New York’s Old Industrial Spaces Are New Again

One huge problem facing small businesses in New York is the shrinking amount of industrial space. As described so perfectly in Curbed recently (if you haven’t read it, really go read it now), a lot of industrial space has been re-zoned residential. This is happening most noticeably in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area.

When this happens, the natural step for landlords is to increase rents, which prices out tenants, and for some that means closing shop because they can't find comparable rents. 

Of the small business owners I’ve talked too, especially those who need industrial space, finding affordable space is the biggest obstacle to launching a business. Because of the development climate and potential for rezoning, owners don’t want to enter into long term leases, which makes it even harder for emerging businesses. They may find a space, only to have to find another two years later.

The pro-housing development policy of the Bloomberg-era is having an unintended effect on small businesses.

Industry City via Wikipedia

Industry City via Wikipedia

But simultaneously there’s more space emerging for small businesses in the form of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Industry City and the Brooklyn Army Terminal. All of these spaces offer massive amounts of space.

What’s old is new again. The irony of these spaces is that that they are, in NYC development years at least, ancient spaces. When it was built in 1918, the Brooklyn Army Terminal was the largest concrete building in the world and took up 95 acres. Industry City, originally conceived around 1900, stretches 200 acres and was the first American manufacturing and warehousing facility, serviced by rail and water under unified management. The Brooklyn Navy Yard, the oldest of the three, started making warships in the early 1800’s and takes up 200 acres.

What made these spaces so appealing to manufacturers and the military in the 1800’s and the 1900’s is exactly why they are attractive today. Massive amounts of space. Easy access by water and rail (in theory), and of course, close proximity to Manhattan.

View of New Jersey from Industry City

View of New Jersey from Industry City

Cities change quickly and no city more rapidly than New York. And right now, New York is experiencing a moment of incredible change, especially when it comes to real estate. Residential real estate prices are super high and there's a "landrush" in Brooklyn. The post 9/11 era, thanks to Bloomberg, made New York a better place to live, with many more parks, bike lanes and much more residential space, like in Greenpoint and Williamsburg. This has in theory attracted talent. 

The next few years will be really telling, if we end up a city that loses or grows its manufacturing sector. The city seems to be in that sort of crossroads moment. The move towards "reshoring," the maker movement and investments in New York's old manufacturing sites like the Navy Yard, Army Terminal and Industry City could make up the ingredients needed for a growth in manufacturing here in New York. But can these elements counter balance the loss of space from industrial rezoning? That's yet to be known.