Brooklyn Navy Yard Exhibit Showcases the Former Naval Site’s Industrial Growth

Brooklyn Navy Yard Exhibit Showcases the Former Naval Site’s Industrial Growth
Trucks used to ship goods made at the Brooklyn Navy Yard are parked next to cranes used formerly shipbuilding. (Photo by Jason Bisnoff)
Trucks used to ship goods made at the Brooklyn Navy Yard are parked next to cranes formerly used for shipbuilding. (Photo by Brien Foy)

The rich history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard is evident from the moment you step on the 300-acre facility in Fort Greene, added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service on Thursday, May 22. But history isn’t all the former naval shipbuilding site has had to offer, transforming itself into a bustling manufacturing hub in the last 50 years.

To help shed light on the navy yard’s innovations and growth into an industrial backbone for Brooklyn, BLDG 92 has opened the exhibit “Making it in NYC: The Era of New Manufacturing.”

The exhibit has displayed more than 20 businesses from all five boroughs, but maintains a focus on the navy yard’s businesses and the manufacturing hub that has grown where the naval base once stood.

“For the almost 7,000 people who work here, [the Brooklyn Navy Yard] is a very important place,” said Doug Chapman who conducts tours of the navy yard. “It is a really important cultural hub in general, first to the shipbuilding industry but also the future of manufacturing in urban areas.”

The navy yard has served as an exponential source of job growth and industrial advancement for north Brooklyn, with an economic impact on the city estimated at $2 billion annually, according to a Pratt Center for Community Development report. Originally decommissioned in 1966, the navy yard has doubled its number of employees in the past 10 years.

“All of our success over the past few years has been an effort to bring jobs back to the city,” said David Ehrenberg, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. “To have an opportunity to celebrate that, for a Brooklyn born kid, is really wonderful.”

While the navy yard’s repurposing has been a half-century in the making, its development into what it is today has been a relatively recent phenomenon. An integral part of the evolution during the last decade has been a push to build relationships with surrounding neighborhoods that can benefit from the increasing job opportunities.

“It’s really powerful for us to be this economic engine for job creation when we are surrounded by four major public housing complexes,” said Aisha Glover, VP of External Affairs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. “Of the people we have helped place, 25 percent are in public housing. That is core to our mission.”

Scott Jordan Furniture has done business out of the navy yard since 1988 and is one of the businesses with a display at the exhibit. The CEO, Scott Jordan, remembers when he first moved in, when the navy yard was mostly vacant. “We were one of the first tenants and now it’s completely full.” The company has 13 employees and “most of them live in Brooklyn.”

Glover says that local job creation is the most important part of the non-profit organization’s work.

“We have added 3,500 jobs in the last 10 years, we are going to double to 15,000 in the next five years,” she said. “This model works and people are getting employed.”

Brad Samuels, a partner at the navy yard design firm Situ Studio, helped build the exhibit that displays 26 business – half of which showcase navy yard residents.

“We knew the concept of the exhibition would be very diverse and feature a range of different products,” Samuels said. “What we had to address was a flexible display system that would accommodate varying types of objects.”

The display was designed with hopes to change which businesses are presented as the year goes on, though no formal plans to change the show are scheduled as of now.