The site of Domino’s old sugar refinery, an industrial ruin along the East River, doesn’t feel at all like the heart of Williamsburg—more like the fringe. As it stands, Kent Avenue, which abuts the core of the Domino site between South 2nd and South 5th streets, looks like Brooklyn’s West Side Highway: a strip of asphalt with hardly a stoplight, where you can spot plenty of fast-moving vehicles but few people. Over a couple of hours on a recent sunny weekday afternoon, the only pedestrians I saw were a handful of dog walkers, a mailman, three dark-skinned teenagers chatting about development, and a photographer snapping a few frames of industrial ruin.
She had certainly come to the right place. The Domino site, where the developer CPC Resources plans to build 2,200 housing units on 11.2 acres of land, starts at South 5th Street, underneath the Williamsburg Bridge, amid clanging echoes of thudding traffic. Weeds grow from every crack and grating. Walk north, and you pass a solid brick building whose erstwhile ground-floor windows have been bricked over. A sign that reads “CAUTION/KEEP CLEAR/LOADING DOOR” is affixed to a solid brick wall. Past that is another building without any real windows at all.
Across the street lies a vacant lot posing as a parking lot, and a few cute but fortified apartment buildings. (Their west-facing facades can forget about ever seeing the sun again. The new development they’ll face will climb 34 stories.) An unofficial tree census of these few blocks yields… one.
But then you squint north, and you can make out the hulking glass towers of Northside Piers. A few blocks to the south stands Schaefer Landing. The Domino site, and its surrounding area, is not a no-man’s land—not really. It’s the last waterfront lot standing in the way of what would make Kent Avenue a shimmering, uninterrupted lane of condominiums, of development, of gentrification—what Councilman Steve Levin calls Brooklyn’s “Gold Coast.”
Dennis Farr, a local activist and lifetime resident, is standing alongside me underneath some of the project’s scaffolding on an afternoon in late July. In the middle of our conversation, he looks at me, seriously, and says: “Atlantic Yards pales in significance to what’s gonna happen here.”