The Brooklyn Detention Center on Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Rob Abruzzese / Brooklyn Eagle
In a move that is sure to impact Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday that construction would begin on a parking garage and common room next to a new prison in Kew Gardens, Queens.
The construction is the first major activity in the Borough-Based Jails Program, a $ 8.3 billion project to build four “new, smaller, and more humane” prisons in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens around the violent prisons on Rikers to replace island. The adjacent Queens Detention Complex will begin demolition during the garage construction, and then the new Queens Detention Complex will be built by itself.
“Later this year,” the mayor’s office said, “the Department of Design and Construction expects to place an order to dismantle the Brooklyn Detention Center (at 275 Atlantic Ave) and build a temporary swing room to accommodate the transfer of the DOC to facilitate appearances for the court until the construction of a new prison on site is completed. “
This development has long been known but is not necessarily welcomed by everyone in the Brooklyn community, especially downtown. The city’s plan would more than double the height of the current building to a maximum of 295 feet and increase the number of beds from 815 to 1,437, according to earlier reports in the Eagle.
It would include 292 underground parking spaces, in response to longstanding community complaints that prison staff were using too much roadside parking, as well as retail and community space on the ground floor.
In preparation for the reconstruction, the prisoners and staff were transferred to other city correctional facilities in January 2020.
One of those who criticized the city’s plan for the Atlantic Avenue facility was Brooklyn President Eric Adams, who said in 2019 that the new facility would only have 900 beds.
“What we propose further promotes the city’s goal of closing down Rikers while providing real benefits to the surrounding community,” he said. Since he is likely to be the city’s next mayor, it’s unclear what this will mean in the future.
At a 2018 ULURP hearing in the community, local leaders also criticized the plan. “It would be almost twice the size of any building that is currently zoning in downtown Brooklyn,” said Peter Bray, then executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association.
Similarly, Sandy Balboza, president of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association said, “You want to hurry to get this done before the mayor leaves office.”
Originally called the Brooklyn House of Detention, the building was constructed in 1956, long before neighboring Boerum Hill became a fashion district. It was closed in 2003 except for a few remaining staff, but then renovated with a visitor center and reopened in 2012.
In order to minimize the impact on the environment and the city’s infrastructure, the garage and the adjoining communal area of the Queens multi-storey car park will include a partially greened green roof, solar panels and on-site rainwater retention. As a result, the project’s common room is expected to qualify for LEED Gold certification for environmental sustainability. The project may also be the first in town to qualify for Parksmart certification, the only certification program that recognizes high performing, sustainable workshops.
The Queens Parking Garage and Community Space is being built by the Hunter Roberts Construction Group’s design-build team, together with Marvel and Urbahn Architects. The NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) administers the entire Borough-Based Jails program city-wide.