Tanked

Contested oil tanks in Bushwick Inlet Park are being demolished to make way for open space

Ten oil tanks front the south side of Bushwick Inlet on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (Photo by James & Karla Murray / www.jamesandkarlamurray.com)

The Tanks are tanked.

The City of New York has nailed the coffin shut on one group’s idea to turn massive abandoned oil tanks on the Brooklyn waterfront into a postindustrial playground. Instead, the parcel is being cleared of its industrial relics, cleaned up, and returned as an extension to Bushwick Inlet Park, the green space on the East River at the border between Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

The demolition of the tanks marks a victory for area residents who want a park with ample wide-open space. For a newer group of designers and real estate professionals, however, the demolition represents a missed opportunity for a creative reuse of distinctive industrial infrastructure.

For years, Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents fought for a park on the East River waterfront as the area transitioned away from its industrial roots. Many saw the future green space as a counterpoint to decades of pollution. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a deal with residents and area stakeholders to rezone the waterfront for residential uses in exchange for a 28-acre park.



One prominent stakeholder, Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, pushed for a park with ballfields, wide-open lawns, and the spectacular view of Manhattan that goes with it. Since the groundbreaking a decade ago, the city has acquired land piecemeal and at great expense.

The current controversy centers on a seven-acre parcel that supported the Bayside Oil Depot, a petrol storage facility distinguished by ten five-story tanks that loom over the south side of Bushwick Inlet. The city bought that piece of land in March 2016 for $53 million.

For those who want the oil tanks to go, the infrastructure is an ugly reminder of the environmental degradation brought on my heavy industry. For others, the tanks are a canvas for postindustrial regeneration that would draw on north Brooklyn’s creative reputation.

Hanging gardens surround a pond with lily pads and sailboats in a converted oil tank.

A rendering of a tank interior-turned-garden. (STUDIO V Architecture and Ken Smith Workshop)

Three years ago, professionals in architecture, design, and real estate banded together to propose repurposing the tanks as galleries, gardens, and an oyster farm. Group leaders Stacey Anderson and Karen Zabarsky assembled a team that includes architect Jay Valgora of STUDIO V Architecture and landscape architect Ken Smith of Ken Smith Workshop. Together, they put forth a vision called The Tanks (formerly Maker Park) that pushed back on the idea that the industrial relics needed to be eliminated for the park to be a success.

Ward Dennis, a member of the Friends group and a partner at New York’s Higgins Quasebarth, dismissed The Tanks as a non-starter from the get-go.

“The alternative proposal has never really gotten a lot of traction in the community. Open space was the priority,” said Dennis.

Another issue at play in the tanks debate centers on public safety; the ground around and underneath the tanks is toxic and needs remediation. The Tanks group hired an outside environmental consultant who determined that remediation can be accomplished with the tanks in-situ, but the city contends that the tanks must be removed for a full clean-up.

A NYC Parks Department spokesperson told The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) that demolition work began in July.

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