NYC Turned A World War I-Era Army Base Into A Modern Manufacturing Hub For 100 Businesses

Sitting just off the coast of New York City’s East River, the Brooklyn Army Terminal was first commissioned in 1918 to serve as a major military depot, carrying troops and supplies to bases and battles in Europe. More than three million troops passed through the terminal before it was decommissioned in the 1960s.

In the 1980s, it was purchased by the City of New York and transformed into what it is today: A four-million-square-foot manufacturing hub that is bringing high-paying manufacturing jobs back to NYC.

Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours and members of the NYC Economic Development Corporation recently took us around for a tour of the facility to see the building’s storied past and its bright future.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal (BAT) is located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It is owned by the the city and run by the NYC Economic Development Corporation, which has renovated it to house more than 100 businesses, including light manufacturing, medical labs, warehouse distribution, and artists' studios.

The Terminal is approximately four million square feet. The city has spent $185 million to retrofit 3.2 million square feet of that space with new electric, elevators, plumbing, and other amenities.

The complex was first commissioned in 1918 to help move supplies and soldiers for the US's war effort in Europe. It wasn't finished until ten months after the war ended in 1919. At the time, it was the largest reinforced concrete building in the world. Here's what it looked like then.

The complex was built to increase the shipping capacity of New York harbour, already the largest port in the US at the time. It ended up achieving its greatest military use during World War II. Over the course of its military tenure, it transferred 37 million tons of military supplies and more than 3 million troops. Here's the view of the harbour from the Terminal.

BAT was designed as an 'inter-modal' shipping port, meaning supplies and people could move seamlessly between trains and ships. Train tracks led directly onto piers so troops and supplies could load onto ships with minimal delay. During World War II, the Terminal was used primarily to transport supplies and house the 60,000 workers who made the port of New York run.

This is what the Terminal looks like in the front today. The businesses here support 3,600 jobs, which the EDC likes to remind are well-paying 'career'-type jobs.

This is the lobby of the main building. The trains used to run directly through the building, as symbolized by the lines on the floor.

The Terminal recently opened this restaurant to serve the 3600 people who work every day at the complex. There are not many dining options in the near vicinity.

The lobby of the main building leads to the atrium. Trains used to stop directly in the atrium so that they could be unloaded into the various floors of the building.

Here's what it looked like in action. There were cranes, not visible here, that picked up cargo directly out of the trains and placed them onto the balconies so that they could be loaded directly onto the proper floor. The balconies are staggered so the cranes could access each one.

Here's another look at the balconies. Today, businesses use them to house air conditioners, air compressors, or other large equipment that is better in open air. A few put a table and chairs onto them for employees to lounge on.

The EDC placed this train here to commemorate the building. It is a Long Island Rail Road car from the 1950s.

One of the first events at the Terminal, after the city purchased it, was an art show marking the 70th anniversary of the Armory Art Show, a major landmark in art history. Paintings and sculptures by 400 artists were hung in this atrium. There are still remnants of the show, like this 'signature' by Art Guerra, who had numerous paintings in the show.

Here's a look at the outside between two of the main buildings. The city bought BAT from the Department of Defence in 1981 for $8.5 million, $4.5 million of which was a grant from the federal government. Essentially, it sold for a $1 per square foot.

Here's a look at the same area during its military days. As you can see, the parking lots were full of train tracks, so trains could load cargo directly into the buildings or on ships. The skybridges (seen here and in the previous picture) were used to allow people and supplies to move across the complex without disturbing the trains below.

The railyard has since been turned into a 1600-car parking lot. They have also added numerous loading docks for trucks to load and unload cargo, alleviating traffic in the Sunset Park area.

One of the first businesses we visited was Altronix, a company that manufactures electronics for schools, hospitals, and transportation hubs. The company started in a 12,000 square foot space. It is now in a 125,000-square foot space that employs 300 people.

This is where they assemble many of the products. 'We are the ideal startup that has matured into a full ecosystem of support and manufacturing,' Altronix co-founder Jonathan Sohnis told Business Insider. 'We develop products from soup to nuts and build it (at the Brooklyn Army Terminal). It's something the US used to do and stopped doing. We do it here.'

One of the most fun businesses in the complex is that of chocolatier Jacques Torres, who has eight chocolate stores around the city. Two years ago, he consolidated his chocolate manufacturing into this 40,000-square-foot space in the Terminal. Here, Torres showed us the chocolate turkeys his team was making for Thanksgiving.

'We love this space. It's changed our life,' Torres told Business Insider. 'It's a nice way to work. This building has a soul.' Here's the chocolate mixer in action.

Torres uses this machine to coat just about anything in chocolate, from almonds to oranges. According to Torres, this massive machine, which also cools the chocolates, is one of the main reasons this space is so successful. To fit the machine, Torres was able to knock down a concrete wall in the middle of a building to open up the space. The EDC was more than happy to accommodate.

Another benefit of the large space and unique characteristics of the facility is that Torres has been able to put in a massive freezer, shown here, to house all his products. The freezing elongates the shelf life of his products.

Currently, Torres has 83 employees working in the space. He says he is currently at only about 45% of capacity and will be hiring more and filling out the space in the coming year.

We got to try a few of the chocolates, including cinnamon praline, caramel noir, and peanut butter and jelly. They did not disappoint.

Here's the view of the atrium from Torres' floor. Before leaving Torres' space, Dean Bodnar, the Senior Vice President of the EDC reminds us that many of the spaces at the Terminal are far more packed. 'One of the main things we like to point to here is jobs per square foot. There are spaces similar to (Torres') that employ 300 people. Our goal is to provide an environment for good paying, local jobs,' says Bodnar.

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