Situated along the Brooklyn waterfront in the Sunset Park neighborhood, the Bush Terminal Industrial Park served for a time as one of the world’s largest integrated hubs for manufacturing, warehousing and shipping by rail and water. At its peak in the 1910s, the complex occupied 200 acres between 27th Street and 50th Street and handled 10% of New York’s steamship traffic.
The port at Bush Terminal remained active until 1974, when the City’s Department of Ports and Terminals contracted with a private firm to begin filling in the space between Piers 1 through 4, from approximately 43rd to 50th streets.
The City intended to convert the site into an area for cargo storage, but the operation ended in 1978 after it was found that fill used by the contractor contained unauthorized pollutants. In 1982, the New York Legislature held a hearing on illegal waste dumping at the site, including oils, sludge and wastewater.
At the time the State Department of Environmental Control (DEC) classified the area as a Class 3 inactive hazardous waste disposal site, which indicated no serious risk to the environment or public health. The City fenced in the area and made no further progress on the site for more than a decade. The space between the piers remained partially filled in and soon became overgrown with trees and other vegetation.
In 1999, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) completed the “Strategic Plan for the Redevelopment of the Port of New York,” a comprehensive plan to guide the development of the City’s ports. While primarily concerned with commercial development, the plan acknowledged the need of the general public for recreational waterfront access and identified the Bush Terminal Piers 1-5 as a potential site for such activities.
As a result, the EDC and the DEC conducted a comprehensive environmental evaluation of the site between May 1999 and May 200l. In March of 2004, following a few additional studies, the DEC issued a Record of Decision for a cleanup plan, with the ultimate goal of converting the area to a public recreational space.
The Record of Decision detailed evidence of landfill-related gases and various pollutants in the soil and groundwater. The remediation plan called for new soil cover, active landfill gas management, groundwater monitoring and site use controls. Initial designs for the completely redeveloped recreational area included fishing piers, athletic fields, restaurant booths, a banquet hall, an environmental education center and a mini-golf course as well as wooded areas, ponds and a scenic overlook.
In April 2006, Mayor Bloomberg and then-Governor Pataki jointly announced a commitment of $36 million for Phase 1 of the project, which includes environmental remediation of Piers 1-4, as well as initial transportation improvements and recreational infrastructure. The Federal Government awarded $8 million for the project, the State of New York awarded $17.8 million, and the City pledged $9 million.
The State’s $17.8 million grant, facilitated through 2003 Brownfield and Superfund legislation, was the largest Brownfield grant ever awarded in New York. The State also provided a $700,000 Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) grant. In addition, Councilmember Sara Gonzales (D-Sunset Park) helped raise $500,000 for the project.
In April of 2008, representatives from the EDC made a presentation to CB 7 detailing the latest plans for the park, which retained most elements of the original proposal: athletic fields, a community hall, an environmental education center and other recreational spaces. City officials also reported that remediation had not begun and that the project would not be completed before the end of Bloomberg’s term in 2009. Although no formal schedule has been released, Phase 1 construction is expected to take two to three years.
Funding has not yet been secured for Phase 2 of the project, which will redevelop Pier 5 and bring additional improvements to Piers 1-4. Phase 2 is expected to cost approximately $24 -$35 million. Once the project is completed, annual maintenance for the park is expected to cost approximately $1 million. Concessions from restaurant booths and other facilities are expected to offset a large portion of this cost. Private waterfront developers have also committed to funding a portion of the annual costs.
In addition to providing much-needed recreational space and a focal point for community activities, the park is intended to restore public waterfront access for a neighborhood largely cut off from the water by the Gowanus Expressway and commercial developments. At the time of the Bush Terminal Park’s announcement in 2006, public waterfront access in Sunset Park was limited to a single pier on 58th Street.
The proposed park will nearly double the amount of public parkland in the neighborhood. Because of the necessary amenities it will provide and the minimal alternative development options for the site, the park has not faced any serious opposition from local stakeholders.
The plan for Bush Terminal Park is considered an important component within several broader planning initiatives: the Sunset Park 197-a Plan sponsored by Brooklyn Community Board 7 (CB 7), the EDC’s Sunset Park Waterfront Vision Plan , and the Brooklyn Greenway project led by the Department of City Planning and the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (which calls for a network of pedestrian scale pathways extending from Sunset Park to Greenpoint).
The Sunset Park 197-a Plan, first developed in 1997, provides a comprehensive framework for revitalizing the Sunset Park waterfront by redeveloping industry, preserving existing infrastructure, and increasing public access. The Plan serves as the foundation for the EDC’s Sunset Park Waterfront Vision Plan and was adopted by the City Planning Commission in October 2009.
Sunset Park Waterfront Vision Plan
Initiated in 2007 and officially released in July of 2009, the Sunset Park 197-a Plan details a long-term strategy for commercial investment and land use of a 2.5-mile stretch that once was an industrial core of Brooklyn’s working waterfront. The Sunset Park waterfront – consisting largely of marine piers, terminals, and railyards owned or managed by the City of New York – has been underused and falling into disrepair for the last 25 years.
The Plan seeks to update the aging maritime and industrial infrastructure, re-use vacant or underutilized space, attract environmentally-friendly/sustainable industry, diversify economic activity, increase local job opportunities, and improve the neighborhood’s quality of life by connecting residents to the waterfront (largely through the proposed Bush Terminal Piers Park).
The Plan expressly strives to take advantage of the local workforce, which comes from a largely immigrant background and depends on local employment (more than 20% of residents walk to work, which is double the city average). Upon its unveiling, Mayor Bloomberg announced the Plan would be supported by $270 million in funding, $165 million from the City and $105 from state, federal, and private dollars. City Planning Commission approved the Sunset Park 197-a rezoning plan in October 2009.