Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing
By MAX GROSS
Easily excitable Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz is talking about the future of Downtown Brooklyn, and he's shrieking even louder than usual. "Nordstrom would be crazy not to open in Downtown Brooklyn!" he cries. He's trying to get the department store to open in the Fulton Mall. Markowitz has also been lobbying H&M and Apple.
"The Apple store!" he exclaims. "It's long past time that Brooklyn got one! Staten Island's got one in their mall, for God's sake!"
Markowitz's sales pitch for Downtown Brooklyn can be summed up in five words: Everything is about to change.
In five years, the area will certainly no longer be associated with grim office buildings, fast food and discount electronics outlets. And while the boundaries of Downtown Brooklyn seem to expand regularly (we're talking about a swath of Brooklyn that includes at least parts of Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights and even DUMBO), the potential seems boundless.
"Somewhere in the pipeline, there are about 14,000 residential units and a million and a half square feet of office space," says Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a non-profit that's helping coordinate everything to come. Chan says roughly $9 billion in private money, plus $300 million in city funds, will be invested.
Plans call for major hotels including a Hilton; a huge Brooklyn Academy of Music expansion; a $15 million Flatbush Avenue facelift; and the Albee Square complex, with 475,000 square feet of retail space.
In short, a new city center is being created. Developers are unveiling massive condo buildings in what are still inhospitable areas with few residential amenities. These urban pioneers are hitching their wagons to gritty Flatbush Avenue, panning for gold on desolate Gold Street.
Here's what they've been up to.
Ron Herschco knows that when you have a great hand, double down. Herscho, with Dean Palin, developed the Oro building on Gold Street. The 309 condos, expected to be ready for occupancy next spring, are 40 percent sold, with some units fetching $800 per square foot and up. (Perks include a screening room, a pool and a concierge who can call a car service if you don't feel like crossing Flatbush for the subway.)
And now Herschco is creating a second, adjacent Oro building. Unlike the first condo-only Oro, Herschco is working with Hilton to make the bottom half a hotel, the top 10 stories condo.
Herscho first saw the potential for the area in 2004 when he converted the Toy Factory Lofts on nearby Johnson Street.
"People saw it as an opportunity to buy in the area before it changed," Herscho says.
Oro architect Ismael Leyva is also designing a 21-story glass condo tower around the corner at 85 Flatbush.
"Flatbush is going to get a new face," says Levya. "It's going to be all different kinds of modern architecture."
The Fulton Mall and MetroTech aren't exactly considered residential areas. Yet, Belltel Lofts, a former telephone-company building on Willoughby Street, has already sold about 100 of its 250 lofts and has recently seen its first buyers move in.
"The thing that's surprising, from a Downtown Brooklyn perspective, is that we've seen a fairly large number of families with kids," says Hal Henenson, executive director at Prudential Douglas Elliman's development marketing group.
Buyers have been attracted to the around-$600-per-square-foot prices. (And prior to the whole subprime meltdown, buyers could put just 5 percent down.)
The Fulton Mall is undergoing a major facelift. Ingram & Hebron Realty has brokered a deal to bring an Amy
Ruth's restaurant to the old Gage & Tollner space. And Albee Square is scheduled for completion in 2011 and will offer prominent retail (there's been buzz about a Target store), office space and affordable and market-rate apartments.
"We're going back to the roots on Fulton Street and instituting a broad range" of stores., says Paul Travis, president of Washington Square Partners, one of the developers of Albee Square.
Piece of the Rockwell
The cultural heart of Brooklyn has long been the Brooklyn Academy of Music. And BAM is about to, well, blow up. In a good way.
First, BAM is annexing the old Salvation Army building on Ashland for a new performance space; The Theatre for a New Alliance is opening across the street and a dance center/mixed-income residential building is in the works. Plus, nearby Fort Greene Park will host even more cultural events.
"I certainly think it's really exciting that there's so much in the works," says Stefanie Smentek, who with her husband, Scott, just bought a one-bedroom at another of Downtown Brooklyn's big conversions, Rockwell Place. The former piano factory, with units priced around $725 per square foot, is scheduled to have buyers move in early next year.
"Fort Greene was definitely not on our radar screen," says Smentek, who now rents in Manhattan. "We'd only been there one time when we went to BAM."
But the Smenteks were stunned at what they found around Rockwell Place. They made an offer on an 800-square-foot unit with a 140-square-foot terrace.
"We decided to spend one night hanging out ... It sealed the deal," Smentek says. "There was so much going on, it was so vibrant at night. I didn't expect that."
Rental push on Flatbush
Flatbush Avenue won't merely be about condos. One of the behemoths of the rental world, Avalon Bay (responsible for the Avalon Chrystie mega-complex on the Lower East Side), is setting up shop as well.
What about the fact that Flatbush Avenue is kind of barren now? Philip Wharton, vice president of development for Avalon Bay, says there's no reason to worry.
"Everything else is just going to happen organically," he says. "The city jump-started it. A renaissance is inevitable at this stage."
The 42-story, 650-unit building is scheduled to be finished in 2009.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007