Monday, March 24, 2014

Chelsea Fiber Mill - Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center

View from Polaski Bridge
Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center 1155 Manhattan Avenue
Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center Commercial Street facade
GMDC Commercial Street Facade
Adjacent to Manhattan Avenue Street End Park is the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC). The GMDC was once home to the Chelsea Fiber Mill, a maritime rope factory that supplied rope to the local ship building industry and the U.S. Navy. The Chelsea Fiber Mill was built in 1868 with Charles Pratt among the Brooklyn Businessmen invested in the company.[1][2] From 1868 to 1903 the Chelsea Fiber Mill expanded, gradually adding structures until a total of 8 buildings were constructed.[2] Included in the complex's Victorian era brick buildings was a steam generator - the smoke stack of which can still be seen rising above the complex. After the end of WWII ship building technology evolved and the need for the rope supplied by the fiber mill declined steadily and eventually the company went out of business. 

After the factory closed the buildings fell into a state of disrepair and by the 1970s the structures had damage ranging from broken windows to collapsing roofs. The city took ownership of the property in 1972 when the owner, Grossen Dye Works, failed to pay their taxes. In the years that followed, the city attempted to market the property to real estate developers and when they were uninterested developing the site the city considered demolishing the buildings.[1]

Looking through a corridor from the street to into the courtyard of the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center
Looking Into the Courtyard of the GMDC Complex
In the 1980s a small contingent of artists and woodworkers were allowed to rent space in the buildings on a month to month bases provided that they did all of the maintenance of their spaces themselves. The structures were described by one of those tenants as a "wasteland". Tenants, eventually fed up with conditions in the complex, banded together and formed the Woodworking Center Equity Corporation to manage the complex and  negotiate leases.[1] 

In 1992 Mr. Niswander, the head of the tenants group and David Sweeny, the director of economic development for the North Brooklyn Development Corporation, incorporated the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center. The GMDC applied to buy the complex from the city in order to create an Incubator for local artists and craftsman.[1] After a series of battles with city agencies the complex was sold to the GMDC for $1 and city promised to set aside $1 million for safety improvements. 

Today the GMDC stands as a model for urban revival and economic development and is the only non-profit industrial developer in New York City. The organization's goals are to keep rents affordable for artists and artisans and to preserve light industry in urban areas by acquiring, developing and managing industrial real estate for small to medium sized manufacturing enterprises.[3] In addition to affordable rent, the GMDC provides job training and a communal environment, creating a competitive edge for its tenants. Among the list of tenants are furniture makers, fine artists, graphic artists, film makers and interior designers.[2]

Those familiar with north Brooklyn may recognize other GMDC buildings in various neighborhoods. In addition to the building complex at 1155 Manhattan avenue pictured here, the GMDC managed buildings include buildings at: 221 McKibbin Street (Bushwick, adjacent to the infamous McKibbin Lofts), 810 Humboldt Street (Williamsburg), 7 St. Nicholas Avenue (Bushwick) and 1102 Atlantic Avenue (Crown Heights).[3] Although, not included in GMDC's list of buildings, according to a Daily News article from December of 2000, the GMDC was to lease and renovate the Pencil Factory building at 37 Greenpoint Avenue.[4]

birds eye view of the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center's Newtown Creak facade
GMDC Waterfront Seen from Long Island City
Looking toward the future of the Chelsea Fiber Mills complex, the GMDC has partnered with the North Brooklyn Boat Club with plans to restore the bulkhead and provide waterfront access for pedestrians and maritime recreation.[2] The planned renovation of the waterfront side of the complex would extend waterfront access from the planned residential developments along the East River and Newtown Creek to Manhattan Avenue Street End Park. Architectural rendering for the planned work can be found on Untapped Cities.   

  1. Prud'homme, Alex "Off the Urban Rust Heap, a Factory Goes to Work" New York Times. 10 January, 1999.
  2. "The Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center" Untapped Cities. Online.11 May, 2012.
  3. "Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center - Buildings"
  4. Allen, Michael "Penciling in new firms for old factory" Daily News. 27 December, 2000.

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