New York

New Life for an Old Building in Williamsburg

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. Today we’ll look at the building-within-a-building that is giving new life to an old sugar refinery. We’ll also find out about the chorus of Democrats in the Senate calling for Robert Menendez to resign.

Credit…Max Touhey

On a map of Brooklyn, you can find waterways like Mill Basin and the Gowanus Canal.

You won’t find the Sea of Molasses.

That was a nickname for the gooey mess left behind on the floor of what was once the world’s largest sugar refinery.

Today that structure begins a new chapter with the opening of a building-within-a-building — a 15-story office tower that has been built within the Domino refinery’s old brick walls. There has already been a much-photographed event in the penthouse, where the luxury brand Hermes held a men’s wear runway show during New York Fashion Week last month. Vogue reported that Matt Damon was in the front row.

How different that was from what used to go on there. The refinery once produced more than one million pounds of sugar every day. The company that operated the refinery came to control 98 percent of sugar processing in the United States, and by the end of World War I, 4,500 workers were on the payroll. That number dwindled after World War II as sweeteners like corn syrup captured market share. By the 1990s, only liquid sugar was being refined there.

There was also labor turbulence: A bitter strike from 1999 to 2001 ended in what even union leaders said was a loss. The 284 strikers began crossing the picket line after nine months, when their unemployment insurance ran out and they said the walkout was not making a difference. Domino was allowed to cut 110 jobs under the new contract. It closed the refinery in 2004.

To go from industrial relic to office building and event space in the now-popular Williamsburg neighborhood, the developers first had to deal with the gooey floor.

“Everything was sticky,” said Jed Walentas, the chief executive of Two Trees Management, which was instrumental in redeveloping the industrial neighborhood that became Dumbo. “It was funny to walk around and get it on your shoes.”

“Everything smelled like sugar,” he said, but the aroma was not all sweetness. “You could imagine a mixture of sugar molasses and urban decay all in one.”

There were also “some of the biggest raccoons you’ve ever seen, who were probably diabetic” but, he said, no rats. “The raccoons kept the rats away.”

Once the floor had been cleaned and the old machinery had been taken apart and hauled away, there was the matter of how to adapt the building. Two Trees, working with Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, kept the old outer brick shell — the “brick wrapper,” Walentas called it — and put a building-within-the-building inside.

In the 12-foot-gap between the old brick wall and the new office-building wall is a garden with 17 trees that had to be placed by a crane. And the old gas-burning manufacturing plant was turned into an all-electric site that Two Trees says will have net-zero carbon emissions. All of the wastewater from the office building will be treated and reused there as well.

Walentas said Two Trees would now begin leasing the office space. I asked if the project had benefited from timing — if the pandemic had made office space away from Midtown Manhattan more appealing.

“It’s not that Midtown is going out of business,” he said, “but that huge amounts of human capital have moved to Brooklyn and Queens. People want to live and work in the same communities, go home at lunch and see their young children.”

He also said that the adjacent 10 Grand Street building, completed shortly before the pandemic, had been fully leased in 2021. “If you wanted space in that building,” he said, “there is zero square feet.”


Enjoy a mostly sunny day and a break from the rain, with temps rising into the mid-60s. At night, it will be partly cloudy, with a low in the mid-50s.


In effect until Saturday (Sukkot).

The latest Metro news

Credit…Stephanie Keith for The New York Times

Local news

  • Migrant court: A judge on Staten Island temporarily blocked the city from using a former school as an emergency shelter for migrants. The decision could have broader implications for the city’s long-established obligation to offer shelter to anyone who asks for it.

  • Trump fraud ruling: A New York judge ruled that Donald Trump persistently committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets, and stripped the former president of control over some of his signature New York properties.

  • The city’s sprawling private universities: As New York City’s budget tightens, its wealthiest universities, N.Y.U. and Columbia, are bigger and richer than ever. Some officials think it’s time for the two schools to pay more in taxes.

  • Big bank settles: JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay $75 million to the U.S. Virgin Islands to settle claims that it facilitated Jeffrey Epstein’s sex-trafficking operation.

  • Gallery exhibitions: Our list of 15 New York City gallery exhibitions that changed the city’s history and the culture at large begins with a show 80 years ago. Read more from The New York Times Style Magazine here.

  • Lived lives: Phil Sellers, a brash, high-scoring forward who helped transform Rutgers University into a national basketball power in the 1970s, died on Sept. 19 at a hospital in Livingston, N.J. He was 69.

Booker joins Senate Democrats in calling for Menendez to resign

Credit…Kenny Holston/The New York Times

After Senator Robert Menendez was indicted last week, other New Jersey Democrats — notably Gov. Philip Murphy — said he should resign. Menendez’s colleagues in the Senate were largely silent.

That changed on Tuesday.

Senator Cory Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey, issued a statement that said that the indictment contained “shocking allegations of corruption and specific, disturbing details of wrongdoing.” He called Menendez’s defiant refusal to step down “a mistake” after noting that he and Menendez had “a working relationship and a friendship that I value.” Booker testified as a character witness during Menendez’s corruption trial in 2017.

The chorus of Democrats calling for Menendez to leave the Senate included endangered incumbents like Senator Jon Tester of Montana, a state that Donald Trump won by more than 16 points in 2020. Tester said that Menendez needed to go “for the sake of the public’s faith in the U.S. Senate.” Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada, who opened her re-election bid by predicting that her race would decide control of the Senate, said that the charges against Menendez were a “distraction that undermines the bipartisan work we need to do.”

Menendez is expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan today, along with his wife and two of the businessmen who were indicted with them. The fifth defendant in the case, Wael Hana, an American Egyptian businessman who prosecutors say was the linchpin of the scheme to bribe Menendez, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday and was granted release on a $5 million personal recognizance bond.

My colleague Annie Karni writes that Democrats consider the fact that they were able to get all of their vulnerable senators to run for re-election in 2024 their biggest source of strength in their push to hold onto their slim majority. And it was those vulnerable Democrats who helped open the floodgates, with more than a dozen Democratic senators rushing to release statements calling for Mr. Menendez’s resignation ahead of their weekly lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday.

“No one is entitled to serve in the U.S. Senate, and he should step aside,” declared Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado.

“That’s a breach of that trust and a burden I believe will prevent him from fully serving,” said Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona. “He should resign.”

The bond between Booker and Menendez has been strong since Booker arrived in the Senate a decade ago. Booker was one of the first co-sponsors of a bill introduced by Menendez that called for tougher sanctions on Iran as punishment for its nuclear weapons program.



Dear Diary:

I was wandering through Greenwich Village on a spring day, admiring the brownstones as well as the daffodils that were beginning to emerge from the earth.

I noticed a man and a woman walking toward each other in opposite directions. As they got closer, I could tell from their glances that they were checking each other out.

They passed and continued on in their respective directions. Moments later, I saw the man look back over his shoulder for one more glimpse of the woman. Shortly after, the woman did the same.

They missed each other’s second glances by a matter of seconds, and to this day, I wonder what might have happened if they had looked back at the same time. I like to imagine that they now stroll through that neighborhood hand in hand, walking in the same direction.

— Amie Hammond

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Bernard Mokam and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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