BAM Cultural District Changes Landscape of Downtown Brooklyn

Downtown Brooklyn Skyline

Until just a few years ago, Manhattanites would scoff at the notion of culture in Brooklyn. After all, how could Brooklyn compete with epicenters of artistic expression like the Lincoln Center, the MOMA, and the New York City Ballet? There seemed to be no reason to brave the subway system when some of the best performances and exhibitions in the world took place right on the island.


But as Brooklyn rapidly changes, people across the country, yes, even Manhattan residents have begun to notice and appreciate of all of Brooklyn’s cultural offerings. Much of this long overdue recognition is due to the expansion of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). For over 150 years, BAM has served as a large multi-arts center, offering theatre, dance, music, and more. It also prides itself on serving the greater-Brooklyn community by providing programs that engage local citizens, such as the free R&B Concert at MetroTech and Halloween block parties.


In the next few weeks alone, BAM is featuring a diverse array of talent, including a showing of Chinese cinematic titan King Hu’s martial arts films to a talk by Dave Isay (the founder of StoryCorps). In the past, BAM has offered renowned performances of Shakespeare plays, intimate discussions with celebrated authors, and dozens of festivals.


About 10 years ago, as part of the larger goal of revitalizing downtown Brooklyn, the city began planning a cultural district centered around the expansion of BAM. This plan includes adding several new BAM buildings, complete with both performance spaces and residential apartments. Many of these buildings have been built within the past couple of years, and several more have just broken ground.


Construction recently began on a building known as BAM South, which is located at 286 Ashland Place and slated for completion in August 2016. BAM South will include 300 apartments (20 percent of those apartments will be marked as affordable), 50,000 square feet of community and cultural space, a 20,000 square-foot public plaza, a movie theatre, and dance studios. The Brooklyn Public Library will also have space in the new building. Last year, the city revealed the plan for BAM North II, located at 598 Fulton Street, which includes a total of 586 units, 10,800 square feet of retail space, and 8,000 square feet of cultural space.


Aside from the construction of new BAM spaces, the expansion of the BAM cultural district has led to an increase in high rises and hotels. Last month, work began on high-profile architect Thomas Leeser’s boutique hotel, which is right next to the Theatre for a New Audience. And the tallest high rise in Brooklyn was recently completed at 388 Bridge Street.


A quick glance at the Brooklyn skyline reveals a constantly changing landscape. High rises now abound in an area once dotted with low rise condominiums. With the rapid expansion of the cultural offerings in the area, downtown Brooklyn will continue to grow in both size and popularity. Hey, anything that gets Manhattan residents to leave the island must be a success.