Ahoy, Brooklyn! Defying Recession, Developers Drop Anchor Along East River

Yet it is the piers and the parks that have also paved the way for these projects. “Once the infrastructure is in, the sky’s the limit,” said Andrew Genn, senior vice president for maritime at the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Toll and Dougalston and neighboring rental 184 Kent have all finished their waterfront esplanades, which connect to East River State Park, creating a reasonable riverside park, a hint of the 14-mile emerald necklace that could someday stretch from the tip of Greenpoint all the way to the Verrazano in Sunset Park. Meanwhile, at the asphalt lot that someday will be the Edge’s 40-story tower, Brownstoner’s Jonathan Butler has set up a branch of Brooklyn Flea and the Smorgasburg, which draw some 15,000 BroBos to the waterfront every weekend in the summer.

And it is not all housing and hip hangouts, either. Mr. Genn argues that the working waterfront is more vibrant than it has been in decades. The Navy Yard is near capacity and Carnegie Mellon has proposed building its branch of the vaunted new tech campus there. New cargo operations have taken hold in Red Hook, not to mention big box stores and ocean liners—Port Authority executive director Chris Ward said it should all be redeveloped as housing someday, but then only to facilitate a stronger connection to Governors Island. The city has signed half-a-dozen new leases and partnerships at Sunset Park in the past year and also launched a sustainability plan for the massive industrial hub. “Brooklyn had been written off as a place to do maritime commerce, and now it’s back,” Mr. Genn said.

Much of this development has been during the downturn, with developers chastened and the city looking to expand its economy beyond Wall Street. If developers are already venturing in again, in a shaky economy, when things are back in full swing, the waves could kick back up.

And there are those developments causing waves already. Last week, the city received bids for the first development site at Brooklyn Bridge Park. “There is very little right about this because it takes away from the parkland,” Councilman Levin said. But the park needs the funds from a new apartment building and hotel to finance its maintenance, and even enliven the open space, its planners argue.

To make the project as palatable as possible, the city has encouraged a level of design rarely seen—or required—in Brooklyn. Among the firms submitting bids are many of the waterfront’s best builders: Mr. Walentas’s Two Trees, Toll Brothers, Dermot, Extell and Hamlin, all of which have hired some of the city’s top architects.

“We put forth a really strong statement on quality design,” Brooklyn Bridge Park president Regina Myer said during a tour of Pier 1 and the adjacent site last week. “We have put so much into the park, we do not want anything that detracts from it. This is the gateway to Brooklyn, a panorama seen all over the world. Whatever we build here has to be special.”

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC