The architectural firm Practice for Architecture and Urbanism has finally succeeded in winning approval for the redesign of the Domino Sugar refinery on Kent Avenue. An earlier redesign proposal was rejected because commissioners expressed the belief that the re-development was turning the building into a shell by removing its roof and interior and exposing it to the elements. Commissioner Michael Goldblum said, “You’re taking a building and unbuilding it, making it a ruin.” He also asked, “Is it appropriate?”
At least one commissioner had problems with the proposal’s opening the roof of the building. Commissioner Michael Devonshire voted against PAU’s refinery redesign plan, claiming it “destroys a viable building and turns it into a ruin.” Devonshire is concerned about the potential for frost to damage the nineteenth-century brick when the roof is removed.
The decision allows the developer Two Trees Management to begin transforming the historic refinery. CEO Jed Walentas called the refinery the “epicenter” of his firm’s redevelopment of an 11-acre parcel on the Williamsburg waterfront.
As a historian who has just published a book about the refinery called The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King, I have mixed feelings. I want to see the historic refinery preserved, but also realize that progress is important and development of the site is crucial to Williamsburg’s future. I hope that the new design really does preserve this important relic from Williamsburg’s industrial past.