The New Brooklyn Army Terminal
In Sunset Park, the 98-year-old Brooklyn Army Terminal has been undergoing quiet renovation for 30 years. (When you get to be that old, you're always fretting about being a bother, though everyone's happy to help.) Now, 3,600 people work for 100 companies in 3.1M SF of industrial stacked eight floors high. And BAT isn’t done yet.
We snapped NYCEDC’s Dean Bodnar near the train tracks in the 2.2M SF Building B—yup, trains drove straight into the buildings back in the day (though the train there now is a collection of 1950s LIRR bar carts for show). Over in the 1.8M SF Building A, along the waterfront, the northern third was renovated in 2001, the southern third is being redone as a 500k SF biotech incubator called BioBAT (50k SF is ready), and the middle third of the building awaits funding for renovation and then lease-up.
We also snapped the courtyard from above. The diagonally staggered balconies (at least that’s what they’re used for now) made it easy for cranes to lift goods from the train to different floors. (Now they're a great place to practice parkour.) The roof originally was enclosed in glass, but the cost of maintenance isn’t worth it now that goods aren’t moving through the courtyard, Dean says.
But let’s back up and get some history. Dean tells us 7,000 people built the BAT in just 16 months, delivering it in 1918. It’s designed by Cass Gilbert, who’s better known for the Woolworth Building and US Supreme Court. This is where jeeps, food, machine guns, mail, and Elvis Presley left the US for duty overseas. (It was one of many buildings that Elvis left.) 12,000 soldiers worked there in its heyday. The Army downsized its presence after the Korean War, and the place was decommissioned in 1975. The USPS used it briefly after a fire in a Chelsea Post Office, but by ’81, it was vacant, and the Army sold it to NYC in ’84 for $8M (paid half with cash and half with a grant).
We snapped Buildings B (on the left) and A. Since the City bought the place, the NYCEDC has done $175M of refurbishments, and it's 99% occupied. Blocks of space generally run from 15k SF to 40k (though there are some as small as 5,000), so typically it’s for manufacturers that are graduating from their startup phases, Dean says. Each space is serviced by three freight elevators with 10,000- to 15,000-pound capacities. (At 18 by 14 SF, these babies are bigger than most Manhattan apartments.) Those elevated crosswalks mean a soldier could have driven, say, a box of grenades from the top floor of the far corner of the complex onto a freight elevator and down to the loading dock.
Among the historical images displayed onsite. Building A runs along the water, and Building B, where we spent most of our time, is inland.
The 55k SF admin building we snapped just secured $15M for its rehab, and the co-gen plant on the waterfront (the stacks) remains to be redone. A laundry center-turned-Ford dealership rounds out the 96-acre complex. Dean tells us even when the remaining 900k SF is fixed up and leased, the job won’t be over. His goal is to produce space that’s affordable and encourages well-paying jobs, and his metric of success is jobs/SF. Just three years ago, the facility employed 1/1,200 SF, and now it’s 1/800. Continuing that progress means transitioning warehouse space to light-industrial.
The specs help, too. Loads of freight elevators (NYCEDC has invested $8M in them so far, and the remaining renovations will double that), 24/7 security, off-street loading docks on both sides, and plenty of off-street parking, including along the pier pictured above nowadays and at far left in the historical drawing three photos up. (That's right New Yorkers, off-street parking is real—not just a fairy tale your grandparents from Connecticut told you.)
Not to mention the view of Lady Liberty across New York Harbor. (From this angle it's hard not to be impressed with how strong her right shoulder must be.)
Among the most recent leases are Riva Jewelry’s 40k SF. After 20 years in LIC, the diamond polisher and cutter (Tiffany is one of its biggest clients) moved and expanded to BAT two months ago and has hired half of its 200 employees since then. Textile company USA Made also took 37k SF for 100 jobs, and pharmaceutical maker Mega-Aid leased 40k SF. Other tenants include Uncommon Goods (80k SF) and the 311 call center.
And then there’s the 40k SF penthouse unit where Jacques Torres is building a state-of-the-art chocolate factory and showroom. It’s not open to the public yet, but we got a sneak peek (we didn't even have to eat 400 candy bars in search of a golden ticket) of the vats of swirling chocolate, the massive fridge, the "I Love Lucy"-style cooling conveyor belt, and these bunnies singing their joy at the approaching Easter holiday. The famed chocolatier, which makes 75 tons of chocolate a year, moved in October from factories in Dumbo and Manhattan’s Hudson Street, where it’s maintaining its stores.