Hello, Silicon Triangle? Plan for Downtown Brooklyn Aims to Grow Borough’s $6B Tech Industry

The Brooklyn Tech Triangle coalition is making a push for major development and infrastructure changes to downtown Brooklyn in order to help grow the borough’s booming technology industry.

Last week, WXY Architecture + Urban Design presented a major strategic planning initiative to the Brooklyn Tech Triangle coalition – a development team that includes the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the DUMBO Improvement District, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. Its goal? To continue transforming downtown Brooklyn – already the largest location for tech activity outside of Manhattan – into a vibrant destination for technology industry tenants.

Within two years, Brooklyn’s 18,000 tech jobs and 43,000 supporting jobs will face a lack of commercial and light industrial space. And with Midtown South vacancies low and rents sky high, WXY is proposing some broad initiatives designed to continue attracting technology companies, start-up firms, and other workers to the Tech Triangle, which stretches roughly across downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The plan includes improving transportation corridors, installing bike paths and footbridges, and creating a more pedestrian-oriented downtown Brooklyn, along with more green space. It also proposes a “Special Innovation District,” which would provide incentives for the redevelopment of industrial spaces. Other proposals in the plan are more playful: an observation platform designed like a hot-air balloon called “Brooklyn Rising” (pictured above), a cafe on Cadman Plaza featuring a topiary arbor, and a “tech terrace” with a large digital display screen.

“Brooklyn’s synergy between living and working in a creative environment will benefit from initiatives like the Special Innovation District, bolstered by relocation incentives tweaked for startups and incentives for landowners to upgrade their buildings,” said WXY’s Adam Lubinsky. “The plan will help make the Tech Triangle a great place for tech firms to be – encouraging cafes and new outdoor spaces, better cycle routes, and new spaces for startups,” WXY founder Claire Weisz added.

The Tech Triangle Coalition is also calling for new commercial office space and supporting infrastructure to be added immediately in order to meet rising demand from the tech companies that already call Brooklyn home: today, more than 520 tech firms employ nearly 10,000 people and generate $3.1 billion in economic activity in Kings County. And the trend is only upwards. Indeed, by 2015, Brooklyn’s technology sector is predicted to reach $6 billion in activity, supported by 4 million square feet of space for technology industry companies, 2.2 million of which is called for in the Tech Triangle initiative.

Specific aspects of WXY’s plan (presented in a press release) focus on initiatives that would address the following five key challenges facing Brooklyn’s tech industry:

Space for Tech to Grow

Challenge: The area is running out of appropriate commercial space for tech.

Initiatives:

- Activate key buildings including 700,000+ square feet of property owned by the Watchtower at Sands Street; 200,000 square feet of office space at the Empire Stores in DUMBO; 1.2 million square feet of commercial space surrounding Cadman Plaza and government-owned and occupied buildings such as the Municipal Building at 210 Joralemon Street, 65 Court Street, and the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse at 271 Cadman Plaza East. Move government tenants from DUMBO and preserve existing space in tech occupied buildings that have residential zoning options.

- Create a master lessee program to designate an organization to carry umbrella long-term leases and credit-worthiness on behalf of multiple short-term leases for tech firms.

- Designate a Special Innovation District to allow minimal residential density to subsidize the conversion of storage and warehouse buildings into new space for the innovation economy.

- Start a commercial modernization incentive program to encourage building owners to refurbish their buildings to meet tech needs such as creating open plan spaces by providing dollar-for-dollar matching amortization over five years.

- Allow for the transfer of air rights from buildings along the Fulton Mall to other properties within the Downtown Brooklyn District, provided owners on the Mall take action to transform the derelict upper floors of their buildings into space for the innovation economy to grow.

A New Tech Ecosystem

Challenge: The Tech Triangle could be – but isn’t yet – a new model integrating talent from local communities and universities with high-growth industries.

Initiatives:

- Start a coder training program in Downtown Brooklyn to establish entry-level talent for Tech Triangle firms.

- Support curriculum alignment and information exchange between tech firms and universities to allow for tailored courses, job fairs and internships, expanded teaching by experts in the field, and other activities to ensure that students are prepared for the demands of the tech sector.

- Start a Tech Triangle Innovation Hub by partnering with a broad spectrum of technology businesses in and outside the Tech Triangle as well as higher education, particularly the City University of New York, to prepare local people and New York City students and workers for the jobs emerging from the tech industry.

Connections Across the Triangle

Challenge: It needs to be easier to get around the Tech Triangle.

Initiatives:

Create new bike corridors on Cadman Plaza East and Jay Street in addition to the Brooklyn Greenway plans for Flushing Avenue to create direct connections between Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, and the Navy Yard.

Extend the B67 and B24 bus lines to establish routes through the Navy Yard, allowing more than one bus per 10 minutes from York Street station and providing connections to Williamsburg and Greenpoint on the eastern end of the Navy Yard.

Create new ferry landings at the end of Jay Street and within the Navy Yard to expand the public transit options to the Tech Triangle.

Design a new F train entrance on Jay Street and create a pedestrian linkage to the A/C entrance from High Street to Adams Street to facilitate significant transportation connections between Downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO.

Dynamic Places for Tech

Challenge: Parts of the Tech Triangle need an upgraded energy and vibe.

Initiatives:

- Implement the Downtown Redux to create new retail frontages on Flatbush Avenue, and additional retail, food kiosks and amenities within MetroTech Commons.

- Create a new vision for Columbus Park, Clumber Corner and Cadman Plaza that would develop a cohesive greenway called the Brooklyn Strand. Bring in cafés, new lighting and an improved crossing of Adams Street to make this park space into a signature civic space in Brooklyn. Clumber Corner improvements would use the BQE off-ramp embankments and the NYC DOT staging area to create a space for tech workers to hang out.

- Create a Jay Street Crossing at Sands Street to improve the experience of pedestrians walking between Downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO.

- Implement Fox Square / Flatbush improvements to create a dynamic, pedestrian-friendly environment at the critical intersection where Fulton Mall meets Flatbush Avenue. Extend the Flatbush Avenue streetscape design from DeKalb Avenue to 4th Avenue to provide a critical connection from the Barclays Center and the Cultural District to Downtown Brooklyn.

Tech Triangle Interface

Challenge: The “tech” in Tech Triangle should be apparent to all.

Initiatives:

- Implement Brooklyn BOLD (Building Office Leasing Downtown) to increase marketing efforts through model unit grant programs and leasing and design competitions targeted at tech firms.

- Set up ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage throughout the area.

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