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JAILHOUSE SHOP

The Brooklyn Paper
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The only chains coming soon to the Brooklyn House of Detention aren’t the kind with shackles.

Borough President Markowitz and the city Department of Correction are negotiating a way to put stores in the ground floor of the mothballed jail on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill.

The retail uses would be restricted to the part of the building that faces onto busy Atlantic Avenue.

Inmates were moved out of the 11-story pen in 2003 but are sometimes held there as they await hearings at nearby court houses, which they access via underground tunnels.

It is too early to know whether retail tenants and jailhouse activity can coexist.

“Sounds odd to me,” said a spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s, a grocery store that Markowitz believes would be ideal at the unpopular landmark.

After all, a luxury condominium is under construction next door to the old jail. And Smith Street remains as hot as ever for posh restaurants.

Area residents and the Beep agree that ground-floor retail is a first step towards integrating the jail building into a gentrified Atlantic Avenue, but it should not be the last.

“We would like it to go away,” said Sue Wolfe, president of the Boerum Hill Association. “But if not, mixed-use is better than the big nothing there now.”

Markowitz said this week that he’s still pushing Correction officials to formally close the 49-year-old facility. But that’s not likely.

“It’s part of the inventory and that’s not changing,” said Correction spokesman Tom Antenen, indicating that inmates may return to the “House of D” as soon as next year.

“We’ll be losing beds when we do repairs at the Bronx facility in 2007,” Antenen said.

“It’s in good shape,” Antenen said.

Two years ago, the Correction Department renovated the building with a granite facade along its first floor, a concession to area residents who had demanded that the House of D — celebrated in the works of countless rappers and novelist Jonathan Lethem — be shut for good.

Around the time of the House’s make-over, the city closed its other Brooklyn jail, near the Navy Yards, citing a drop in the number of prisoners citywide.

If the House of Detention closes, too, what will rock bands like Biohazard — which slipped a reference to the jail in its 1990s tune Modern Democracy — write about?



Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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