Downtown Brooklyn is the third largest central business district in New York City (following Midtown Manhattan and Lower Manhattan), and is located in the northwestern section of the borough of Brooklyn. The neighborhood is known for its office and residential buildings, such as the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower and the MetroTech Center office complex, that give the area its own unique skyline. Since the rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn in 2004, the area is undergoing a transformation, with $9 billion of private investment and $300 million in public improvements underway. The nonprofit group, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, works to advance economic development in the area and works with three Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) that provide essential business services to local businesses and property owners.
This area was originally inhabited by Lenape Native Americans, until the 1600s. At that time the Dutch arrived, gained control of the land, and called it Breuckelen. Until 1814, Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights remained sparsely populated. Robert Fulton’s new steam ferry then began to offer an easy commuting option to and from downtown Manhattan. It made Brooklyn Heights Manhattan’s first suburb, and put Downtown Brooklyn on its way to becoming a commercial center, and the heart of the City of Brooklyn.
The city was home to many prominent Abolitionists at a time when most New York was indifferent to slavery. Many Brooklyn churches agitated against legalized slavery in the 1850s and 1860s and some acted as safehouses as part of the Underground Railroad movement. Walt Whitman was fired from his job as a reporter at the Brooklyn Eagle due to his support for the Wilmot Proviso when he lived at Willougby and Myrtle.
Following the Second World War, the City Planning Commission, in conjunction with the Borough President’s Office, presented and adopted a Master Plan for the Civic Center, which included an ambitious public improvements program. The program included plans for new buildings for City and State agencies, significant street widening and major housing construction in adjacent areas. A study conducted eight years later highlighted the progress made, emphasizing the widening of Adams Street (and later Boerum Place), which created a long and sweeping approach to Downtown Brooklyn from a modernized Brooklyn Bridge.
By the late 1960’s, the patterns of transition that affected much of urban America initiated concern to protect the borough’s Central Business District from deterioration. In 1969, a comprehensive plan for the entire city was completed and in the report the City Planning Commission stated, “[Downtown Brooklyn’s] economy is vital to the borough and important to the entire metropolitan region.” In re-affirming Downtown Brooklyn’s central role and identifying its problems, the Plan was optimistic that a combination of public and private efforts would stimulate office and commercial construction. A 23-story privately financed office tower at Boerum Place and Livingston Street opened in 1971 and the anticipated growth of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) succeeded far beyond expectations, giving this cultural institution an important role as a symbolic anchor amid increasing decay during the following decade.
After suffering with the rest of New York through the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970’s, Borough President Howard Golden, first elected in 1977, moved forward with a more aggressive economic development program to revitalize Downtown Brooklyn. He identified the need for greater equity in resource allocation between Manhattan and the city’s other boroughs. An important moment in the history of Downtown Brooklyn came in 1983 with the release of a Regional Plan Association report for the area. According to the document, Downtown Brooklyn could become the city’s third-largest business district because of its proximity to Lower Manhattan (closer by subway than Midtown). It also could serve as a prime location for high technology industries and new market-rate housing.
MetroTech Center is a business and educational center, lying between Flatbush Avenue and Jay Street, north of the Fulton Street Mall and south of the busy Tillary Street.
Downtown Brooklyn is the civic and commercial downtown center of the former City of Brooklyn, now a borough of 2.5 million people. The area includes MetroTech Center, Brooklyn Borough Hall, the Kings County New York State courthouse, and the central courthouse for the Federal Eastern District of New York. Schools include St. Francis College, St. Joseph's College, Brooklyn Law School, Polytechnic University, New York City College of Technology, and Long Island University. Attractions within the area include the Fulton Mall, Brooklyn Academy of Music and the New York Transit Museum.
Three days a week the Borough Hall Greenmarket, featuring fresh produce from local farmers, operates on the plaza fronting Borough Hall. Formerly called Supreme Court Plaza, the location was renamed as Columbus Park in 1986, sycamore trees having mercifully grown large enough to shield the middle 20th century Supreme Court building from sensitive eyes.
Cadman Plaza Park, named for an early televangelist, provides 10 acres of green space in the neighborhood, and was recently renovated by the New York City Parks Department. These and other parks form a long mall from Boro Hall to Brooklyn Bridge. A new park is also planned for the area, known as the Willoughby Square Park.
Currently, a $130 million capital project to connect the Lawrence Street subway station (M and R trains) and the Jay Street-Borough Hall Station (A, C, F trains) is underway. An underground corridor connecting the stations and new escalator access to the Lawrence Street station are planned, which will allow riders to easily transfer between subway lines. The project also includes renovating the Jay Street station, and is expected to be completed in 2010.
Historically, Downtown Brooklyn has primarily been a commercial and civic center, with relatively little residential development. Housing included a few apartment buildings on Livingston Street, and seven 15-story buildings that make up the over 1,000 unit Concord Village co-op development on Adams Street, at the borders of both Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO.
Since the rezoning of parts of Downtown Brooklyn in 2004 to allow for denser residential development, the area has seen the arrival of new condominium towers, townhouses, and office conversions. In all, 14,000 residential units are planned for Downtown Brooklyn. A New York Sun article from November 7, 2007, reports on the arrival of Downtown Brooklyn as a 24/7 community, estimating that 35,000 residents will come to the area in the next five years. In January 2008, residents started moving into the new residential buildings, according to a New York Sun article.
As with all rezonings, there are mixed feelings about current development in Downtown Brooklyn. Some longtime residents feel that an already thriving community is being displaced with higher rents and as new developments rise. Others say that there have been improvements in the cleanliness and safety of the neighborhood sinze the rezoning.
The New York City Department of City Planning has approved a significant rezoning for portions of Downtown Brooklyn, including the Fulton Mall area, which may result in significant expansion of office space and ground-floor retail. The rezoning consists of "zoning map and zoning text changes, new public open spaces, pedestrian and transit improvements, urban renewal, [and] street mappings". The City Planning initiative also seeks to improve the connections between Downtown and the adjacent neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Fort Greene. There are also plans to build an arena in the nearby Prospect Heights district and relocate the New Jersey Nets (an NBA professional basketball team) there.
|Northwest: Fulton Ferry||North: DUMBO, Brooklyn||Northeast: Vinegar Hill|
|West: Brooklyn Heights||Downtown Brooklyn||East: Fort Greene|
|Southwest: Cobble Hill||South: Boerum Hill||Southeast: Park Slope|