Beyond the Fence: Brooklyn Navy Yard President David Ehrenberg

The Brooklyn Navy Yard is bustling with new manufacturing. (Photo courtesy Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation)
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is bustling with new manufacturing. (Photo courtesy Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation)

Since taking the helm at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation last September, David Ehrenberg has had no time for shore leave. The new president and CEO – a lifelong Brooklynite who previously oversaw real estate transactions for the NYC Economic Development Corporation – assumed control over a rapidly transforming, 300-acre industrial park with far-reaching plans for growth and expansion. Beyond the Fence recently sat down with Ehrenberg, who was reappointed to his job by Mayor Bill de Blasio today, to see how he’s faring.

So, how’s it going so far?

Great. I’ve been surprised by how much activity there is in the pipeline. The last ten years in the yard have been really extraordinary. We’ve gone through an enormous process of becoming better and better neighbors – from greening the yard to our employment center, making sure that the jobs created here are available to as wide of a variety of our local residents as possible.

And while amazing stuff has happened, in my view, it has set the stage for what will be an even more productive next ten years. If things go to plan, knock on wood, we should see a near doubling of the jobs here at the yard in the next couple years.

Where will those jobs be created?

Our biggest job-generating projects will be Steiner Studios and Building 77, a million-square-foot building that we took offline because it was underutilized for many years. It was the Navy’s munitions and storage depot, which is why there are no windows on the first 11 floors. The top floors were the offices of the Naval High Command for the North Atlantic Fleet during World War II. As our next big project, BLDG 77 will contribute a huge number of jobs.

The Green Manufacturing Center seems to be taking shape.

The Green Manufacturing Center is the most active project in the yard right now. It will be done about a year from now. A lot of construction projects look like they go really slow for a long time, then they speed up significantly. [Note: Future tenants at the Center include Crye Precision, a navy yard-based manufacturer of high-tech military gear, and New Lab, a design and prototyping center.]

And what’s the latest with the Admiral’s Row shopping center (at the corner of Flushing Avenue and Navy Street)?

So we have a plan that went through [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure]. There were a lot of stakeholders with hopes and aspirations for the site. We had selected a developer. Over the course of the year they couldn’t meet their obligations to us. So we decided to explore other options. We expect to be going out with another RFP in the not-so-distant future. We’re going to keep trying until we find the right partner, one that can deliver for us and the community.

The Brooklyn Grange farm atop Building 3 has been a big success. Any plans for more rooftop farms?

We’re constantly looking at our roofs to see if there are other opportunities. We’re exploring additional ways to utilize these spaces productively. In fact, we expect to announce a new initiative later this year.

Any other new greening efforts?

So we’re doing big, cool things like the (Brooklyn Grange) farm to simple, but really important things like garbage pickup. Historically, haulers all went to the same building. We took the simple step of starting to coordinate the haulage to those buildings; and we’ve cut the hauling and carting truck traffic by 90 percent. That’s important inside the yard, but it’s also important for the surrounding neighborhoods.

We’ve also noticed more art throughout the yard.

Yes, in fact we just sent out an email to yard businesses, asking for proposals to do an art installation on the brick wall along Flushing Avenue. We have such a wonderful collection of artists and designers and people who will have amazing ideas. And we want to continue to engage them in the Yard and of course through BLDG 92.

What’s coming up at Building 92?

We are opening a “Making It in NYC” exhibit this May. We want to focus the attention on the fact that the yard not only has extraordinary history, but one that is mirrored in what’s happening today. A lot of our companies are at the intersection of industry, technology, and innovation. And the innovation isn’t “Can you make an app that you can sell to Google for a billion dollars?” People here are making really cool products and we want to invite the public in to explore this era of ‘new’ manufacturing that we’re in, and how things are made from conception to production.

Do you see the yard as a role model for other industrial parks?

The navy yard is certainly seen as an example. There are entities like us sprouting up all around the country. They are all different. Ten years ago, a lot of places were trying to become the next Silicon Valley. That wouldn’t quite work here. A core lesson for us was: look around; know your constituents; know the types of businesses you have a chance of landing. Go after them, and suit yourself to their needs.

I grew up in Brooklyn in the 70s and 80s. I went to high school in Manhattan, and you couldn’t get people to come to Brooklyn. Well, that’s changed. The yard is, to some extent, riding on that wave. But we’re also, to some extent, leading that transformation. And that’s the most exciting part about being here.

Anselm Doering is the CEO of EcoLogic Solutions, a navy yard-based manufacturer of green cleaning products and technologies.  He can be reached at anselm@ecologicsolutions.com

Franz Wisner is a freelance writer living in Fort Greene.  He can be reached at www.storydrivenink.com.

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