Domino Sugar: Bittersweet Sign

Developer Community Preservation Resources Corp. is on track to begin construction of the $2 billion redevelopment of the 11-acre Domino Sugar refinery site along the Williamsburg waterfront.

The Domino Sugar Refinery building is a relic that real estate developers and landmark preservationists are currently sweet on.  It’s a century-old refining plant located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that’s been closed for years and has, until recently, been quietly crumbling into the mist of time. However, while Domino lost its commercial viability here in NYC, its remains have suddenly become amazingly valuable because it’s situated along the waterfront: today, a lucrative spot, in the world of luxury real estate entrepreneurs, for anything from a high-rise condominium to a shipping container.

Whereas this would’ve been just another case of an abandoned and deceased waterfront building, resurrected for the sheer delight of epicurean elitists, the Domino building issue  is somewhat different. A proposed 11-acre redevelopment, including two 30-story and two 40-story skyscrapers along with smaller buildings, will relegate the Domino structure to the tiniest section of this grandiose complex. But  it’s not the Domino building itself that’s attracting all the attention; instead, it’s the DOMINO sign on its roof that’s receiving the acclaim.

For decades this sign was a fixture overlooking New York Harbor. Little-regarded, little-noticed, it was subconsciously acknowledged by New Yorkers for simply being there. Now the sign has suddenly reached a publicity-driven iconic and legendary status while it sits atop the ruins of its past.

The sound and fury of proposals and counter-proposals, regarding how to include this sign (hence, the Domino building) within this multi-billion dollar complex, is almost certainly making an already insanely expensive project even more insanely expensive with its delays and redesigned construction plans. One could cynically reason that the Landmarks Preservation people only play into the profit-seeking hands of the developers by causing cost overruns and design reconfigurations (amid this financial merry-go-round) while they simply bask in the added expenditures (conveniently inflated, of course). In the end, I don’t really feel that a sign is worth that much bother and expense.

I’ve assuredly never skimped on my share of sentimental and nostalgic tendencies. My apartment, it could be argued, is strewn with mementoes and keepsakes of people and places from my life’s journey; and some of  the most insignificant and overlooked bits and pieces of this city have my lasting love and devotion. But I fear that the city’s sentiment/ nostalgia serves as a mask for cold-blooded profit that will ultimately destroy the very spirit of the city it purports to preserve. The Domino Building sign looked much better when it sat atop a viable and active sugar refinery in this town…at least, that’s how I want to remember it, in addition to other NYC structures which have met a similar fate.

(originally posted: 07/02/08)

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