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Domino Sugar Factory

Domino Sugar Factory

In 2004, the Refinery LLC purchased the 11.2 acre Domino Sugar Factory complex on the waterfront of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for just over $55 million. The American Sugar Refining Company, who had owned the site since 2001, cited falling demand for cane sugar as the motivation for selling the factory. In the post-Civil War era when New York City dominated sugar production worldwide, the Domino plant employed 4,500 workers, processed 3 million pounds of sugar daily, and was the largest refinery in the world. Production steadily declined after WWII, however, until the remaining 200 employees were laid off in 2004. After 148 years of operation, the Domino Sugar Factory is a highly visible relic of New York City’s industrial and manufacturing past.

The Refinery LLC is composed of the Community Preservation Corporation Resources (CPCR), the for-profit arm of a nonprofit mortgage lending organization, and the Katan Group, a private developer. Their plans for "New Domino," include include 2,200 residential units, a waterfront esplanade open to the public, and 220,000 square feet of ground floor retail, commercial, and community facilities. In line with the Community Preservation Corporation’s (CPC) mission of enabling affordable housing—660 units-- or 30 percent-- of the residential units are designated as affordable. One hundred of the units will be reserved for families making up to $25,000 per year, 330 units for families making up to $40,000 per year, and 130 units for families making up to $90,000 per year. Additionally, 100 units are reserved for seniors making up to 50 percent of the area median income. Plans for the complex include 2,200 residential units, 220,000 square feet of mixed-use space, and waterfront walkway, and a hotel. Churches United, a coalition of 20 local churches, supported New Domino because of the high percentage of affordable units.

Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects and Beyer Blinder & Belle Architects and Planners, New Domino will be developed in multiple phases. The developers claim that the plan is consistent with the City’s Greenpoint-Williamsburg 2005 Planning and Land Use Framework to revitalize waterfront industrial and manufacturing areas.

Fearful that the development will destroy the architectural significance of the site, the Waterfront Preservation Alliance of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, the Municipal Arts Society, and the Landmarks Conservancy formally asked the City's Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to consider the old sugar factory for landmark status in September 2006. In September 2007, the centerpiece of the Domino Factory, the actual refinery, was officially landmarked, although the famous Domino sign remained unprotected. Halfway through 2008, the LPC approved a plan to specifically preserve the Domino Sugar sign and Refinery Building façade during development. The plan they approved was a pared-down version of the developers’ original. The Domino sign will be refurbished, and moved to a widely visible place on the roof.

Save Domino, a community group founded in 2007 by community resident Stephanie Eisenberg, campaigned for landmarking more of the factory. Save Domino advocates proposed the Domino Center, a cultural arts institution modeled after London’s highly successful Tate Modern Museum -- itself reconstructed within an industrial power station. Hoping to identify itself with the roaring success of the Tate, which has received more than 30 million visitors and created 4,000 jobs since opening in 2000, the Domino Center would include 600,000 square feet of gallery space, 4 acres of open space, and 200 affordable housing units. The plan, however, was not incorporated into the CPRC’s New Domino plan.

Redevelopment is moving forward. In January 2010, the City certified the ULURP process for the New Domino plan and the City Planning Commission approved the project in June 2010. The rezoning will change the affected 11 acres from manufacturing to residential and commercial uses. The new zone will cover Kent Avenue, between Grand Street and South 5th Street. "New Domino" will include market rate housing, affordable housing, and public space along the Brooklyn waterfront. Some neighborhood residents are concerned that the area cannot support the proposed density and that the City's Environmental Impact Statement does not properly account for the amount of traffic that will be generated by the development. City Council members Stephen Levin (D-33) and Assembly member Vito Lopez (D-53) opposed the project. The project now heads to the City Council for approval.

Last Updated: June 14, 2010