Jail Reopening and Expansion Proposed for the Corner of Atlantic and Smith

Brooklyn jail
Photo: Photo courtesy New York City Department of Design & Construction

Two city commissioners revived plans last night to reinvent the jail system — and, they say, gloss up Atlantic Avenue in the bargain. Martin Horn, who runs Corrections and Probation, told a roomful of architects that marooning detainees on Rikers Island thwarts justice (“Nothing angers a judge more than having a jury impanelled and a defendant stuck in traffic on the BQE”) and tempts disaster (the one bridge to Rikers evidently sits between a jet-fuel tank and what Horn describes as “railroad cars full of chlorine gas”).

In guiding an American Institute of Architects–sponsored meeting through plans to move some 4,000 Rikers inmates around the five boroughs, Design and Construction Commissioner David Burney showed early drawings by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill of a “more vibrant shopping arcade” lining Atlantic and Smith — on the ground floor of an inactive men's house of detention revived at double its previous size. (The city closed the jail in 2003 and has been trying to win community support for its reopening since 2005.)

Can recent home buyers, who go knock-kneed at the prospect of Nets fans, handle the idea? Burney pointed to lower Manhattan, where a popular Vietnamese restaurant and tchotchke stores sit under a detention center, saying, “People walking by are oblivious.” But 718 hawkeyes smell trouble. Sandy Barboza, head of the 150-member Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, calls any jail expansion a potential weed in downtown Brooklyn's growth. “It is not worth retail to have the jail double in size,” says Barboza, who is otherwise okay with the reopening. “I think it was just [Commissioner Horn] throwing out a bone.” Don't get too excited about that bone, in any case — that Trader Joe's you might have noticed in the image above is purely a placeholder. —Alec Appelbaum