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Controversial Plans for Domino Sugar Plant Now on View

April 19, 2010

By C. J. Hughes

A sweeping design by Rafael Viñoly to convert New York’s former Domino sugar refinery into homes, stores, and parks has been fully unveiled to the general public, at the same time that the city considers whether to let the controversy-prone project go forward.

“The New Domino” exhibit is at the Center for Architecture, at 536 LaGuardia Place in lower Manhattan, until May 3. Center hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
“The New Domino” exhibit is at the Center for Architecture, at 536 LaGuardia Place in lower Manhattan, until May 3. Center hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
“The New Domino” exhibit is at the Center for Architecture, at 536 LaGuardia Place in lower Manhattan, until May 3. Center hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
Image courtesy RVA (top); Photos © C.J. Hughes (bottom two)

“The New Domino” exhibit is at the Center for Architecture, at 536 LaGuardia Place in lower Manhattan, until May 3. Center hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Architect Rafael Viñoly will talk about his firm’s plan on April 22 at 6 p.m.

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On April 8, an exhibition about the New Domino, which proposes building boxy high-rises around an historic existing building on an 11.2-acre waterfront site in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, debuted at the Center for Architecture, home to the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

As illustrated by a nine-foot-wide model that’s the focus of the exhibit, plus a handful of renderings, the project calls for creating 2,200 condos and rentals, 220,000 square feet of stores, and a quarter-mile esplanade along the East River, in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge.

For the architects involved with the $1.5 billion, 10-year project, which is being co-developed by CPC Resources, a subsidiary of the not-for-profit Community Preservation Corporation, and the Katan Group, a local builder, the exhibit comes at a propitious moment.

Until now, the renderings and model had been available mostly just to city officials and neighborhood residents, so the fresh exposure could generate extra excitement. “It’s a fantastic design, and we want people in the rest of the city to know that,” says architect Martin Hopp of Rafael Viñoly Architects, who is the project’s director.

But even with broadened interest, the project still requires approval from New York’s planning commission, which considers it on April 28 before a June 9 vote, as well as from the City Council, which meets subsequently. A final decision is expected by early August.

And the plan has received mixed reviews from city officials so far. On March 9, Williamsburg’s community board, an advisory group, rejected New Domino 23-12. On April 12, meanwhile, Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn’s president, signed off on the plan, though he recommended that it add shuttle-bus service to the nearest subway stops, which are 10 blocks away.

Plus, Markowitz wants a wide range of incomes represented in its affordable apartments, which will make up 30 percent of the housing.

But other architects involved with New Domino are optimistic about its chances, such as Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners (BBB), which is converting the smokestack-topped central building, a Romanesque-style landmarked structure whose oldest section dates to 1884, into apartments. (Landscape architect Quennell Rothschild & Partners, which will dot four acres of parks with old refinery machinery.)

When done, the central building’s façade, with arched corbelled-brick windows, will display the high-visibility yellow Domino sign that currently hangs from another building, says  BBB associate partner Michael Wetstone, AIA. “It will retain a strong memory of the industrial history of the neighborhood,” he says.

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