Thursday, January 08, 2009

Monument to the end of an era (and an uncertain future)

I walked past the former Pfizer plant on Flushing today. taking in a few things. This was an absolutely massive operation. The structure itself, which include Pfizer's original building, runs the length of a Bed-Stuy long block between Marcy and Tompkins, over 1/8 of a mile. The adjacent parking lots and other building (now a charter school, the first photo above) sit on a 10 acre site. Aesthetically speaking, the buildings aren't exactly fascinating (their current Manhattan headquarters is equally massive and nondescript), but they provide a neat timeline of the Pfizer logo.

Pfizer got their start on this site at the border of Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg in 1849 (their corporate website has a nice history and timeline here--click on the "learn more" links), and despite the disappearance of most industry from Brooklyn in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the company hung on until 2007, when they finally closed up shop. Their departure garnered a glowing article from the NYT (how often can big pharma claim one of those) and similar piece on Gothamist (good aerial photo of the site here). When everyone else was packing up, Pfizer dug in and entered a series of novel partnerships with the city that sparked a series of developments, the opening of the Beginning with Children charter school, and a number of other initiatives designed to preserve the jobs and neighborhood. In the end, they couldn't hang on forever, but the extra 30-40 years is something a lot of folks are grateful for.

The company had hoped to make their departure a bittersweet goodbye by turning the old headquarters into a community education center and selling off the rest of the land for development. However, a fierce debate has arisen over how this attractive sight might be re-imagined, and the result has been a circus of threats and a failed attempt (for now) to seize the land through eminent domain in the state assembly. With funding for this sort of large-scale development already in trouble around the city, it seems likely the site will remain mostly vacant (second photo above) for the foreseeable future.

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