Crusty punks lived there and now urban explorers are the bane of Joshua Rechnitz’s existence

Heavy metals? Heavy lifting? No, the most weighty problem at this Gowanus building is squatters

The Brooklyn Paper
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The state is set to dig the toxic dirt out from around the Gowanus Batcave, the hulking former subway powerhouse a millionaire wants to turn into an arts complex, but a more pressing problem is keeping out urban adventurers, the rich guy’s spokeswoman said.

The announcement of a plan for a clean-up of the lot on Third Avenue between Carroll and Third streets is the first major step towards breathing new life into the abandoned building since Joshua Rechnitz, the philanthropist behind a failed bid to build a cycling track in Brooklyn Bridge Park, bought it in 2012. The Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan outlines how it would scoop up and cart off the lead, mercury, and other nasty toxins that make the place hazardous to human health and the building needs major structural work. But since the purchase, the new owner’s main challenge has been keeping out the trespassers who have made the brick structure a destination over the last decade, according to spokeswoman Maureen Connelly.

“We have spent the last year securing the building from squatters,” Connelly said.

The lot has been home to a coal-fired power station, a paper mill, and an electrical power station over the past 125 years — and has the heavy metals and coal tar to prove it. But it has sat abandoned since the 1990s and has become a beacon to transients, graffiti writers, and punk rockers who have alternately used it as a crash pad, a canvas, and a venue. The mid-2000s saw plans for a high-rise luxury development called Gowanus Village on the site fall through around the time of the economic collapse, but Rechnitz may have gotten more than he bargained for when he bought the place for $7 million with plans to turn it into some kind of art center.

Throughout the summer leading up to, and even three days after the purchase, the cavernous space played host to a series of generator-powered shows and word-of-mouth parties, the news website Gothamist reported. Nor did the intrusions stop once the new owner had sealed the doors and bricked up the windows. Obsessed urban explorers cut through fences for a look at the heavily photographed post-industrial ruin, prompting Rechnitz to hire round-the-clock security, according to Connelly.

The visits have slowed to a trickle in recent months, she said.

“We have had instances of young people age 14 to 25 — some with backpacks, some with cameras — over the summer, but now that construction to stabilize the building has begun, it really is unsafe,” she said.

The bike-loving heir is tight-lipped about what his project will entail, but Connelly said the ground and building need heavy-duty work before an architect can even begin to lay out Rechnitz’s vision.

Locals say the art space would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

“The plan for this property, if successful would further prove that Gowanus is a place for investment,” said Paul Basile, president of the Gowanus Alliance.

The state is taking public comments on its clean-up plan until Feb. 17.

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.
Updated 10:16 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

diehipster from Actual Brooklyn says:
Lollllll !!! One species of hipster vs another species of hipster. You got bike-loving, "Josh" trying to pump more art art art art art art art art into a borough full of wannabe artists who have destroyed art. Then you have the filthy urban explorers who blog and Facebook their lives back to Wiscovannia about their "turtally ah-some" parties maaaaan.

May both sides kill each other and get the F*CK outta Brooklyn.
Jan. 7, 2014, 8:34 am
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
Not to say that your comments are predictable, but there are yet uncharted and unheard deep cuts on the flipsides to my aunt Linda's Joan Armertrading records that knew you were going to say that.
Pardon my pointing this out (loser).
Jan. 7, 2014, 11:42 am
K. from ArKady says:
Sounds like it already is a thriving arts community. But yeah, nail the doors and windows closed, pump a few million of daddies money into it, and turn it into another sterile glass turd for the wealthy to rotate upon. Hey Josh, is it the money that makes you so disconnected and stupid, or is it a hereditary thing? We really want to know, coz you're destroying stuff faster than we can build it.
Jan. 7, 2014, 1:10 pm
Native from Brooklyn says:
The first post expresses so much anger, and here we thought all the original native of "Actual Brooklyn" had died out long, long ago.
Jan. 7, 2014, 3:42 pm
Emily Fisher from Boerum Hill says:
Sure there's some irony to shutting down one arts scene to create another but it sounds like this building is in dire need of some structural and environmental intervention and that it could be beautiful and useful when it's had some TLC. There will always be the energy of an underground arts scene in Brooklyn... and there will always be a cycle of build, enjoy, fall apart, enjoy in a new way, rebuild.
Jan. 7, 2014, 10:22 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
The Gowanus area is chock full of art studios. Every October they have an open house where you can walk from location to location to see their works and possibly buy something. For my money, what the artists in the Gowanus produce leaves what MoMA displays in the dust. Far in the dust. Exquisitely beautiful photography, painting, sculpture, installations, you name it. And talking to the artists about their influences and processes is educational and inspiring. It makes you glad to be alive, as great art ought to. I take the wife and kids every year. So it makes perfect sense to turn the derelict building into an arts center, sitting in the middle of the community the way it does. Mark my words, in 20 years it will be world-famous as the living, breathing heart of one of the greatest cities in the world--Brooklyn.
Jan. 8, 2014, 11:23 am
local guy from south slope says:
Well put, Scott. The ongoing remediation of the Gowanus area is inspiring, and only a complete turd like Diehipster would feel the need to b*tch about it constantly. That guy really needs to get a life.
Jan. 8, 2014, 1:19 pm
K. from Arkady says:
There was once a thriving arts scene in the East Village.

There was once a thriving arts scene in Park Slope.

There was once a thriving arts scene in Williamsburg.

There is now a thriving arts scene in Gowanus.

Enjoy it while you can. Here comes Richie Rich.
Jan. 9, 2014, 12:41 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
K, you're right, if nothing is done. The city could and should zone to keep the artist community intact. Artist colonies can persist if they are recognized and supported. Brad Lander and Bill de Blasio both seem to be aware of the Gowanus community, judging from their recent statements and the public forum that Brad Lander hosted last month. So if we Brooklynites keep pressing them to act, I don't doubt they will.
Jan. 11, 2014, 9:51 pm

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