wondering if this is a hollow victory?

For starters, one of the most significant structures on the Domino site--the Adant House--is not on the preservation list. Its loss will be an architectural tragedy no less significant than leveling the old waterfront warehouse in Dumbo or the Beard Street Warehouses in Red Hook. Likewise, the preservation vote doesn't necessarily protect the iconic Domino sign. The developers have said they will try to preserve it, and most likely it will end up sadly detached and re-erected like the Pepsi sign in Long Island City or the Colgate Clock in Jersey City. Even this outcome, however, isn't guaranteed.

The reason for tearing down the Adant building--that it would stand in the way of a new, tall building--leads us the other reason we're concerned: the sheer magnitude of the New Domino plans. When all is said and done in about a decade, the surviving Domino structures will be surrounded by 30-40 story buildings, hemmed in by what will be the biggest Brooklyn development project after Atlantic Yards. The developers are planning 2,400 units of housing. Overall, the project will add so many new residents that it will double the population of the neighborhood within a 1/4 mile radius.

We will await the architect's designs before deciding whether the New Domino is acceptable or a design nightmare. Our initial reaction is that a thicket of 30-40 story buildings is too much for that stretch of the waterfront. More to the point, however, is the fact that Williamsburg and Greenpoint will be taking in many thousands of new residents as dense new developments come on line. No steps are being taking to create the infrastructure to handle them, the most glaring omission of which is a total failure to strategically plan to expand the transportation infrastructure.

While we're glad we won't have to say goodbye to Domino the same way we've bid farewell to so many other buildings in recent years, we're still wondering if that will only turn out to be a technicality. In the end, the preservation of the Domino plant is a victory, but it could turn out to be a very bittersweet, if not hollow, one.

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