Brooklyn Ranks High as a Strong Investment Market

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A rebuilt downtown Brooklyn, the hub of the borough’s building boom that has made Brooklyn one of the darlings of investors worldwide.

 

If you’re an investor in real estate, Brooklyn should be looking pretty good to you right now. Across the country, new home sales have flattened, and in many areas have begun to drift downward. That could be a worry for the economy as a whole, but experts and analysts that focus on the real estate sector continue to support Brooklyn as a place to invest. A just-issued report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the Urban Land Institute names Brooklyn the number-two Market to Watch for commercial investment. (The Dallas-Ft. Worth region was number one.)

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Brooklyn ranks number two in Overall Real Estate Prospects in the United States in a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The report, called Emerging Trends in Real Estate: U.S. and Canada 2019, focuses on large-scale investment property, both residential and commercial, and in that area, one has only to look at Brooklyn’s ever-changing, ever-growing skyline to see that the residential building boom continues unabated. Various outlets predict that over 20,000 new condominiums will go on the market in the coming two years or so all over the borough. There is new construction going on in every neighborhood, including those historically ignored. Many are rental projects, and many  targeted for both sale and rental include “affordable” units, meaning offered at significantly less than full market rate, though falling well shy of what most people think of as affordable.

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Industrial buildings in Brooklyn are being renovated and refurbished for use by tenants requiring twenty-first century services and features.

Other than ground-up new construction, the PwC report notes that Brooklyn has a large stock of old industrial buildings that are underused or empty, and these have been and continue to be attractive both to developers and to buyers/renters who enjoy the look and solidity of these old brick-and-wood-beam structures. Many of these building have been modernized for twenty-first century business tenants in the tech sector and high-tech manufacturing, and some, like Industry City in Sunset Park, have been converted to retail/industrial properties, with stores and restaurants on the lower floors making the buildings destination sites for not just for neighbors, but for people from across the city and suburbs. In Greenpoint, the nonprofit organization The Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) has refurbished seven industrial buildings and leased them to small-scale manufacturers and artisans, helping to create jobs and maintain the vitality of the neighborhood.

In many of the markets that the report records or anticipates price fall-offs, the reasons noted are rising prices of construction materials, possibly due to the current international tariff cat-and-mouse games going on, and the rise in interest rates resulting from generally good economic news.

Beyond the booming large-scale commercial investment, Brooklyn remains attractive to smaller investors and home buyers scouting through the many single-family and two-to-five-family houses available in almost every residential neighborhood. Sales of these types of buildings have remained strong, and prices, though they’ve plateaued in the past six to twelve months, remain at or near the highest they’ve been.

We’re happy that Brooklyn remains a highly attractive real estate market. This is our home, and we welcome everyone. We do hope, however, that our borough remains a place where anyone who wants to live here can find a home that they can afford. It’s the greatest place on Earth to live. Just ask us who already do.

 


 

Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg

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The shaded seating area at Smorgasburg Prospect Park, with vendor tents behind.

 

Who doesn’t like a good flea market? Gently used clothes, dishes, home furnishings, jewelry, art, antiques, and chatchkas offered by dozens of sellers at bargain prices. Who doesn’t like a fantastic food fest? Food to eat right now, with offerings from over one hundred vendors, all surrounding a large cluster of picnic tables. We all do, and Brooklyn is, as with so many things, a leader in both areas.

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From baseball gloves to African masks, vintage steel beer cans, and lettering, some of the many varied items for sale at the Brooklyn Flea.

Two great markets, Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, are provided by the Brooklyn Flea, a ten-year-old company that began with markets in Fort Greene and Williamsburg and has moved on to locations at Industry City, DUMBO, and Prospect Park, and is rated by numerous travel magazines and Web sites as one of the best open-air markets in the country and even the world.

We can remember the flea at both original locations, and we thought it was great then. We miss it still in Fort Greene, but have enjoyed the spiffy new surroundings at Industry City and the old architectural ingenuity evident under and around the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO, long one of our favorite nabes.

The other big, regular event run by the Brooklyn Flea is the weekly Smorgasburg, a massive food event in the original East River State Park location in Williamsburg (Saturdays) and in Prospect Park (Sunday) on Well House Drive at Breeze Hill. For those who are just now checking out Brooklyn or those who somehow don’t know about this already, Smorgasburg is a monster food fair, with vendors selling an international mix of prepared dishes running the full gamut from poutine to vegan treats. A recent visit to the Prospect Park locale had us tasting delicious offerings from Jamaica, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, and ogling meats, sweets, and other delectables from many other vendors we noted down for next time. Everything is good, and it all tastes better sitting outside. But note that time is running out. Summer’s over, and Smorgasburg runs only through the end of this month. Miss it now and you’ll have to wait until April next year! (Dates below.)

Other important Smorgasburg notes: Pets are welcome, and at Prospect Park there’s a large area for parking bikes. We assume there’s bike parking at or near East River State Park.

Whether your passion is food or found treasures, weekends in Brooklyn can feed your individual frenzy for either or both. Visit the Flea and/or the Smorgasburg and satisfy your yearnings. You’ll have a great time doing it.

Brooklyn Flea
Saturdays, 10:00 – 5:00, Industry City, 241 37th St., Sunset Park
Sundays, 10:00 – 5:00, Manhattan Bridge Arch, 80 Pearl St., DUMBO

Smorgasburg
Saturdays, 11:00 – 6:00, April – October ONLY (Last event October 27 this year (2018)),                                             East River State Park, Williamsburg, Kent Avenue at N. 7th Street.
Sundays, 11:00 – 6:00, April – October ONLY (Last event October 21 this year (2018)),                                               Prospect Park Breeze Hill, off East Drive near Lincoln Road.

 

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Views from the Prospect Park Smorgasburg.

 


 

The Hotel St. George

 

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The magnificent Hotel St. George at the height of its glory, taking up an entire city block in Brooklyn Heights. View here is the corner of Clark and Henry Streets.

 

Mornings and evenings in Brooklyn Heights, hundreds (thousands?) of commuters pass through a giant relic of what once was a glorious, spectacular gem of a hotel. The Hotel St. George operated for eighty years at Clark and Henry Streets, experiencing periods of broad expansion, opulent glory, and wild popularity before slipping into decline, decay, disaster, and demise.

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Postcards from the glory days of the Hotel St. George, featuring (top to bottom) the Bermuda Terrace restaurant, the Italian Village, the Colorama Ballroom (“Now Superbly Air Conditioned”), the Stardust Room, and the pool.

The Hotel St. George dates to when Brooklyn was an independent city. The initial building opened in 1885 on Clark Street, and by the 1920s had grown to an immense complex of eight buildings that took up the entire block of Henry, Clark, Hicks, and Pineapple Streets. At its zenith it offered 2,632 guest rooms, had 1,000 workers, and reigned as the largest hotel in New York City. Its unmatched grandeur included a 168,000-gallon salt water pool, a grand ballroom (one of 17 in the hotel) dubbed the Colorama for its 1,000 multi-colored light bulbs and which could hold 3,000 dancers, and dining rooms that could feed 7,000 people at the same time. Those lounges sported exotic names such as the Bermuda Terrace, the Egyptian nightclub, the Stardust Room, and the Italian Village. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the hotel’s glamor attracted the glitterati of the day and elite members of the arts, society, and politics, as well as everyday New Yorkers for weddings, celebrations, and elegant nights out through the end of the 1940s.

The hotel had permanent residents as well as transients. Suites were advertised in the early days at rates of $240 – $280 a month for four rooms. The pool was built along with what became the Tower Building and was open to the public at just ten cents for an all-day admission, drawing people from across the city. The subway station at the building entrance opened in 1919 and made the pool an easy destination to get to for families coming from as far away as the Bronx and Queens.

During World War II and the Korean War, the hotel served as housing for soldiers and sailors passing through New York as they shipped into and out of the country. (The Brooklyn Navy Yard is not far from the hotel.) Soon after, the hotel slipped into a long decline along with the rest of the borough and city during the middle-class flight to the suburbs in the decades that followed the wars. The complex was sold five times during the 1960s alone, and by the mid-70s, the pool was shut down and drained, entire floors had been closed, and the full-time staff was down to just forty employees. The remaining hotel buildings staggered through the 80s and in 1995 a huge fire destroyed the original Clark Street building.

The four Western buildings, those being the Tower, Grill, Pineapple, and Cross Hall, were parceled off to a developer who converted them to luxury rentals, but the buildings were not well managed, and tenants brought complaints and suits against the owner. In 1982, the owner converted the Tower and Grill buildings to co-ops, and those buildings have thrived since. 

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The gutted interior of the Clark Building after the horrific fire in 1995.

The pool room has been converted to a two-tiered gym and smaller pool, and the Eastern end of the hotel, along Henry Street, is now a dormitory for local college students.

These days, the many commuters that rush through the former entrance of the hotel to grab the subway that runs under Clark Street to Manhattan, just one stop away, have little, if any, knowledge of the storied  and glorious past of the once-fabulous building.

 


 

Brooklyn’s Going Solar!

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The Carroll Gardens Solar Community Farm is nearing final approval from Con Ed to join its grid and come online.

 

All across Brooklyn, from East New York to the East River, there has been a large investment in clean energy in the past few years. Solar panels are appearing everywhere, on buildings large and small, from block-wide industrial plants to single-lot row houses. These panels tie into the buildings’ power systems, and the energy they produce replaces that of their power company, a win-win for the panel owners in terms of saving both energy and money.

The use of solar power in Brooklyn isn’t exactly new. The industrial Gowanus neighborhood has many low industrial buildings with large, flat roofs under wide open sky, the perfect place for an array of solar panels, and traversing the Gowanus Canal along the lofty Culver Line subway overpass you can see multiple buildings with roofs filled with them, many of which have been in place for years. These arrays provide power to the buildings on which they sit, and sometimes to other, nearby buildings. Much of the Whole Foods parking lot on Third Street is covered with panels, and the roofs of Dyke’s Lumber on 6th Street, Extra-Space Storage on Third Avenue at the foot of First Street, Architectural Grille on Second Avenue across from Seventh Street, and behind that the roof above Interiors Palace at the edge of the canal all provide those buildings with at least some if not all their power requirements. And that’s not a complete list.

In Park Slope, on Windsor Place, a small-scale array provides power for a group of private homes. Apartment buildings across Brooklyn, in Sunset Park, Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, Gravesend, and elsewhere all get their power from rooftop solar arrays.

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Solar arrays are popping up all across Brooklyn, including these in Crown Heights (top), Sunset Park (center), and Bed-Stuy (bottom).

This is all very positive, but what about those who rent, those with no rooftops, with no legal rights to mount solar panels wherever they wish? How can we all participate in the green revolution and save some money in the process?

Recently, the East New York Community Farm came online. A community farm is a subscriber-based solar array that feeds into the state power grid, and the power sent to the giant utilities like Con Edison, LIPA, and PSEG is sold for power credits that are distributed to the community farm’s subscribers and deducted from the electric bill of those subscribers, a process with the technical term Net Metering. You end up paying two electric bills per month, one to your traditional provider and one to your community farm, but the combined total is (or should be) less than your former single payment.

The East New York farm, the first solar community farm in the city, can generate 1.2 megawatts of power at any time, which can provide electricity to about 100 homes.

There are now several available solar farms up and running in Brooklyn, and soon, the Carroll Street Community Farm will be joining them, possibly before the end of the summer. Con Edison is expected to give the Carroll Street farm a final okay to feed its grid within weeks. It’s just another solar-powered day in Gowanus, and from what we’ve read, the farm is already fully subscribed. The financiers of the East New York project anticipate more to come soon, and not just in Brooklyn. There are community farms open across the city, and it’s all just beginning.

If you’re ready to join the green revolution and save yourself some green in the process, you can find a community farm near you here. Do your due diligence to be sure you’ll get the deal you want before signing on. Scroll down to the FAQ section on that page to begin your research.

 


 

Brooklyn’s Historical Mega Breweries

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The Schaefer Beer Brewery on the bank of the East River in Williamsburg.

 

Beer here! Right here in Brooklyn. The borough is a major center of hops mashing and beer brewing, and the industry is growing rapidly. These days, the borough is dotted with microbreweries, with popular beers cooking in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Gowanus, Greenpoint, Red Hook, and even Coney Island. Some are big, like Brooklyn Brewery, the first and probably best-known of the present-day crop, but most are small, like Threes Brewing in Gowanus and Greenpoint Beer and Ale, the latter of which makes their beer just five barrels at a time.

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A promotional sign for Piels beer, featuring the marketing characters Burt and Harry Piels.

Today’s local brews continue a long tradition of beer brewing in Brooklyn. In the mid-nineteenth century, the politics of Europe sent many German immigrants to the United States, and they brought their taste and talent in beer with them. Many settled in Greenpoint and East New York, and by the turn of the twentieth century there were almost 50 active microbreweries in the borough. Those small labels had to compete with what became the three major-label beers that were brewed in Brooklyn in the last century: Schaefer, Piels, and Rheingold. For several decades those three large Brooklyn breweries pumped out beers that quenched the thirst of the entire east coast.

During the prohibition era, most of the micro taps went dry. The larger companies limped through the era selling legal “near beer.” When America’s dry period ended, the larger companies ramped up production quickly, and Schaefer and Rheingold beers were popular again from Maine to Florida and as far west as Ohio. The Piels brothers’ pale lager, brewed in East New York, was popular throughout New York and south to at least Philadelphia.

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The Miss Rheingold contest captivated New Yorkers throughout the 1940s and ’50s.

The Rheingold brewery took up several blocks in Bushwick on Forrest and Stanwix Streets from 1854 until 1976. At its peak, the brand had a 35 percent market share in New York City. More than for its beer, Rheingold is most remembered for its annual Miss Rheingold contest, a marketing phenomenon that allowed customers to vote for one of six finalists for the crown. In 1956, over 23 million votes were cast into ballot boxes in bars, beer distributors, grocery stores, and wherever beer was sold. (Voting multiple times was allowed.) The contest ran from 1940 to 1964. By that time, the company was feeling the pinching encroachment of the national brands that eventually forced all three of Brooklyn’s mega-breweries out of business, and the annual cost of running the contest–$8 million at one point, about $60 million today–became more than the company could afford.

Over in Williamsburg, the Schaefer brewery sat on the East River at Kent Avenue and South 10th Street, which became known as Schaefer’s Landing. Schaefer began production in Manhattan, on Broadway and 18th Street, in 1842, but the popularity of the Schaefers’ lager beer, which was a new type of beer to America at the time, caused the company to outgrow Manhattan, and they moved to Brooklyn in 1916, just four years before the start of prohibition. The company survived and grew to be the fifth largest brewer in the country in 1950 and again in 1970. Over the years, the company had built breweries in Albany and Baltimore, and in the 1970s opened a modern plant near Allentown, PA. The company then began closing its older, less efficient breweries, and the Brooklyn plant shut down in 1976, the same year as Rheingold’s Brooklyn factory finally shut down. By 1981, despite remaining a popular brand, the company sold out to the Detroit-based Stroh Brewing Co.

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The Piels Beer sign over its East New York brewery was the largest beer sign in the world when it went up and featured a gnome bowling in neon lights.

The Piels Factory, at Georgia and Liberty Avenues, through years of modernization and innovation, became world renown, attracting visiting brewmasters and scientists who came to examine the refrigeration and storage techniques developed by the Piels brothers. In 1936, the company installed the largest beer sign in the world on the roof of their brewery, complete with neon lighting.

These three breweries were as big as any in the country for several years, but through the 1950s, the Midwest beer companies, including the big three Miller, Anheuser-Busch, and Pabst, found it easier to ship to the growing West Coast market than could the East Coast breweries. Conquering that area, they could pump unlimited advertising dollars into the new and burgeoning TV advertising industry, and by the late 1960s had knocked our locals off their stride. After a change in ownership in 1963, the Piels brewery shuttered in September 1973, having been in continuous operation for ninety years. Schaefer bought the rights to the Piels name and continued the brand for another dozen or more years until their sale to Stroh, which went down in the 1990s and licensed the Piels name to Pabst, which kept it alive until 2015.

When Schaefer closed its Brooklyn brewery in 1976, it ended a 134-year run of commercial beer making in Brooklyn. Twenty years later, the Brooklyn Brewery opened, also in Williamsburg, and ushered in a new era of microbrewing here. Today there are once again dozens of craft beers brewed in the borough, and there are rights holders working on bringing back both the Piels and Rheingold brands. We can only hope for now that if and when they come back, they will be brewed right here in Brooklyn.

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The logos of Brooklyn’s historical big three beer brewers.

 


 

Crown Heights Mega Development Could Threaten BBG

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The proposed development of the old spice factory at 960 Franklin Avenue could cast a giant shadow over the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

They’e ba-ack.

Another mega-development threatens the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and once again the neighborhood is being awoken to the danger by dedicated community watchdogs.

For the third time since 2014 a large development project has been submitted for consideration to Community Board 9. The latest project, from Continuum Company and funded by Lincoln Equities, is proposed for the current site of the old spice factory at Franklin Avenue and Montgomery Place, a stone’s throw from the BBG and tall enough—at least thirty-two stories, and perhaps as high as forty-two—to cast a seven-acre shadow across the garden, including its greenhouses and the Steinhardt Conservatory building housing three special biospheres in climate-controlled environments, all of which would be greatly impacted by the loss of light even for a few hours a day.

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A closer look. The dark upper sections of the proposed buildings are higher than what current zoning allows.

Several neighborhood groups have mobilized against the project, which is in a specially zoned area that limits construction to seven stories, a restriction that was implemented more than twenty-five years ago specifically to protect the BBG from exactly what’s being planned now. Rezoning will require environmental assessments, public notice and response, and approval from multiple city agencies. While that sounds difficult, it’s not uncommon for such how-did-they-let-that-happen projects to be approved.

Last year, another large-scale project, by Cornell Realty and slated for construction at Crown and Carroll Streets, was put on hold when the community objected to its scale, which mid-process morphed from four seven-story buildings to a 500-unit, 175-foot-tall, two-tower behemoth. On hold doesn’t mean scrapped, and this and several other projects await the approval of just one similar plan to break the ice before refiling.

The spice factory was in operation right up to the sale of the property late in 2017 to Continuum, and neighbors continue to enjoy the mixed fragrances emanating from the now empty building. Built around the turn of the last century, the plant began life as the Consumers Park Brewing Company, one of many breweries that dotted Brooklyn in the late Nineteenth Century and into the mid Twentieth Century. The current building is not part of the new plan, and somewhere there’s a wrecking ball that’s gearing up for action. That in itself is a shame.

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The Tropical Pavilion is one of three controlled-environment areas in the Steinhardt Conservatory that could be affected by the Spice Factory plan.

We’re all for the development of empty or underused space, the repurposing of old warehouses and factory buildings, and the restoration, reconstruction, and/or redevelopment of dilapidated housing stock. But we support maintaining any neighborhood’s character in the process. Crown Heights residents are just getting used to the idea of the development of the Bedford-Union Armory just a few blocks away at Bedford Avenue and Union Street. A mega-project of the size and scope of the Continuum plan will absolutely alter the quality of the neighborhood.

Not of least concern is the potential harm that would be done to the botanic garden. This world-class, world-renowned facility is a gem that all Brooklynites should want protected. Plants need sun. A seven-acre shadow crossing the grounds would wreak havoc on the fragile eco-systems in the conservatory. Currently, the garden is protected by zoning laws. We think it should remain so.

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The old spice factory on Franklin Avenue, site of the proposed mega development. The botanic garden lies just beyond the trees on the left.

 


 

Red Hook’s Incredible Hulk: The Erie Grain Terminal

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The Erie Grain Terminal, on Gowanus Bay’s Henry Street Basin.

Despite all the major construction going on in downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and to a lesser extent, pretty much everywhere across the borough, there remain many locations where, at least for now, the past looms large, no more so than on the Red Hook waterfront, where many vestiges of the area’s industrial past remain to intrigue and remind us of bygone eras. One of the larger structures remaining in the Gowanus Bay area is the decaying hulk of the former NYS Grain Terminal, a near-hundred-year-old government project built to boost activity and jobs in New York Harbor at a time when many grain shipping companies were moving to cheaper ports at Philadelphia and Baltimore. Today the decaying structure threatens daily to collapse into the Henry Street Basin over which it precariously hangs.

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A closer look, with outer sections of the structure hanging precariously over the water, their bottom portions rotted away.

 New York State opened the grain terminal in 1922 as an adjunct to the reconstruction and incorporation of the Erie Canal into the New York State Barge Canal System. That project was undertaken to reinvigorate the use of the Erie Canal and the ports of New York Harbor. The grain terminal was an example of way too much too late. There are fifty-four concrete silos, thickly built to withstand any possible grain explosion, with a capacity of two million bushels of grain. Despite the plant’s then-state-of-the-art construction, most of the lost grain movers didn’t come back, and the terminal never reached the level of business and capacity that would make it profitable. Government officials referred to the terminal as the “Magnificent Mistake.”

 The state operated the terminal at a loss until 1944, when it transferred the deed for the property to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which kept it limping along until finally shutting the terminal in 1965. The property was sold to a private owner in 1997. It’s currently closed to all but the intrepid trespassers who occasionally break in to document the plant’s interior before it’s gone.

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It is art, or is it history?

We have no idea what the future holds for the grain terminal, though we feel it’s safe to say it doesn’t include grain. It’s beautifully ugly, a 120-foot high, 430-foot long, mold-covered cement hulk crumbling into the basin, sections with their foundations rotted away drooping precariously over the water below. Our reporter paddled up the Henry Street Basin in a canoe to get the exterior photos included here, risking life and limb to get close-up images of this fantastic piece of Brooklyn history. We like to think the artifacts of the past will remain as symbols of our industrial heritage, a time when things seem to us looking back simpler and more black and white (both ideas mistaken, nostalgic misrepresentational deflections from our too complex present). Reality, and economics, may call for a different outcome.

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The interior of the terminal showing the tops of the silos as a grid of holes in the floor, and chutes from above that directed grain into them.

For the moment, the terminal stands. If you’d like to check it out in person, take the B61 bus from Smith-9th St. (F/G trains) or the B57 at the Jay Street Station of the A/C/F/R trains, both buses heading toward Red Hook. It’s a short walk from IKEA across the Red Hook Ball Fields to the Henry Street Basin. (Google map it.) You can’t go in, but the waterfront area of Red Hook is active, vibrant and beautiful, and definitely worth the trek.

For a beautiful, moving look into and around the terminal, check out this video from Carlito Brigante.

 

Interior Picture Source: atlasobscura.com


 

Brooklyn’s High-Rising Skyline

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A rendering of downtown Brooklyn with the 900-foot-tall 80 Flatbush Avenue towering over Brooklyn’s once-tallest building, the Williamsburg Bank Building.

 

Thirty years ago, looking from the elevated Culver line (F train) Gowanus Canal overpass at Smith-9th Street station, the Brooklyn skyline consisted of the Williamsburg Bank Building. That was about it. There were a few buildings off to the left, the Bell Telephone Building at Cadman Plaza and Pierrepont Street, 16 Court Street, and a few others, but those were dwarfed by the Manhattan skyscrapers behind them.

Today, there’s an actual skyline full of towers rising far above the bank building. Developers are racing through Brooklyn in an unprecedented decade-plus-long luxury housing boom that shows no sign of tiring, or even breaking a sweat, any time soon. The Williamsburg Bank Building once ranked as the tallest building in the borough at 37 stories and 512 feet. That’s no more than average today, and it’s possible that in the not-so-distant future the building may not even be visible from Smith-9th Street station.

Let’s take a quick, very rough survey of what’s going on downtown right now.

138 Willoughby St. is the final building in the three-tower complex known as City Point, rising at the southwest corner of Flatbush Avenue, it will be 68 stories and 720 feet tall, encompass 686,800 sq. ft., and hold 458 units.
9 DeKalb Ave., will be the tallest building in Brooklyn, at least at its topping off. Soaring 73 stories and 1,066 feet above the Dime Savings Bank building at DeKalb Avenue and Fulton Street, it will have a distinctive glass and bronze exterior and offer 500+ planned rental units.
1 Flatbush Avenue, on the corner of Fulton Street, is a rising 19-story, 206-foot high, 183-unit rental building at 133,936 sq. ft.
141 Willoughby Street, across Flatbush Avenue from City Point, this will be a mere 44 stories and 203 rental units.

There’s a lot more, but these are the major buildings that will be offering apartments for rent rather than condos for sale.

And here are just a few of the many, many recently opened residential rental projects:

Avalon Willoughby Square/DoBro 217 Duffield at Willoughby St., Opened 2015
(AWS, flrs 30-58, 326 rental apts, DoBro, flrs 1-29, 535 rental apts)
The Azure, 436 Albee Square 28 Stories, 150 apts., Opened 2016
The Margo, Myrtle Ave. Fleet/Ashland Pls, 15 stories, 229 units, Opened 2016
City Tower, 10 City Point 48 Floors, 439 units, Opened 2016
The Eagle, 86 Fleet Place, 32 stories, 350 ft, 440 rentals Myrtle Ave & Fleet Pl ,
Opened 2017
415 Red Hook Lane, 21 stories, 108 Rentals, Opened 2017
210 Livingston St., 28 Stories, 368 rentals, Opened 2017
33 Bond St., 25 Stories, 714 rentals, Opened 2017
237 Duffield Street, is relatively modest at 23 Stories, 105 Rentals, Opened 2017
The Lane, 415 Red Hook Lane at Boerum Pl., 21 stories, 110 Units, Opened 2017

There’s more to come—many more, you can bet on it–including these two still in planning, with construction not to be completed until the next decade:

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Downtown Brooklyn in 1919, with the Williamsburg Bank Building by far the tallest in sight. The white dome of the Dime Bank building can be seen near the upper left corner.

80 Flatbush Ave. two towers, 74 (900 ft) and 38 Stories, 900 apts, two schools, office and retail space Slated for completion in 2025. This one isn’t housing, but  at 900 feet will be another addition to the skyline.

1 Boerum Place 200,000 Sq. Ft., 100+ apts. Slated for completion in 2020, height not yet finalized.

Multiple thousands of units are built, under construction, and on the drawing board. Name any street from the Brooklyn Bridge to Hamilton Avenue west of Prospect Park and we can no doubt point to a double- or triple-digit-unit project in one of those stages that wasn’t there before 2010.

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Where’s William? A reverse view of the future downtown skyline, with the Williamsburg Bank Building barely visible in the middle background. Many of the buildings here are already complete.

All that is just downtown and South Brooklyn. Head up to the Williamsburg waterfront, unrecognizable from the Williamsburg of twenty years ago, and check the progress at 420 Kent Ave., 857 apartments going into three, count’em three 22-story towers; or the Domino Sugar building at 325 Kent (522 units), already opened as the first phase of a four-building redevelopment that will include the old refinery building. And, on a lesser height scale, there’s more going on in Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, and even in outer areas such as Sheepshead Bay and East New York–pretty much everywhere in the Borough.

F train riders crossing the Gowanus Canal have seen the new Brooklyn skyline dotted with construction cranes for years, cranes that never seemed to go away. They simply moved a bit to the left or right, and would go higher and higher. Most are gone now, the towers they helped build complete. Crossing the canal now, we keep our eyes peeled for those to come. We’re sure they will.


 

Nitehawk: Not a Movie, a Movie Theatre

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Rendering of the marquee of the new Nitehawk Prospect Park theatre.

Already something of a fixture in central Williamsburg, the owners of the dine-in movie house Nitehawk are giving a $10-million overhaul to Park Slope’s old Sanders Theatre (more recently the Pavilion), on Bartel-Pritchard Square at the Northwest corner of Prospect Park, and later this year the Nitehawk Prospect Park will open, with first-run, classic, rare, and independent movies onscreen and drinks and dinner delivered to your table. We can’t wait. 

Looby Rendering 300w

Rendering of the restaurant under a screening room in the Nitehawk Prospect Park. Architects: Think! Architecture and Design.

The new Nitehawk will have seven screening rooms, vs. the three at the Williamsburg venue, and four of those will have 35-mm projectors, allowing for the screening of rarely shown films that are not available in today’s more common 70-mm and digital formats. And, there’s the food. Besides popcorn, you’ll be able to watch the movie while eating from a menu offering such non-traditional movie noshes as spinach-artichoke empanadas, paella risotto balls, and burrata crostini, which features roasted acorn squash and poached pears; or try a specialty item like the I, Tonya, made with shredded pork knee (ouch!), American cheese, and gremolata aioli. The owner of the Nitehawk,  Matthew Viragh, plans to offer a menu that’s different, but not unlike, the offerings in Williamsburg, so there should be more filling entrees like the sausage and pepper hoagie, the meatloaf sandwich, the Nitehawk burger, and the fried chicken sandwich. For drinks, there’s coke and root beer, and also a well-stocked assortment of whiskeys, scotches, tequilas, rums, and more. Wait service takes your order before or during the movie, and a good time is had by all.

Renovations are well underway at the Sanders, a landmarked building originally built in 1928 to replace the Marathon Theatre (opened1908). The 1,516-seat Sanders had a fifty-year run as a movie and vaudeville house. The Pavilion opened in 1996 as a three-screen multi-plex, and in the early 2000s underwent a second renovation, carved into nine screens.

Sanders Theatre ext 300w
The Sanders Theatre, from long ago, via Cinema Treasures.

The building was sold in 2006 and the new owners, Hidrock Realty, devised plans to build a six-story condominium over the theatre and the adjacent one-story building (that once housed The Park House Restaurant and then Circle’s bar and Mexican restaurant), a plan eventually approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The owners of the Nitehawk approached Hidrock about replacing the Pavilion, and in 2016 Hidrock sold the theatre to 188 Prospect Park West LLC, which immediately announced the closing of the Pavilion and the coming of the Nitehawk. Leading the renovation is Think! Architecture and Design, headquartered in Metrotech. The LPC has just approved a new marquee sign proclaiming the Nitehawk. 

 

At a time when digital viewing on multiple devices has taken over our consciousness, it’s getting harder and harder to find any outlet showing the many, many great films that have not yet been and perhaps never will be digitized. We’re excited that the Nitehawk is working to expand the number of venues for such films, and we plan on taking advantage of them, and the burrata crostini, too!


 

East Brooklyn—Ready for Prime Time, or Not Quite?

It’s been almost two years since a rezoning of Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood jump-started a wave of speculation and, to a lesser degree, development throughout the area and sent a shudder of gentrification worry down the backs of those already living there. Last summer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams called for next-door Brownsville to be similarly rezoned to attract new affordable housing to that neighborhood. So, how’s it all working?

dcp_overview_map_05102016 from NYC gov

A map of the East New York Rezoning District during planning. The final boundaries are almost identical.

 

The initial rezoning of East New York came out of a plan by Mayor Bill De Blasio to rezone about fifteen neighborhoods throughout the city, also including Bushwick and Gowanus in Brooklyn. To rezone any neighborhood, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is charged with studying each neighborhood and submitting proposals to the city council for approval. So far in Brooklyn, only the East New York proposal has been approved.  Elsewhere around the city, plans have been approved for East Harlem and Far Rockaway.

Brownsville Library, via Historic Districts Council

The Brownsville Library Building

As a part of the rezoning plans, the mayor and city council included a mandatory inclusion housing rule (MIH), requiring all residential development in each zone have a certain percentage of rental units be offered at below market rates, based on several formulas that can be imposed by the city council. A few developers that specialize in what is considered affordable housing by those for whom affordable is not an issue have taken advantage of as many of the city’s available subsidies as possible. Those that accept the subsidies must set aside many of the units for affordable housing units. How much the rents will be will depend on which subsidy the developer takes.

Since the rezoning, for-sale prices in East Brooklyn (East New York, Brownsville, and Cypress Hills) have risen sharply, and several developments are underway. According to an article months ago at citylimits.org, prices had risen from about $35 per square foot before the rezoning to over $40 per square foot by July 2017. And, mortgages have become harder to get for low-income buyers since the rezoning.

Mixed Use, Pitkin Ave cropped

Pitkin Avenue, East New York, showing a strip of mixed-use properties.

There has been a small rash of speculation, with investors buying property in the hopes of making redevelopment moves in the future. Much of that activity has taken place peripherally to the rezoned area, with the speculators hoping to avoid the MIH restrictions should the area really take off. But many owners have overpriced their properties, and those are sitting on the market with no nibbles.

So, two years into the rezoning, the amount of actual development is meager. Despite the activity just described, the overall jump-in rate is small. East Brooklyn, it seems, isn’t quite ready for a wholesale boom like downtown or even the low-rise efforts burgeoning on the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill corridor along Lafayette and Dekalb Avenues.

Typical ENY Block cropped

Like most of Brooklyn, Brownsville, East New York,, and Cypress Hills holds a mix of single-family, multi-family, and apartment block buildings.

But what about current residences? According to the real estate Web site Trulia, the average income in East New York is $32,165. Based on the standard income qualification of 40x the rent, an affordable housing price for current residents is $804.13, How many of the new affordable rents will be under $1,000? Under $1,200?  According to the MIH rules, there should be some, but how many investors will drop multi-millions into a development to collect those rents?

New development is a good thing, but for those who are in the crosshairs, it’s never comfortable. New York City has plenty of luxury housing. The fact is, developers are running out of low-buy-in areas to develop. East Brooklyn seems to be the current target area, thanks to the EDC’s rezoning plans. We applaud Mayor De Blasio’s efforts to create and maintain affordable housing. In East Brooklyn, we just don’t see it happening in earnest overnight, or any time soon.