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Big Changes Coming to the Riis Bathhouse

New life will be coming to the old Riis Park Bathhouse. On Thursday, October 20, Brooklyn Bazaar will be signing the lease on the property after being awarded the contract, and they have some big plans up their sleeves. From boardwalk vendors to a rooftop restaurant and even hotel rooms and a pool, the Bathhouse will be the next big thing on the west end of the peninsula.

According to a press release from Risa Heller Communications, big, big things are coming to the historic bathhouse in Riis Park. After sitting underutilized for nearly half a century, the preservation project will transform the old building into what it once was – an active beachfront hub. The revitalized landmark will feature restaurants, a bar, pool, event space and 28 hotel rooms. The New York-based team behind the project, led by CBSK Developers and renowned architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle, will begin work on the $50 million restoration this fall, with a phased opening expected to start in 2023. Rockaway Beach boardwalk concessionaire Brooklyn Bazaar, a partner on the project, was selected by the National Park Service (NPS) to renovate the facility in 2017 after a competitive RFP process.

A rejuvenation of the iconic Riis Park Bathhouse is long overdue. The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was first completed in 1933. At the time, it served as a hub for beachgoers as it featured more than 8,000 lockers for men and women, washrooms, a medical clinic, a glass-covered sunroom, two restaurants and a cafeteria, plus a concession to rent chairs and umbrellas. For several decades, the building has gone underutilized, with the exception of serving as a headquarters for the federal lifeguards. The deteriorating building was further damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy as its doors and window coverings were knocked down, along with the courtyard wall, but at the end of 2015, a contractor was brought in to clean up the building from storm damage, conduct some renovations and make it more storm-resilient, with the hopes that someone would show interest in putting the building to good use once again.

In March 2018, Belvy Klein and Aaron Broudo of Brooklyn Bazaar, which since 2015, also ran the rest of the Riis concessions at the time, was issued a Letter of Intent as the chosen company to take on the restoration of the Bathhouse. Brooklyn Bazaar opened the “Bathhouse Pavilion and Courtyard” that summer with a few more concessions, pop-up events, volleyball, a beer garden and Camp Rockaway in and around the space.

Now Brooklyn Bazaar is moving their bigger plans forward. This extensive $50 million overhaul will breathe new life into the historic bathhouse, starting with a full restoration of the building’s façade to its original glory. The project will bring back many of the original features first included in the bathhouse, which was once home to two restaurants, a cafeteria, and concession stands. The restoration will add a range of similar amenities for the public, including a rooftop restaurant, ground floor eateries, a casual beachfront bar, and retailers stocking beach supplies like sunblock and towels. The project will also consist of 28 hotel rooms, as well as a catering hall and multiple event spaces. Outside in the building’s courtyard, there will be a new pool and lounge areas. Plans for the project underwent careful review by New York’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and will preserve the building’s famed Byzantine, Moorish and Moderne influences, while adding new modern uses.

“The Bathhouse is emblematic of over half a century of the quintessential NYC seaside experience,” Jen Nersesian, the National Park Service superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area, said. “Its restoration will connect beachgoers with this heritage and provide a new suite of visitor opportunities for generations to come.”

“There is a reason this is called ‘The People’s Beach’ because this community has always been a place where everyone is welcomed,” Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said. “To see this area being brought back to its glory and provide a space where families can spend time and be happy is remarkable. The restoration will bring jobs, commerce and opportunity to the area that we all know is the jewel of New York. I want to thank the project developers and everyone involved in this project for their vision and work.”

“This project to revitalize and rejuvenate the Jacob Riis Bathhouse represents a giant step forward for the Rockaway Peninsula as it continues to recover from the battering it received from Hurricane Sandy a decade ago,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. said. “By restoring the Jacob Riis Bathhouse to its glorious past, we are creating a brighter future for the Rockaways, its residents, and its many visitors. I look forward to visiting the fully restored Jacob Riis Bathhouse and to taking advantage of the many amenities that will be available to those who will be visiting this amazing structure.”

“The Brooklyn Bazaar team have been a driving force behind much of the revitalization we’ve seen on the peninsula since Hurricane Sandy, and their efforts have really helped to put Rockaway back on the map when it comes to getaway locations for city residents throughout the summer,” NYC Councilwoman Joann Ariola said. “This latest campaign at the Riis Park Bathhouse will no doubt be another step forward towards restoring Rockaway to its former position as a premier summertime destination, and I can’t wait to see what they bring to the location next summer.”

Father and son Abe and Scott Shnay and partner Charles Blaichman lead CBSK, a prominent New York City real estate development and management firm. CBSK has successfully completed numerous complex ground-up developments, adaptive reuse projects and repositionings in its 50-year history.

“As a New Yorker with deep Queens roots, the chance to revitalize this iconic city landmark is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” CBSK’s Scott Shnay said. “This project will help return the bathhouse to its former glory and add modern restaurants and attractions to the historic Jacob Riis waterfront. We are grateful for our partnership with the National Parks Service and look forward to work getting underway.”

Architecture and planning firm Beyer Blinder Belle is known for its expertise in restoring, revitalizing and reusing historic buildings and sites, including TWA Hotel, Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal, Ellis Island and the Beacon Theater, among many others.

The project utilizes best practices for coastal resiliency and sustainability, including the implementation of Aquafence technology as part of a careful flood proofing plan and the creation of a Zero Waste plan. The project team is also planning to reintroduce native plants within its landscaping design. All development plans have also undergone extensive review by the NPS and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management to ensure they do not interfere with the existing wildlife or the local habitat.

On Thursday, October 20 at 10 a.m., all of the parties involved will be meeting at the Bathhouse for the official lease signing, marking the beginning of this historic project.

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