Brooklyn Jail May House Upscale Shops

Could you be happy in a condo unit in a building next to an 800-bed jail? What if the jail had shopping on the ground floor? Brooklyn's corrections commissioner is proposing just such a project.

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Three years ago New York City shut down an 800 bed jail in Brooklyn. Since then luxury condos have sprouted up all around the old jail tower. Now the city's Corrections Commissioner says he needs the cells for inmates once again. To make the deal more appealing, he's offered to open up some areas of the jail to retail shops. From member station WNYC, Andrea Bernstein reports.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN reporting:

The Brooklyn House of Detention, a grim looking ten-story tower right next to Brooklyn's courthouse, stands at a crucial corner. Looking one way, you're not far from the Brooklyn Bridge. And the other way, Atlantic Avenue is a wide thoroughfare lined with antique shops, boutiques, restaurants and Middle Eastern food markets.

Claire Weiss is an architect who worked for a local business group on a plan for this street.

Ms. CLAIRE WEISS (Architect): Everyone on the avenue called this area right here, in front of the jail, the Gap.

BERNSTEIN: By Gap, she doesn't mean a middlebrow clothing store, famous for naval bearing jeans. But that's not a bad idea.

Ms. WEISS: So, yeah. You're surrounded with condos and people in condos really want to go shopping.

BERNSTEIN: Some think a boutique hotel might work nicely here, but Weiss is partial to food.

Ms. WEISS: I think what Atlantic Avenue needs is a really great kind of market hall.

BERNSTEIN: A few of these have sprung up in New York City with great success. There's one at Grand Central Station where you can buy fancy cheeses at one stall, rare olives in a second, yummy baked goods at a third. But are people going to feel comfortable buying their dolmades and durad(ph) under the same roof as a double offender?

Ms. WEISS: New York is a city that's full of contradictions.

BERNSTEIN: There are factories under apartments, meat markets next to restaurants, swimming pools across from the U.N. Land is at a premium here, creating all kinds of unlikely bedfellows. Anyway, says the Correction Commissioner Martin Horn, they're doing this now in a jail once so bleak it was known as the Tombs.

Commissioner MARTIN HORN (Corrections, New York City): A second tower was built there on Center Street and the ground floor of it are retail.

BERNSTEIN: That's true. There's a pharmacy, a deli, and a couple of Asian restaurants, where most patrons have no idea they're eating in jail. But what's planned for Brooklyn is much more expansive. One neighborhood activist is calling the idea hair-brained. Others would just like the jail to be somewhere else. Not possible, says Commissioner Horn.

Commissioner HORN: Where?

BERNSTEIN: The city says it needs to shift inmates out of outdated facilities and in to Brooklyn. For architect Weiss, the possibilities are endless.

Ms. WEISS: The other idea, there's almost no spaces in Brooklyn, downtown Brooklyn, where people can rent for weddings.

BERNSTEIN: So you can get married next to the jail.

Ms. WEISS: You could get married next to the jail.

BERNSTEIN: A life sentence of a different sort entirely.

For NPR News, I'm Andrea Bernstein in New York.

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