Walentas Steps in Where Library Couldn’t Succeed

By Dennis Holt

BROOKLYN — Linda Collins’ report about Two Trees Management’s plan for the BAM Cultural Center has, as far as we know, not been noted by anyone else, and that’s a shame. It may also be that most people have forgotten, or never realized, the importance of the site — that triangular piece of almost-empty property across Ashland Place from BAM.

Harvey Lichtenstein, in his concept of a cultural center in and around the BAM building, has always seen that site as the capstone of the new center that is slowly being created there.

And at first, that goal seemed to have been realized. An arts and culture library run by the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) was originally planned for the site. And the library’s leadership at that time reached out to renowned architect Enrique Norten to design a memorable building. He did not disappoint them.

His design was spectacular — a ship-looking building and a public plaza reaching out to Lafayette Avenue. There was only one problem: The library could not raise the funds from the private sector needed to build the new structure.

The BPL had to walk away from the project, but the city kept control of the site and never lost sight of the value of that site. Most people, however, forgot about it.

However, the visionary eyes of David and Jed Walentas of Two Trees didn’t, and the father and son very quietly a few years ago contracted with the city to build on that site when the time was right.

As Collins reported, Jed Walentas told a surprised Brooklyn audience last week that the time was, indeed, getting ripe. The plan has always been to create a mixed-use building — arts and culture interests on the first and maybe other floors, with residences above.

Walentas reported that this is still the plan, that the residences will be rentals and use an 80-20 formula: 80 percent market rate, 20 percent affordable. Final designs are being worked out with the Department of City Planning, especially the proposed height.

Suspense is building, and it is delightful to gossip about which architect will be used. Norten may come back to Brooklyn. Two Trees used Norten on a major housing project in Manhattan that has won a lot of plaudits.

The firm also used Jean Nouvel to design the building housing Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Years ago Two Trees wanted Nouvel to design a hotel in DUMBO. Either world-class architect could be in play.

While we are ruminating about the future, remember that Two Trees is bidding on the Brooklyn Bridge Park Hotel on Pier 1. We’ll find out more about that on Nov. 22.

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