Green arts complex neighbor to new Brooklyn Nets arena

On the busiest (and second most dangerous) intersection in my hometown of Brooklyn, NY—Flatbush and Fourth avenues—a mammoth development is in the works, one that should accommodate the hundreds of thousands of folks expected to migrate here in the next twenty years for our famously desirable lifestyle: the beautiful architecture, the community feel, the culture factory that is Kings County.

Only problem: the Atlantic Yards’ level of influx—6,430 apartment and condominium units; 17 high-rise buildings; 336,000 square feet of office space, a 50,000-square-foot sports arena for the Brooklyn Nets (don’t worry—they’re still in New Jersey for now); 247,000 square feet of retail space; and a 180-room hotel—means the very lifestyle people are moving to Brooklyn in droves for will surely be squelched.

But Brooklyn is nothing if not resilient, and just a block away, an alternative development is forming. A 61-year-old Brooklyn native named Al Atarra—white Santa Claus beard, heavy accent—has decided to preserve his 45,000-square-foot Neoclassical building called the Metropolitan Exchange, resisting wooing developers in favor of realizing his own vision: a professional arts complex.

Only MEx, as this venture is called, is made of a very specific group of arty types: architects, urban planners, landscape architects, an architectural historian, and, sure, why not, a couple of developers, too—the good kind, who wish to ameliorate neighborhoods and not actually replace them completely. At some point, Atarra hopes members won’t just be renting office space but buying into a commercial co-op that will make the building a model for the world of real estate here.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-development,” he said; indeed, along with his new partners, he plans to make use of his air rights, which allow an additional 20,000 square feet of development atop the building, and he hopes to develop the parking lot next door.

But Atlantic Yards-style development makes downtown Brooklyn the opposite of what he’d hoped for: a bedroom community rather than a bohemian enclave. “I don’t want it to be a back office for Manhattan," he said. Instead, he aims to recreate the feeling of community he had growing up in Park Slope (the limestone row house in which he was raised on 14th Street is now the home of the Lesbian Herstory Archives).

Atarra bought the building in 1979, though it has remained in various states of near-vacancy—home to a couple of less-than-legal loft dwellers and some artists’ studios. A few weeks after the purchase, he was told the building sat in an urban renewal zone, and that at any time it could be torn down. “I’ve been in limbo for 29 years,” he said.

The bulldozers never came, and, thanks to Atlantic Yards, the area is no longer in urban renewal—there is, apparently some benefit to the project.

For now, the details of the cooperative are still murky. They’ve remodeled 4,000 square feet so far, and are working on the next 4,000 square feet below, with eight firms (and one architecture writer—yours truly) already signed on or moved in. Atarra isn’t worried about the fine print. “If planners and designers can’t figure out how to do this,” he said, “who could?”


Ms Davis,
This is something the International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA) may be interested as we look to expand out organization.
Thank you,
David Jakupca
Note: Google search: iceality