Eye On Real Estate: Begun 2004, Stalled in 2008, Growth Now Brings New Condos and Rentals
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Give us a school to call our own.
That's the rallying cry of a group of parents living in newly built apartments in Downtown Brooklyn – who fear a fresh surge of residential development in the neighborhood will cause acute overcrowding of existing public elementary schools within five years.
“The neighborhood is being built so quickly,”said Chris Young of Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions. “It needs a heart.”
“A school to serve Downtown Brooklyn residents could bring the community together,” said Young, whose group is working to win the support of local politicians and city agencies for its campaign to get a grade school built.
Since business-centric Downtown Brooklyn was rezoned for redevelopment in 2004, more than 5,000 apartments have been built there – and now a new wave of construction will bring an additional 8,000-plus units, Young said.
Young, a television producer who moved to the neighborhood with his wife and then-infant child three and a half years ago, has done meticulous research on development projects both planned and underway.
By his calculations, an additional 2,600 children who are likely to attend public grade school will live in the neighborhood by 2018. He used a formula devised by the city Department of Education's School Construction Authority to estimate that number.
Yet the city Department of Education has no plan to create a new elementary school for the neighborhood, though there's room for only about 400 new students in the existing schools for which Downtown Brooklyn is currently zoned.
The population surge wasn't anticipated in the city environmental impact study done for the 2004 rezoning; it predicted just 979 new residential units would be constructed.
“We were sold a neighborhood that wasn't ready for families,” said Young, who lives with his family in the BellTel Lofts on Bridge Street.
“Nobody thought about who would be moving in. It could have been singles. It could have been retirees. What happened is families came.”
There's a telling indication that the neighborhood already has a growing number of very young kids, Young said. Day-care operator Bright Horizons leased space at two locations, in the BellTel Lofts and at 345 Adams St., and opened preschools.
Young, who lived in Fort Greene before moving to the land-marked Art Deco condo building, was looking for a more spacious home with room to raise a child.
“We didn't think about a school then,” he said. “When you've got an infant, schools are not on your radar.”
His group, which is an association of more than 150 neighborhood families, is running a petition drive through its website, www.dobroschools.org – which also has an interactive map identifying Downtown Brooklyn residential projects large and small.
Young met Tuesday with School Construction Authority president Lorraine Grillo and other agency reps, to make a case for including funds for a Downtown Brooklyn elementary school in the SCA's upcoming five-year capital plan.
They were receptive, he said – but a big obstacle is finding a site, which is difficult given the rapid pace at which Downtown Brooklyn is being redeveloped, he said.
His group hopes to convince a developer with a still-vacant site to include a shell for an elementary school in building plans, in exchange for tax breaks or additional buildable square feet.
An open letter posted Aug. 4 on the group's website calls on owners of nine specific Downtown Brooklyn development sites to consider doing so. The list at the group website includes Forest City Ratner, which is demolishing 10 MetroTech to build housing. It also targets Tom and Fred Elghanayan of TF Cornerstone, who are tearing down the parking garage at 276-300 Livingston St. to build a huge apartment complex – and looking to buy Brooklyn Community Services' building next door to enlarge their site, as Eye on Real Estate recently reported.
Rather than cold-call the developers, Young plans to ask Downtown Brooklyn Partnership president Tucker Reed to help contact them. Reed was vacationing and couldn't be reached for comment, a spokeswoman said.
“Somebody ought to step up,” Helen Lee, who's involved with Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions, said of the developers with empty construction sites. “We're not asking for a hand-out. It could be a win-win for everyone.”
Lee and her husband bought an apartment at the Toren on Myrtle Avenue in 2011 when she was pregnant, knowing there was no elementary school in Downtown Brooklyn. She resolved then that she would get involved in advocating for a school for the neighborhood.
“We can't just sit back and wait for things to happen,” said Lee, who's a digital marketing strategist at Google.
The couple had been living in a one-bedroom apartment at 1 Hanson Place and wanted to find another home with equally good access to subways. Also, they preferred a newly built apartment, ready to move into, over a fixer-upper in a neighborhood with good schools such as Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope or Carroll Gardens.
As an aside, now that she lives in the Toren, she gives a thumbs-up to the car-free green space at MetroTech, which is a short walk away. After work, the place is a magnet for moms and little kids. Her son, now 2 years old, rides his scooter there.
In May, Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions' testimony was heard at a Community Board 2 education committee meeting. A researcher for CB2 presented a study at that meeting that concluded the neighborhood needs one or more elementary schools.
Over the summer, CB2 handed in its statement of needs to the Department of City Planning. The board's district manager, Robert Perris, sent us an excerpt from it that notes there is no public elementary school in Downtown Brooklyn.
“It has become apparent that an elementary school may be needed in Downtown in the near future to accommodate the new and growing residential population, which includes a significant number of families with elementary aged children,” it reads.
In September, CB2 will hold a public hearing to prepare its register of budget priorities, which is used to advise the city. Perris suggested Young should speak at the meeting.
Other city neighborhoods undergoing rapid residential development, like the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront, are getting new public elementary schools, Young said.
Brownstoner.com, which has posted two stories about Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions, noted that a charter school that can accommodate up to 300 students is opening at 80 Willoughby St.
But the new Brooklyn Prospect Charter School won't erase the threat of overcrowding at schools that now serve Downtown Brooklyn residents, Young told the Daily Eagle.
“It helps and it hurts,” said Young, explaining that Downtown Brooklyn kids must compete in a lottery with children from other neighborhoods for seats at the school. This year, only one child he knows of from BellTel Lofts who tried to get into the school won admittance, he said.
THE NEW WAVE OF CONSTRUCTION
The surging residential development that Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions is tracking got off to a rocky start, as real estate watchers well remember.
Post-rezoning projects hit a wall during the economic downturn that kicked off in 2008. Some developers slowed or stopped construction; some slashed the prices of their condo offerings; some turned condo buildings wholly or partly into rentals.
Now, heading into fall 2013, buildings from that first wave of residential construction are an integral part of the landscape, from the borough's tallest residential tower, the Brooklyner, at 111 Lawrence St., to massive, mid-rise Brooklyn Gold at Gold and Tillary Streets.
With the economy on better footing, a new wave of development is underway. Some of it is on Livingston Street. See our previous Eagle story for a recap of what's cooking there. This week, we checked the status of several projects in other locations:
* 388 Bridge St.: The Stahl Organization's skyscraper will usurp the Brooklyner as the borough's tallest residential building – at least until AvalonBay's project across the street at 100 Willoughby St. is constructed.
The 590-foot Bridge Street tower is topped out, and gleaming glass covered the facade of all but the bottom floors when we stopped by this week. The hum of construction machinery was evidence of contractors hard at work behind the construction fencing.
There will be 234 rental apartments and 144 condos in the 53-story building. There will be multiple temporary certificates of occupancy for different parts of the property, with the rental portion likely finished in January, Stahl co-president Gregg Wolpert told Eye on Real Estate. He thinks a rental office for the market-rate apartments will open by the end of October. So how pricey will they be?
“I can't talk about rents; we're finalizing them right now,” he said. Nor can he speak about the condo prices because the state Attorney General's office hasn't approved the offering plan.
The building has 48 income-restricted affordable rental apartments; applications are due Oct. 14.
There will be LED lighting to create a “crown” at the top of the building, with wind turbines providing the power to keep it glowing, Wolpert said.
AvalonBay's tower will be just a hair's-breadth taller: “The roof elevation is technically 591 feet,” a company spokesman said in an email.
“Not to knock AvalonBay – they're very good builders,” Wolpert countered. “But [100 Willoughby] won't be built to the same standards as our building. It shouldn't be. It's a rental.”
Stahl's tower was designed to be all-condo, with higher ceilings – including 11-foot ceilings in its penthouses – an upscale gym from Park Avenue called the Manhattan Athletic Club and a “luxury lobby,” he said.
The building has up to 50,000 square feet of retail space, and some big-box tenants have taken a look, said Diana Boutross of Winick Realty Group, who is doing the marketing. Other prospects that have shown interest are “food uses” large and small, such as restaurants and markets, plus health industry tenants and private schools.
Asking rents are $100 per square foot on the ground floor, $50 on the second floor and $30 on the third and fourth floors, she said.
* 100 Willoughby St.: Real estate-obsessed readers take note: AvalonBay's spokesman said 100 Willoughby is the address the developer is using now for this project. It is also referred to as 88 Willoughby St. or Avalon Willoughby West.
A deep hole has been dug at the site, and we saw a parked bulldozer and a small group of workers toting things around when we peeked through a tiny observation window in the fence.
Construction started this week and will be done in roughly three years, with first apartments ready for occupancy in June or July 2015, the AvalonBay spokesman said. There will be 826 rental apartments, he noted; 860 were originally planned.
The spokesman sent us a comment from Martin Piazzola, senior vice president for development, about the competition to be Brooklyn's tallest residential building.
“When we were designing our building, we really didn't focus on how tall 388 Bridge St. would be,” Piazzola said. “We just wanted to design the best building we could for the site.”
* 66 Rockwell Plaza: The exterior of this tower on the corner of Fulton Street and Rockwell Place is nearly done but needs to have the glass facade installed on its top and bottom floors. A small bit of frontage at 29 Flatbush Ave. – which is the address the previous owners used for the project – is covered in a construction shroud.
The building is 457 feet tall and will have 327 rental apartments, developer Dermot Co.'s website indicates. A placeholder website has been created for marketing the rentals, but there's no information posted on it.
* 313 Gold St.: Earlier this week, two base floors and 20 tower floors were up out of the ground at this project. The sound of workers' hammering was audible on the other side of Flatbush Avenue Extension.
The project is often referred to as Oro 2 because it was conceived as a sister building for the Oro, the Gold Street tower right across the street.
The 313 Gold St. building will be 35 stories tall and have 208 apartments, according to city Buildings Department documents. The original developer sold the site last year to Brooklyn Princess LLC. Mortgage records indicate Kevin Lalezarian is the LLC's managing member; he is an owner of development firm Lalezarian Associates in Lake Success, Long Island.
He didn't return our call for comment on the project.
* 81 Fleet Place: We saw a brigade of bulldozers digging in the dirt at this site where mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis' company Red Apple Real Estate is constructing a 205-unit, 15-story rental building. The project will be done at the end of next year and the rental process will probably start in 2015, Red Apple exec Bob Zorn told Eye on Real Estate.
There will be a rooftop area for all the tenants to share, and some units will have their own rooftop patios, he said.
“Daily needs tenants” like day care centers, coffee bars and food markets are showing interest in the retail space planned for 81 Fleet, said Boutross of Winick Realty Group.
Red Apple owns two development sites on either side of 81 Fleet. A spring 2014 ground-breaking is anticipated at 180 Myrtle Ave. for a 215-unit rental building, Zorn said. That site is between 81 Fleet and the Andrea, a completed Red Apple apartment house.
At the other site, 86 Fleet Place, the game plan is to start work in 2015 on a 400,000-square-foot tower – probably a combination of rentals and condos. The site is next to the Toren.
“Our view is that there is considerable demand for reasonably priced condos down the road,” he said.
He doesn't know what will be considered a reasonable price range by then.
Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions put Red Apple's vacant lots on its list of sites where they wish developers would consider including an elementary school in their design plans.
“Would we take a look at it? Of course,” Zorn said when told of the parent group's idea. “Do I have a clue if it would work? I don't know. One has to spend some time and evaluate.”
The high number of apartments under construction in the neighborhood makes him think, though.
“The math seems compelling,” he said. “That many apartments with children – it is a need the city is going to have to meet.”