By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On the back side of Livingston Street, there's an alley that only Brooklyn trivia buffs know by name – Grove Place.
The urban-picturesque hideaway with mysterious metal-encased fire stairs descending graffiti-scrawled brick walls is a secret spot unknown to almost everybody, aside from Downtown Brooklynites who sneak there to take cigarette breaks or dump garbage.
That's about to change, thanks to a Downtown Brooklyn Partnership campaign to clean up the dead-end, single-lane snippet of a street – but not so much that it loses its edginess – and introduce it to the world.
The debut is set for Friday, June 28 with an event dubbed the Grove Alley Nite Market, a free al fresco concert and gathering of hip vendors.
“I don't call it ugly – I call it gritty,” said Katie Lyon, services manager of the Court-Livingston-Schermerhorn Business Improvement District. “Grittiness is part of its charm.”
Lyon came up with the idea of helping Grove Place – which the website Forgotten New York called “a candidate for the worst street in Brooklyn, if not the five boroughs.” She enlisted as collaborator her counterpart at the Fulton Mall Improvement Association, Kevin Tolan, who sits next to her at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership office at MetroTech. They brainstormed with the Partnership's executive director of planning and administration, Thomas Conoscenti.
The Partnership carries out projects with those two BIDs plus the MetroTech Business Improvement District.
The campaign, first conceived last fall, has a long-term goal of bringing tiny storefronts to buildings with their backs on Grove Place and small office tenants to their empty or underutilized upper floors.
“It could be a commercial corridor in its own right,” she said.
Less than a block long, the alley opens onto Hanover Place, itself a tiny street parallel to Bond and Nevins Streets. Grove Place is walled in by 11 buildings on Livingston Street or Fulton Mall, and a 12th on Nevins Street.
People who've gotten a glimpse of the alley are intrigued.
“It feels like it's a hidden gem,” Lyon said.
They tell her not to remove the metal fire stairs, and she agrees: “They look like the set for 'Rent,'” she said.
They tell her a yellow sign that starkly says “END,” which is planted in front of a grimy wall, is “so poetic.”
It took several months to get the improvement campaign rolling because Lyon's crew first had to figure out who owns the alley. Street maps at the Brooklyn Borough President's office showed Grove Place does not belong to the city. NYC Sanitation and Transportation Departments are not responsible for garbage pickup or street maintenance.
Title searches going back to the 1920s indicated that landlords of the 12 surrounding buildings share ownership of the private street. With their approval, the Partnership stepped up to be the steward of Grove Place and take charge of its cleanup.
In early June, the Partnership had heaps of trash and discarded pallets hauled away. A catch basin that had been clogged for more than a year, which left standing water in the street when it rained, was cleared out.
Now sanitation crews from the Livingston and Fulton BIDs sweep the alley daily and will periodically power-wash the road.
The graffiti was left intact – “it's part of the story of Grove Place,” Lyon said.
Next up will be the installation of bollards or other barriers to keep cars from parking in the narrow alley. A gate at the entrance, which had been installed to keep out people who dumped trash illegally, is broken but will not be replaced.
“We're aiming for a change of culture, where we don't need to block off the street at night,” she said.
Partnership staffers are on the lookout for potential tenants for little storefronts to be created on ground floors.
“We're trying to find vendors, the food-truck type who's soon going to be ready to move into bricks and mortar,” she said.
Livingston Street buildings on this block are 125 feet deep, which would give property owners room to carve out 300-square-foot spaces on the Grove Place end of their ground floors for little coffee shops or galleries.
“It feeds into what's going on in Downtown Brooklyn,” Lyon said. Newly built retail spaces in the neighborhood are 3,000 to 5,000 square feet and they're taking a long time to rent, while small sites of 300 square feet are scarce and frequently sought.
“This could be Brooklyn's Freeman Alley,” she said, referring to a Lower East Side byway where a popular restaurant, Freemans, has taken root along with galleries.
The June 28 event to showcase Grove Place is getting a good response. At last count, nearly 700 people had RSVP'd “Yes.”
The Grove Alley Nite Market has a purpose beyond drawing shoppers to Downtown Brooklyn.
“It's an opportunity to prove to property owners that this is real, that people do think gritty is charming,” Lyon said.
The event, which will take place from 5 to 11 p.m., will feature performances by reggae group Trouble City All-Stars, dance-punk band The Toothaches and rapper Heems. There will be beer from Brooklyn Brewery, food trucks with grilled cheese sandwiches and other crowd-pleasers and an array of wares like jewelry and vintage fashions.
See www.downtownbrooklyn.com for updates on the vendor lineup.