The Future of the Domino Sugar Factory

by Alanna Rios on

Receiving news that the iconic Domino Sugar Factory officially sold for redevelopment a couple of weeks back was like getting news that your favorite childhood candy store shut down or that your long time friendly neighbor has moved on, but worse. For those of us who’ve resided in Williamsburg for some time, we know the Domino Sugar Factory as the welcoming friendly facade at the river’s crossing over the Williamsburg bridge and into Brooklyn. The bright yellow (once neon-lit) sign, literally exemplifying sweetness, was always a sign that I was home.

© 2011 Alanna Rios. Used with permission.

The “New Domino” Plan
Shortly after it’s closing due to low product demand in 2004, the Domino Sugar Factory was attainted by the Community Preservation Corporation (CPC). A corporation well-known for developing affordable housing, along with managing partners The Katan Group and The Refinery LLC.

In 2007, the three groups created a new plan for the site, aptly named “The New
.” Proposed was an 11.2-acre residential development that would include a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, office space, retail, community facility space and four acres of public open space with a magnificent waterfront promenade accessible to the entire community. The plan also stated that it would preserve the historic sugar refinery complex as its centerpiece, with the iconic Domino Sugar sign at its apex.

Community Opposition to the “New Domino”
Community residents and activists have made several strong arguments against the new plan’s development. Organizations like the Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) in Williamsburg believe that the Domino Sugar Factory should be retained as a national landmark, and that its original structure should not be altered. The Waterfront Preservation Alliance and the Landmarks Conservancy agree that extensive development would destroy the history and architectural legacy of the Domino Sugar Factory.

Other groups, such as Williamsburg’s Community Board 1, are more concerned about the presence of “low-income” housing and how the influx of people would affect the neighborhood, particularly in terms of commuting and the real estate value of the area. (Author’s Note: CB1 citation not sited on source above.)

There is also concern that development of a large 40-story building would impede on existing residents’ views of the waterfront.

Another prominent figure in the future Domino has been Stephenie Eisenberg. As head of the community group “Save Domino,” Eisenberg argues the site could be put to better use. For years, Eisenberg has advocated that the historic and architectural charm of the Domino Sugar Factory be maintained by making it a public place for art—calling it The Domino Center, modeled after London’s Tate Gallery. This plan would provide for 60,000 square feet of gallery space, up to 4,000 jobs, and 200 affordable housing units.

Two Trees Holdings Buys Domino Sugar Factory
Unfortunately, it is not likely any of these plans being voiced by the very people who will reside amongst the new development will even be considered. With the most recent news of the sale breaking, on June 28, 2012, the buyer’s debut deal already sounds unpromising. Jed Walentas of Two Trees Holdings bought the Domino site for a reported $180 million dollars from CPC—a price tag about triple the amount paid by CPC—with an open deal on affordable housing that is non-binding, and something that Walentas can follow through with or completely ignore, depending on how much shouting from community activists he is willing to take.

Walentas says that he is willing to go all the way back to square one and undergo an Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) to get larger acreage and a more optimal plan put in place. His last resort, if that fails, is to stick with the zoning resolutions already established by CPC Resources.

“If we come up with something better and build a consensus around it, that’s what we’ll build. If we conclude the plan that’s in place now is optimal, we’ll build that plan,” says Walentas.

© 2011 Alanna Rios. Used with permission.

Future of the Domino Sugar Factory
Be it the pure likable nature of sugar, the charming logo, or the armory-like architecture linking us to Williamsburg’s industrial past, the Domino Sugar Factory is concretely a landmark here. Although, the official redevelopment of the property means that the distinctive landscape that has resonated with so many of us will indefinitely be altered, we still have a voice in ensuring it be done in a way that retains both the aesthetic integrity of the structure, and civic interests of our neighborhood.

If you’d like to help “Save Domino” here are a few ways you can:

Write Mayor Bloomberg, The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and/or The Community Preservation Corporation and ask that preservation, height restriction laws and adequate affordable housing be implemented into the new “Domino Sugar factory” plan.

Draft a Letter:
The Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg
Mayor of New York City
City Hall
New York, N.Y. 10007

Or e-mail him directly through

Call or fax The Mayor’s Office:
Phone: 311 in NYC (or 212-NEW-YORK outside NYC)
Fax: (212) 788-2460

Contact The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission via their site.

Contact the The Community Preservation Corporation via their site.

Alanna Rios

Alanna Rios

Alanna Rios was born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and currently resides in Greenpoint. As a community native, she has observed the gradual changes in the framework of some of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn where she’s lived. These changes have provoked Alanna to examine the social, environmental and regional effects that “Big Business” and over-development impose on the historical values of once-distinctive neighborhoods. She will be further engaging this study in a Master of Landscape Architecture program at The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of the City University of New York. Alanna is also a proud volunteer of The Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, in partnership with the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, that work on “greening” North Brooklyn by improving parks and helping to create new ones.
  • Domino Sugar Factory Farewell « the wild magazine commented:

    […] LLC. According to an article on the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning’s website, these three groups created a new plan for the sugar factory site in 2007. A combined residential […]