Last week, when Domino Sugar Refinery owner Jed Walentas made his first community meeting appearance after announcing SHoP Architect’s revamped plan for the site, he was greeted by—as The Brooklyn Paper put it—”snark, derision, and anger” (otherwise known as the Williamsburg welcome).
“He comes across like Jesse Eisenberg with his tennis shoes and his hoodie,” said community activist Susan Pelligrino, presumably referring to Mark Zuckerberg, “but he’s a total capitalist.” (Last we checked, the multibillionaire Facebook founder is also a total capitalist.)
Two Trees has worked hard to soften that image, with promises of an accessible waterfront and over half a million square feet of office space, to be let at half the going rate of luxury housing in the neighborhood, and today they unveiled their first offering to the community: “interim community uses for Domino site E,” as their announcement so fondly put it.
“What is currently a vacant 55,000-square-foot lot on Kent Avenue between South 3rd and South 4th Streets will be transformed,” read the statement, “into a neighborhood destination with a community farm, bilingual reading room, community green space, family-friendly bike courses, affordable food and goods from local vendors and”—they’re not done yet!—”a variety of seasonal programming, including kids days, yoga classes, and hands-on urban farming classes.”
The release repeatedly refers to the area as “South Williamsburg,” although we’ve always known the land between Broadway and Grand Street as Southside Williamsburg. A subtle distinction, but one that distinguishes the mixed hipster and Latino neighborhood adjacent to the Domino site from the ultra-Orthodox enclave south of the Williamsburg Bridge, where we’re guessing the extensive bike facilities—run by local bike shop Ride Brooklyn, and featuring a “free, family-oriented bike course which will include a basic skills training area for children, novices, and intermediate riders, as well as an advanced pump track for the more skilled riders”—would not be so well received.
The release hits all the right buzzwords, and the Two Trees/SHoP rollout has been nothing if not slick, but is it enough to placate the community?
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. Despite the happy face that Mr. Walentas is putting on the effort, looming in the background is the fact that Two Trees doesn’t actually need community consent to build on the Domino site. When he acquired the property from the CPC/Katan consortium last year, it came with over 2.75 million square feet of already entitled development rights. While Two Trees is seeking to get the new SHoP-master planned design approved by City Council, he’s got the old Viñoly plan in his back pocket, which he could legally start building tomorrow if he wishes.
“We spent $185 million to purchase this site,” Mr. Walentas told the crowd last week, “and we’re going to get a return on our investment.”