BROOKLYN, NY – Converting a former Army laundry into the biggest service facility in the metropolitan New York area, Bay Ridge Ford now offers customers maintenance and service on a wide range of vehicles, from tiny electrics to big dump trucks, garbage haulers and buses.

The $5.6 million renovation of the Federal Laundry Building, part of the historic Brooklyn Army Terminal that was built in 1918, offers 25 retail and seven commercial bays.

“Some of the best mechanics in the industry will service America's best cars right here in the borough,” Gary B. Flom, president and CEO of Bay Ridge Ford, says.

He also is president and CEO of Manhattan Ford, a large dealership on the auto row along 11th Avenue. It’s in a historic building that once was a Packard factory, designed by the noted architect Albert Kahn, Henry Ford’s favorite designer of factories and office buildings.

Flom and his partner Veniamin Nilva worked closely with the New York State Historic Preservation Office to ensure the Army facility’s landmark status would not be adversely affected.

The Army Terminal officially isn’t a formal landmark, but preservation activists are clamoring for the building and other commercial facilities on the Brooklyn waterfront to be granted that status.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal was a port of embarkation for more than 3 million GIs who were transported to Europe during World War II and afterward. Elvis Presley was one of the GIs who transited the terminal on his way to Germany when he was in the Army in the 1950s.

Until this facility opened, big trucks and buses had to use service areas in Nassau County on Long Island and in northern New Jersey. Brooklyn has a population of 2.6 million people and would be the fourth-largest metropolis in the country if it were not one of New York's five boroughs, Borough President Marty Markowitz says.

The service facility occupies 33,000 sq. ft. (3,065 sq. m) of an 88,000-sq.-ft (8,175-sq.-m) lot in the Sunset Park neighborhood. The former laundry washed uniforms for Army troops stationed at the base.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal was a massive base for shipping war materiel abroad during World War II and one of the largest industrial complexes in New York.

More than 60 unionized employees will work at Bay Ridge Service when it is fully geared up. They will be certified to service electric vehicles, hybrids, most large diesel vehicles, police cars, ambulances, buses and conventional passenger cars.

Bay Ridge Ford became the first new-car dealership to open in Brooklyn in decades when it began operations a couple of years ago. Its 7,500-sq.-ft. (697-sq.-m) showroom is in nearby Bay Ridge.

Ford has the lion’s share of the commercial-vehicle business in metropolitan New York, says Flom. However, buses owned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority and trucks owned by electric and telephone utility companies could not be accommodated by existing service facilities in the city.

The center soon will have technicians certified to service compressed natural-gas vehicles.

A customer waiting lounge offers a modern setting with beverages, WiFi and TV, Rick Amber, manager of the service department, says.

There also will be a fleet of courtesy vehicles to ferry customers to and from nearby transportation points. The dealership will pick up certain elderly or disabled customers at their homes.

Amber, a mechanic since 1987, says Bay Ridge virtually can fix any vehicle problem, but it also has access to Ford’s main computer to find answers that can't be solved locally.

“I also speak to other techs around the country to learn about any problems that are troubling service people,” he says.

The new facility doesn’t have a single grease spot on any floor. Two massive fans with blades the size of helicopter rotors are part of an exhaust system.

During a tour, the service center had four police vehicles in service bays being worked on, including an Escape hybrid. Also in for service were two big dump trucks owned by landscape companies.

The facility services an average of 25 light vehicles and up to 15 heavy-duty commercial vehicles a day.

Gone is the hectic round-the-clock activity that occurred during WW II. But it’s encouraging to see the former base saved from extinction and now part of a revival of commerce in this once-again vibrant community.