Preservation and Development in Balance: Evolution of a Historic Naval Base to a Green Employment Center

Posted by: Jennifer Minner - Cornell University on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 12:00:00 am

Shani Leibowitz, Senior Vice President of Development and Planning at the Brooklyn Navy Development Corporation (BYNDC) provided an overview of the history of the site. The former naval yard’s history spans the years 1801 to 1945. This former premier ship building facility was decommissioned in 1966, reopened in the 1970s as an industrial park, and has been managed by the development corporation since 1981. Leibowitz emphasized the value of retaining historic buildings on site and how tenants love the historic feel of buildings. Ward Dennis, a partner in Higgins Quasebarth and Partners, described how the National Register eligible site had evolved dramatically during and after its operation, including its construction in phases, the demolition of many of its original buildings, the movement of buildings around the site, and considerable referred maintenance and deterioration of buildings. He also described a current cliffhanger, as the status of plans to add 3 stories of windows to Building 77 remains in question during the sequester. The largely “unwindowed” industrial space has limited uses and additional windows are proposed to open up the space to additional new uses.

Nancy Hudson, an Associate with Robert Silman Associates, told harrowing tales of the complicated transfer of Admiral's Row from Federal ownership to BYNDC and the necessary shoring up and protection of buildings. Techniques included laser scanning after massive damage was sustained after Hurricane Sandy and a following Nor'easter storm. Elizabeth Leber moderated the panel, expertly leading the discussion on a range of topics from questions about the use of tax credits, to historic integrity, to negotiation and phasing in the project, to the application of LEED, to the education of the public and major project stakeholders and participants.

Through the BYNDC’s efforts, the Brooklyn Naval Yard remains a center of high tech, movie industry, and green industrial employment. Preservation efforts have reconnected the site to the surrounding neighborhoods, while retention of a perimeter wall and a commitment to industrial jobs differentiates this project from the many development projects around New York that are converting former industrial buildings to lofts. This panel illustrated both the technical dimensions of preservation and the negotiation and planning needed to bring a 19th century site into the 21st century. More information about the Brooklyn Naval Yard is available at the BYNDC website:


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