FBIP SC Member & NPBA Board Member, Ward Dennis & North Brooklyn Parks Alliance have created an abridged history and status of the various sections of Bushwick Inlet Park.
This video was made & presented at part 2 of the panel discussion program The Future of Public Open Space: Infrastructure Projects in North Brooklyn hosted by NBPA on November 12, 2020.
A Historical Overview
By Ward Dennis
Bushwick Inlet Park is a 27-acre piece of land that sits along the East River at the juncture of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. The park was officially designated in 2005, a giveback from the City of New York to the community as part of a massive rezoning that has so far added more than 50,000 new residents to the area. The design of the park is guided by a master plan developed through a community process in 2007.
When it is completed, Bushwick Inlet Park will be a crown jewel in the midst of 5 miles of waterfront esplanades from the Navy Yard to Newtown Creek. Together with Marsha P. Johnson East River State Park and the Greenpoint Monitor Museum, BIP will provide close to 40 acres of contiguous open space directly on the East River.
But fifteen years after the rezoning, this park is still more of a concept than a reality. As of 2020 less than a quarter of the promised park has been opened.
400 years ago, Bushwick Inlet Park was mostly underwater. The area above the high-water line was a low-sloping sandy beach. Bushwick Inlet, now a small cove on the East River, was the mouth of a vast inland waterway that included wetlands covering all of McCarren Park. Bushwick Creek was part of a rich and fertile wetlands that had supported the indigenous population for centuries, the summer home of the Keskachauge clan of the Canarsee tribe.
Europeans first started arriving in northern Brooklyn in the 1620s. Most of the first arrivals were squatters, living on the land without title or permission from either the Dutch or the Keskachauge.
In 1660, Peter Stuyvesant established the Town of Bushwick, which encompassed all of what is today Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsburg. The wetlands of Bushwick Inlet were held in common and farmed for salt hay.
For almost 200 years, the area existed as a small farming community. Only a few hundred people occupied the entire Town of Bushwick, over a third of them enslaved Blacks.
But in the early part of the 19th century Williamsburg and then Greenpoint began to transform into urban landscapes dominated by heavy industry.
One such enterprise was Continental Iron Works. In 1862, Continental launched the ironclad warship U.S.S. Monitor from the foot of Calyer Street.
Today, the Greenpoint Monitor Museum occupies the north side of the inlet on land donated to it by the Motiva Corporation. The Museum sits next to the northernmost piece of BIP, also formerly owned by Motiva. The community recently approved a plan to construct a 2-acre passive open space overlooking the inlet here. Funding for this parcel has been allocated and construction is expected to begin in early 2021.
The large building to the north of Motiva is 40 Quay Street, currently used as a garage for MTA maintenance vehicles. The site is zoned for residential use, and the MTA is actively trying to sell it. Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park is advocating for the MTA and the State of New York to turn this property into an extension of the park.
On the south side of Bushwick Inlet, Charles Pratt’s Astral Oil kerosene distillery was founded just before the Civil War. Pratt’s legacy lives on in many ways, but at Bushwick Inlet it lives on in the severe contamination that lies under the site.
Now called the Bayside parcel, 8 acres in total, it was acquired by the city in 2015 and is currently undergoing testing. The parcel will need to be remediated before design and construction can be undertaken. None of this work is currently funded.
Another major source of contamination at the inlet was manufactured coal-tar gas. The now lush lawn at 50 Kent once housed massive gas holding tanks of the Williamsburg Gas Light Company, resulting in contamination that extended more than 25’ below ground.
50 Kent was remediated in 2017 and in 2018 the Parks Department approved a design for this parcel. Construction is funded and expected to start in early 2021.
The southern two blocks of BIP sit atop a former rail yard, the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal. The 25-acre freight terminal was operational until the 1980s, after which it became an ersatz playground and park.
The south BEDT block contains the only part of BIP that is operational – a soccer field constructed in 2010 and a community house built in 2013.
North of that and also once part of the rail terminal is the massive blue and white CitiStorage building. It was the last piece of BIP to be acquired. Today, the building is vacant, awaiting funds for demolition, remediation, design and construction.
Bushwick Inlet Park is also the legacy of community action. As industry faded in the post-World War II era, local activists began fighting to reclaim the waterfront for the community.
El Puente spearheaded the creation of Grand Ferry Park. NAG – Neighbors Against Garbage battled a Giuliani-era plan to turn the Northside waterfront into a massive waste transfer station. GWAPP – Greenpoint-Williamsburg Against the Power Plant fought for years to stop the construction of a huge power plant on the inlet.
In the late 1990s, the north Brooklyn community had organized to develop a community-based plan to transform Williamsburg and Greenpoint into mixed-use communities centered around public access to the waterfront.
In the early 2000s, the Bloomberg administration envisioned Bushwick Inlet Park as part of an Olympic village. NYC 2012 did not pan out, but out of that planning came the 2005 Bloomberg proposal to rezone the waterfront for residential use. At the same time, in an effort led by Assemblyman Joe Lentol, Marsha P. Johnson East River State Park was created to the south of BIP.
But the 2005 rezoning did not create a park. The land was still in private hands. Residential construction quickly exploded, but parks construction did not keep pace. In 2007, Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park was organized and began a “Where’s Our Park” campaign.
In 2015 a fire destroyed part of the CitiStorage facility. With the owner of the property threatening to sell out to the highest bidder, Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, working with local residents, elected officials, North Brooklyn Parks Alliance, El Puente and many other local groups, ramped up its campaign. After almost 10 years of hold outs by the owner and inaction by the city, the property was finally acquired in 2016.
With all of the pieces finally in place, the task now is building a park.
Where’s Our Park CitiStorage Campaign Conclusion
In 2005, the controversial rezoning of the Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront stipulated that the City of New York create at least 50 acres of park space to service the expanding community.
Over a decade later, tens-of-thousands of new residents have moved in to the developing area, but very little of the 27-acre Bushwick Inlet Park has been materialized.
On November 21, 2016, after extensive community activism and outcry asking, “WHERE’S OUR PARK?” The City of New York finalized a deal with the owner of the CitiStorage site, acquiring the final piece of land needed to realize the fully planned Bushwick Inlet Park. Read the story.
Now that the fight for the last piece of land is over, we begin a new phase of community activation. Please explore our site to learn more about the park and how you can help with developing of the rest of Bushwick Inlet Park.
A resounding thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio and to a passionate resilient coalition of our community, supporting organizations, and our elected Officials!