Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gif-tastic Timemorphosis: East River State Park

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We spotted this image in a "historic Williamsburg" book recently and immediately recognized two features in the old photo:

1. The utility pole with the three metal tabs pointing south.

2. The distinctive scoop-end of the short concrete wall peeking out just to the right of the horse's head.

Both items remain intact in the recently-opened East River State Park; but as you can see, nearly everything else has changed.

If you're curious about the park's history, we've posted about it couple of times before:


The Way We Were

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tuesday Eye Candy: Sun Setting on the Holiday Weekend

detail from abandoned car on North 7th Street

Sunday, May 27, 2007

East River State Park Update: Day One Brings Rules, Explanations, and Early Close


Some updates from Saturday evening, as East River State Park's first day drew to a close:

During the day, the main park entrance was switched from the gate at the foot of North 9th to the one at North 8th. The small gate at the dead-end of North 7th - down by the MTA fan plant - was also opened.

Two rules were posted on signs just inside the main gate: "NO DOGS ALLOWED" and "NO BICYCLES BEYOND THIS POINT". We think the latter is just poor shorthand for "Walk - don't ride - your bike inside the park", but that remains to be seen.

The park actually began closing around 7:30 pm - not 8, as advertised. A very likable, somewhat harried park manager named Felix took great pains to explain that the park was understaffed - he'd been there since 6:30 am and was exhausted. There was tangible disappointment among the 50 or so folks who were enjoying the beginnings of a glorious sunset. But everyone filed out in orderly, if somewhat reluctant fashion.

Felix did a great job working the crowd as he gathered "Stay Out of the Water" signs from the shoreline in preparation for closing. He approached nearly every group individually, explaining that the early closure was temporary: eventually the park would be open until dusk, and seven days a week. But (a year after most of the park prep work was complete) there's still no fresh water connection for watering the trees and grass (indeed, the freshly-mowed grass looks bone-dry), no public restrooms beyond a few porta-johns, and no electricity to power the temporary park office trailer.

When pressed on whether the limited hours is a staffing or a money issue, he explained "a little of both".

On a positive note - Felix mentioned that barbecuing IS allowed in the park, so long as you bring your own grill. That seems too good to be true, given the park's other restrictions; we'll keep an eye on how that develops.

He also explained that as a community park, the management would look to see how the park is utilized by neighbors, and try to adjust policies accordingly. That said, here's some early advice from a neighbor. While the staffing / budget issues are being sorted out, we propose the following compromise in park hours:

Keep the full days on weekends, but stay open until 8:30 or 9 pm so folks can enjoy the sunset.

Open the park Monday through Friday from 5 pm until 9 pm. There's got to be 20 hours payroll per week somewhere in the state's budget. Williamsburg is a late-day neighborhood (try to find breakfast - or even a human - before 11 am on weekends). The other waterfront park - Grand Ferry - is nearly empty in the morning and throughout weekday afternoons, but gets a good crowd every day around sunset. East River State Park's sunset-watching potential beats the pants off Grand Ferry's - but not if its watched through the iron fence.

One final note of sanity from Felix: yes, the park IS open this Monday, for Memorial Day.

More Opening Day Pics [Flickr]

In Brooklyn, Modest Space, But it Does Have a View [NY Times]

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Next for the Building Grinder: National Sawdust?

national sawdust wide

By all appearances, the latest Northside Williamsburg icon slated for demolition is the old National Sawdust complex at the corner of Wythe Avenue and North 6th Street.

The cluster of old buildings are perhaps best-known for the twin milling towers that loom high above North 6th. Those, along with a pair of cargo containers stacked in the lot next door, give passersby a real feeling of the neighborhood's industrial heritage. The milling section, at 67 North 6th, also provides the streetfront wall best-known for last winter's Faile versus the Splasher street art war. And their location directly across from Galapagos means thousands of visitors to the block have pondered them over a cigarette during the past few years.

A recent demolition permit pre-filing, along with windows covered by moving blankets and the inevitable hard-core exterminator postings all seem to point toward the imminent razing of the corner properties - almost certainly in preparation for a new-build residential development. In fact, during the past week, workers have been seen doing (pre-permit?) demolition cleaning inside the property.

While the National Sawdust business moved upstate years ago, and the buildings themselves are quite ratty, we'll sorely miss the character and history they brought to our ever-changing neighborhood.

National Sawdust Photoset [Flickr]

Yes, We're Open!

ERSP flowers

Public waterfront parkland in Williamsburg more than quadrupled this morning, with the 10 am opening of East River State Park.

Since 1974, going down to the river in Williamsburg has meant either visiting the 1.5 acre cul-de-sac at the foot of Grand Street, known as Grand Ferry Park, or crawling under a fence and awaiting a possible police summons for trespassing.

Years in the making, New York City's newest park, a humble two-block strip of East River frontage in Northside Williamsburg, adds 7.5 acres of grass, trees, and fascinating ruins of the former Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal - a rail yard cargo facility that bustled with trains, barges, and tugboats from 1875 to 1983.

For an occasion fairly momentous to the neighborhood, this morning's opening was very low-key. The gate was actually opened some time before ten o'clock as several park workers made final preparations along the shoreline. NY Times reporter Anthony Ramirez interviewed residents (and imnotsayin), as the steady trickle of early visitors explored the freshly-mowed fields and surveyed the spectacular view of midtown Manhattan.

There will undoubtedly be controversy to come: we've been clear on how we feel about the park's "part-time" status (NY State Parks has announced the park will be open weekends only, due to "staffing"). Hopefully this will change soon. Also, the State Park in DUMBO - Empire-Fulton Ferry Park - developed a reputation last summer for being tough on cyclists and militant on dusk closing hours. So far there's no rules posted at ERSP, but we're curious to see how skateboarders will be treated.

But today is a happy day: a day to celebrate a huge step in the right direction.

East River State Park is on Kent Avenue, between North 7th and North 9th Streets. Open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am until 8 pm.

East River State Park Opening Photoset [Flickr]

History of the park site as Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal [imnotsayin]

Friday, May 25, 2007

Capacity Crowd Brews Up Plans for Willamsburg/Greenpoint Greenway

greenway planning event

Close to 100 people - mostly Greenpoint and Williamsburg residents - crammed the Brooklyn Brewery's tasting room Thursday evening for free beer to help plan the future CB1 segment of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway - a 14-mile route that will eventually provide safe pedestrian and bicycle access along Brooklyn's waterfront from Greenpoint to Bay Ridge.

The evening featured an interesting presentation from the NYC DOT's Ryan Russo, who explained that the DOT is under a mandate from the Bloomberg administration to add 200 miles of marked bike lanes in the next two years: the first 40 miles to be completed by next month, and the remaining 160 miles by June 2009. Douglass Adams, from planning consultant Sam Schwartz PLLC, served up some basic guidelines for potential street realignments along West Street and Kent Avenue that would allow the addition of bike lanes along that north-south corridor. And tasty sandwiches were served.

But the real meat & potatoes of the evening was the breakout groups, where each of about 10 tables - each seated with randomly-mixed residents and one or two facilitators - discussed issues ranging from "connections to bridges" to "the Greenway in large parks", in an attempt to gather concrete recommendations for a build-out plan for the Greenway. Following the hour-long charette, each table reported their recommendations and showed sketches and maps as visual support.

The suggestions were varied, but the enthusiasm was common. Most of the bike-lane recommendations fell into one of two camps:

A. Provide fast, straight, and protected bike lanes along Kent Avenue and West Street, allowing for a safe, efficient commute. The big issue here being how to protect cyclists from traffic crossing the two streets, particularly the anticipated traffic entering and exiting the new high-rise residential developments.

B. Focus all Greenway development on the water's edge, building an uninterrupted and safe bicycle and pedestrian route with glorious views and safely removed from automobile traffic.

While the idealist side of us loves option b for the long-term, the jilted, upstate pragmatist in us senses that option A - free of the inevitable eminent domain, right-of-way, and water's edge construction issues and undoubtedly cheaper - is the one that's likely to be funded and constructed in our lifetime. The water's edge promenade is a terrific goal, and one that's already in the works via the developers' incentives contained in the 2005 rezone.

But given that the current riverfront contains a power plant, fuel oil tank farms, the Domino Sugar complex, and dozens of operating businesses, putting all of our eggs in that basket strikes us as likely to postpone breakfast for years to come.

In either case, the session was a rare upbeat public meeting, and we're glad we were able to participate. BTW, the Greenway Initiative has a wonderful (and nearly indestructible) Greenway Map, as well as a spiral-bound Greenway Guide available free of charge.

Details on the Greenway

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Where's Wall? Doh!

ready-mix wall

A couple weeks back we reported on developments at the former Brooklyn Ready-Mix cement lot bounded by Kent Avenue, North 3rd, North 4th and Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg. Building permits allowing construction of an eight-foot plywood wall around the collection of lots suggested that the new owners - a real estate investment group headed by Meyer and Joseph Chetrit (which collectively holds more than $3 billion in real estate including Chicago's Sears Tower) - was preparing to develop residential units on the property.

Now, a curious twist: at some point in the past couple of days, about half the wall - which by Brooklyn construction standards is about as handsome as they get - has been removed. Posts pulled out of the sidewalk, everything. A quick scan of building permits gave no clue, although the fact that the property is made up of three separate lots could explain the partial removal. Or maybe the giant rats ate it.

Meanwhile, the former Mebel Z Polski Showroom building at the corner of Wythe and North 4th is once again accessible - precariously gaping holes and all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

East River State Park to Open Saturday; Access Limited to Weekends Due to "Staffing"

east river state park photoshoot

After nearly a year of sniffing for clues, pestering State Parks officials, and a few false alarm postings here at imnotsayin, Metro NY (yes, the free morning paper) is reporting on their web edition that East River State Park will open this Saturday at 10 am, and be open weekends only from 10 am to 8 pm going forward.

The article quotes NY State Parks' Rachel Gordon: “It will just be open weekends because of staffing," and goes on to mention that the only restroom facility at this point is a single porta-john.

While we're thrilled that the park gate will finally swing open - almost a full year after 95% of the preparation work was complete - as neighborhood residents, we're dismayed that the state is limiting access to weekends. We're no expert on city parks, but we're pretty certain that most of the smaller parks in the NYC Parks system operate without any full-time staff; and most of those parks contain furniture, benches and plantings that could potentially be damaged by vandals (East River State Park has nothing but concrete, grass, and a steel fence). Why the state requires staffing beyond an occasional roll-by of the Parks Police (they've already been patrolling the property intermittently) and someone to lock and unlock the gate daily is beyond comprehension.

Maybe the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation - a relatively new player in the city parks world - is concerned about liability or just doesn't trust the inevitable skate boarders. But two years after the waterfront rezone promised the compromise of increased waterfront access in exchange for a wall of high-rises lining the river, a part-time park just doesn't cut it.

Perhaps the waterfront developers, who stand to make millions - if not billions of dollars on the rezone-enabled condo towers, could throw a few thousand of their state and city lobbying dollars at providing a weekday babysitter if NY State Parks feels its necessary.

Brooklyn park to be unlocked [Metro NY]

Hot or Not? New Street Art Edition

Here at imnotsayin, we recognize that the beauty of art - even street art - is in the eye of the beholder. Many would argue that unauthorized street art is really just graffiti vandalism, a crime that should be punished by the legal system while the criminal's work is quickly eradicated.

On the other hand, many of those same civic-minded folks would offer up officially-sanctioned street murals as a positive alternative: brightening up an otherwise blank urban wall with positive iconography, painted in bright, accessible colors, and reflecting upstanding community values.

And so this morning we offer up two new works of street art from Northside Williamsburg, and ask which you prefer:

1. Wall of Faile: this plywood wall at 63 North 6th Street has in the past been something of a ground zero for the Splasher / Faile squabble. Monday night, Faile dropped by with a veritable smorgasbord of new paste-ups.

faile wall

2. Folk-Art Water Taxi: along with a similarly unmarked red tugboat, this bright yet somewhat-generic water taxi appeared on the big blue Kent Avenue wall of Citistorage, a gigantic document storage warehouse between North 9th and North 10th Streets.

water taxi

Any art critics care to weigh in?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tuesday Eye Candy Part 2: Chairs

chairs 2
Chairs: more sunset fun at Hunter's Point, Queens

Hunter's Point Sunset
[Flickr Photoset]

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tuesday Eye Candy: Lovely Day

lovely day
Lovely Day: Sunset from Hunter's Point, Queens.

Serving suggestion: serve warm with a side of Bill Withers.

More Hunter's Point Sunset [Flickr Photoset]

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Low-Rise Development

59 north 6th flea market

We're generally not fans of unimproved vacant lots in an urban neighborhood, but we have to admit taking a strange pleasure at Sunday's appearance of this sign at 59 North 6th Street, near the imnotsayin offices.

The humble posting heralds an uncharacteristic Northside waterfront development that's not financed by North Fork Bank, not borrowing air rights from adjacent properties to circumvent maximum heights, and not serving up any "affordable" units to allow floor area ratio exemptions. The sign advertises a new flea market, opening "Saturday's and Sunday's starting June, 2", and offering spaces for rent - not a condo nor co-op nor sales office demo in sight.

A welcome gasp of lowbrow commerce in what often feels like the death throes of bohemian Williamsburg.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Northside Piers Site: Rat-Infested

rats 3

The union rats - to date, a rare site along the Northside Williamsburg waterfront - were out in force this morning at the Northside Piers construction site. About a half-dozen of the giant critters lined both sides of the project's Kent Avenue frontage between North 3rd and North 4th Streets. A handful of picketers were present

We were on a mission to the Navy Yard Auto Pound (another post, perhaps) and didn't have time to investigate the exact grievance, but use of non-union labor at the site is a safe bet anytime the rats are around.

More Northside Rats Fun [Flickr Photoset]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thursday Eye Candy: Casualty

Park Avenue at 20th Street. Thanks to Jennifer Ciminiello for the tip.

It Came In the Night...


...the way all truly evil things do. The long-dreaded pile driver arrived at Williamsburg's 'The Edge' development at 4:52 am this morning, its giant boom missing our outside wall by just inches as it crawled around the corner from Kent Avenue onto the recently-departed dead end of North Sixth Street.

The scene evoked the mood of Spielberg's "War of the Worlds": the dark, menacing Tripod arriving without warning, promising to disrupt our lives for the foreseeable future with its ceaseless soul-jarring pounding. Truly the beginning of the end - for when the pile driving is complete, the walling off of Williamsburg will commence. And our gorgeous, sweeping view of Manhattan and the East River will be gone forever.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Flickrvision Rocks


This is our new favorite thing:

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sears Tower Owner to Develop Brooklyn Ready-Mix Site ?

Brooklyn Ready-Mix

Are shadowy* real estate moguls Joseph and Meyer Chetrit preparing to build on the former Brooklyn Ready-Mix concrete yard on Kent Avenue in Northside Williamsburg? Based on a recent Department of Buildings permit filing, it would appear that way.

The lot - which is actually three parcels including the Mebel Z Polski warehouse at Wythe Avenue and North 4th - accounts for about three-quarters of the city block. The Austin Nichols Warehouse property at 184 Kent Avenue is directly across the street.

This DOB application dated May 7 issues the permit that allowed for the new wood fence that appeared last week, surrounding the lot that's bounded by North 3rd Street, Kent Avenue, and North 4th Street, and lists the owner as Jeff Gdansski of the "Chetrite Group" (sic) and names Meyer Chetrit as well.

The Chetrits - Meyer and his brother Joseph - have quietly become one of North America's most prolific real estate holding families, buying and selling commercial and residential properties worth billions in the past few years. Besides Chicago's iconic Sears Tower,
among their current holdings and interests here in New York are:

620 Sixth Ave (Bed Bath & Beyond, TJ Maxx, etc)
Empire Hotel - UWS 14-story, 373-room hotel
855 Sixth Avenue at 30th Street
1384 Broadway
Riverton Houses - 7 buildings, 1,250 units total
1450 Broadway
1200 Fifth Ave (at 101st Street)
708 Broadway
26 Broadway

According to a 2005 GE Commercial Mortgage form 8-K filing:
Meyer Chetrit has been in the real estate business for more than 15 years and is a principal of the Chetrit Group. The Chetrit Group, founded by Joseph Chetrit, is headquartered in Manhattan and has an ownership stake in over 17.7 million sq. ft. of office space with a combined value of $3.5 billion. In addition to the 19 properties the firm owns in the NY metro area, they have four properties in Los Angeles, four in Chicago, and two portfolios with a total of 38 buildings located across the United States.
Actually, the Chetrits have a fascinating back story: according to the Real Deal, an NYC real estate journal, Meyer's brother Joseph got his start rather humbly as a garment district merchant - along with a number of other the the current big real estate players: the article profiles Joseph Moinian, Yair Levy and Charles Dayan along with Chetrit. These folks join a growing list of private, non-institutional property owners with an increasing influence on the New York realty market.

No word yet on what they might build on the Williamsburg lot, which under the current rezone to M1-2/R6 allows up to 209 dwelling units totaling 208,100 sq feet, plus 10,000 square feet of commercial space.

*By shadowy, we mean mysterious: just check out the Chetrit Group website and consider that it represents a multi-billion dollar company.

Update: Our unscoopable friends over at Gowanus Lounge unearthed the same DOB application this weekend and posted a similar story at nearly the same moment - including additional details about the property's recent sale - here.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Eye Candy: Greenpoint at Night

greenpoint at night
Banker Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn looking north. Midtown Manhattan looms in the background.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tag Me ?

tag me?

Its been several months since our near run-in with the Splasher - or his/her impostor - and the street art "war" in Williamsburg / LES has sputtered to either détente or irrelevance (if it ever was relevant).

That said, with the recent 'demapping' (to borrow an Atlantic Yards term) of the North Sixth Street dead-end for Douglaston's The Edge development, a huge, plastic-woven cyclone gate now squarely punctuates the end of the block that for several months was ground zero for the Splasher conflict.

Mind you, we're not saying someone should decorate the billboard-sized terminating vista. We're merely predicting that within weeks - given the nice spring weather - it's likely that the gate will prove too tempting a canvas for neighborhood artists to overlook (note the existing tags came pre-installed: the gate is evidently certified pre-owned and officially recycled).

And given that Williamsburg speculators developers have taken to using street art as a selling point for million-dollar condos, maybe its time for a new well-placed Banksy...

Peeking In


As a young tyke growing up in Buffalo, one of our earliest memories was of being boosted up to squint through the glass block window of the 7-Up bottling plant on the corner, barely making out the fascinating mechanics of a processing plant just steps away from our home. We moved to the 'burbs when we were two.

About 20 years later, we returned from our white-flight suburban youth to a city apartment, and on a warm summer night spent exploring downtown factories with roll-up doors flung wide, we rediscovered that youthful fascination with the mysteries of manufacturing - especially where it happens within the fabric of the city.

Last night, the warm Williamsburg evening meant an open-door policy at several of the Northside and Greenpoint plants scattered in the dwindling industrial zone where the two neighborhoods meet. Here, where new condos and old artists' lofts rub elbows with plastic bag plants and commercial bakeries, is the waning vestige of a bygone time. Once it was common for factory workers to live down the block from factories, walking to work with steel lunch pails and hitting the corner tavern on the way home.

Nowadays, what little manufacturing that still happens in the US is mostly done on huge campuses on the edge of rural towns; the machinery of commerce hidden away behind tall fences and past guard houses. Gone is the era of peeking's kids know factories mostly from school field trips and the Discovery Channel.

But on a warm night in Williamsburg you can still stand on your tiptoes, squint through a steel grate, and imagine how it used to be.

Peeking In [Flickr Photoset]