Livingston Street: Exotic, offbeat, gritty, now slated for mainstream

June 21, 2013 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Big developments are percolating on Livingston Street – and before you know it, new retailers will want in on the action, real estate executives predict.

With a hodgepodge of 99-cent stores, furniture sellers, salons and the backside of Macy’s – the blank-faced side that doesn’t have display windows – the street is about as unglamorous as it gets for Downtown Brooklyn retail corridors.

But two high-profile apartment projects at 276-300 Livingston and 350 Livingston, near the Flatbush Avenue end of the thoroughfare, will fire up restaurant owners’ and merchants’ interest in the street, brokers believe. Livingston Street will start getting serious consideration from tenants being priced out of the hotter-than-ever Fulton Mall.

Though the transformation is expected to take several years, optimism is starting to stir.

“Things are finally looking up,” said Isaac Mograby of Crown Retail Services, the leasing agent for 253 Livingston, where a Planet Fitness gym moved in. “There’s a boost in the morale on Livingston.”

Mograby is going to lease with two restaurant tenants and hopes to go to lease with a fast-food tenant to fill a 7,000-square-foot space he’s dividing into three parts. The asking rent is $115 per square foot at the site, which is on the corner of Bond Street. Pedestrian traffic flows in and out of Fulton Mall along Bond, giving added value to the location.

Asking rents for mid-block Livingston spaces are around $50 to $75 per square feet, other brokers said.

Tenants, especially restaurants, are being priced out of Fulton Mall, where rents are in the high $200s per square foot, Mograby said.

Livingston will start to look like a viable, less pricey alternative to Fulton as the imminent construction of at least 1,300 new apartments on a two-block span of Livingston gets underway.

Doug Steiner of Steiner Studios is building The Hub, a skyscraper with 700-plus rental apartments and 50,000 square feet of shops at a site that includes 350 Livingston and property on Schermerhorn Street and Flatbush Avenue.

Upscale amenities will include a concierge, a terrace with a sundeck, a grilling terrace, a fitness center, a yoga studio, a dog run and bike storage for every unit. Demolition is now underway at 350 Livingston, which was an office building.

TF Cornerstone – a company created by two high-profile developers, brothers Tom and Fred Elghanayan – is building 600 apartments at 276-300 Livingston, according to a published report from CoStar Group. A parking garage and storefronts now occupy the site.

As the two projects move forward, retail rents on Livingston will rise 20% to 25%, Mograby predicted.

“Livingston Street will undergo a rare transformation,” predicted another broker, CPEX Real Estate Managing Partner Timothy King. “You’ll see Reilly’s law of retail gravitation: Given a choice, people go to where the action is.”

King is repping the newest vacant space on the street: 291 Livingston, where the Wendy’s closed on Friday, June 14. The fast-food restaurant’s owner died, and his inheritors found jobs for the Wendy’s workers at other eateries they own.

The asking rent is $75 per square foot for the 3,400-square-foot ground floor, which comes with a storage basement, and $35 for the 3,400-square-foot second floor. The two spaces can be leased separately or combined into a single unit. CPEX is also marketing the building for sale for $4.5 million.  

At 230 Livingston, Jeremy Scholder of brokerage CBRE is seeing “a lot of interest” from potential tenants for a 5,394-square-foot retail space. The asking rent is $50 per square foot. The property is a new rental-apartment building called The Addison.

Until now, some sites have been very slow to land tenants. At 200 Livingston – which is the Be@Schermerhorn development, where condos sold out two years ago – a 5,498-square-foot retail space remains vacant. Brokerage RKF has the leasing assignment.

At the parking garage where Cornerstone is constructing an apartment building, tenants have been told to vacate by Dec. 31. However glad they are that development will boost Livingston Street’s prosperity, it pains them to go.

 “It’s a sad feeling to leave when you are established, you are recognized in the neighborhood,” said Victor Vora, who pays $35 per square foot rent for a storefront for his Greyhound bus station franchise. “We’re all scrambling to find the right locations.”

His soon-to-be displaced neighbors at the garage building include an IHOP pancake house and Papa John’s pizzeria.

Vora has brokers seeking sites on Livingston as possible places to relocate; he needs a 1,500-square-foot space on a street wide enough for buses to pull in for stops. It must be close to the Manhattan Bridge, which the buses cross to make pickups at the W. 42nd St. Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Vora – who also owns Concord Market on Tillary Street – is also eyeballing locations near 395 Flatbush Ave. Extension, where he operated his Greyhound station from its 1992 opening until his 2005 move to Livingston Street.

Cornerstone reps told tenants they hope to break ground next spring on the new apartment building, which will be more than 30 stories tall and will have space for shops, Vora’s son Alap said.

“The day is coming when there will be very few mom-and-pops on Livingston. They are the ones who will suffer,” said Vora, who’s originally from Ahmedabad, India and has lived and worked in Brooklyn since the 1970s.

“Someone has to pay a price for change,” he said. “It will be the mom-and-pops.”

His thoughts were echoed by the store manager at another building nearby.

“We are trying to hang in here as long as we can – but sooner or later, we’ll have to go,” said Allison Gift of Official Connections Books at 316 Livingston, which specializes in books on African-American history, spiritual empowerment, financial success and entertainment.

“They’re just ripping up these buildings for expensive apartments and pushing out the small businesses,” Gift said. “Small businesses cannot survive. Look at how Fulton Street has changed in the past couple years – Livingston is changing too.”   

Amadou Diack doesn’t know if he will be able to remain on Livingston as the street gentrifies.

Like the bookstore, his shop Afrikart is located between the two apartment developments.

“It’s like we’re going to be squeezed from both sides,” he said. “For me, the fear is the rent will become unaffordable.”

He’s paid rent month-to-month since he moved into his current location at 295 Livingston 12 years ago, where the rate is now a “very reasonable” $40 per square foot, he said. “I have hopes the landlord will keep me here,” he added.

Diack first opened the shop, which sells fabrics from his home country of Senegal and custom-made African-style clothing, at a nearby storefront 20 years ago.

“When I arrived in 1992, Livingston Street was a little bit boring,” he recalled. “Besides the bus passing by, there was nothing going on.”

Word of mouth about his custom-sewn clothes helped him survive the early years. Recently, he has seen lots more shoppers on the sidewalks, including more customers coming from Fulton Mall.

But the big changes will come as the apartment developments get built: “It’s going to be fancy,” he predicted.

New tenants that will be drawn to Livingston will include restaurants and coffee shops, drugstores and vitamin shops, Crown Retail Services broker Mograby predicted.

“Ultimately, Livingston Street will be an adjunct to the Fulton Mall,” where credit-worthy national tenants are flocking, said another broker, Robert Hebron V of Ingram & Hebron Realty.

“There’s no reason consumers can’t walk 100 feet off Fulton to Livingston,” said Hebron, who is marketing a vacant storefront at 297 Livingston, a two-story building where renovations are underway and office space is being turned into two apartments upstairs. 

“There will be a lot more restaurants,” predicted Alap Vora. “There will be some flagship clothing stores which are national brands – Fulton Mall has already got that. And Fulton can only grow so much.”

Another project that will add further luster to the street is planned at 210 Livingston, a building the late Charles Benenson bought in 1971. The office property’s former tenant was the city Human Resources Administration. Landlord Benenson Capital Partners and apartment developer Rose Associates plan to construct a new 300-unit rental apartment building with street-level retail space. There’s scaffolding up, asbestos abatement notices are plastered on the front door and the city Department of Buildings has approved the demolition of the 11-story property.

Landlords of smaller properties want to get in on the anticipated retail revitalization.

The president of Porta Bella men’s clothing stores, Karl Ashmawy, will close his shop at 320 Livingston and combine the space with the adjacent empty storefront if he finds a taker.

“We’re looking for better tenants to fill the building,” he said.

Reliant Realty Group’s Anthony Gitto, who owns 340 Livingston in a partnership, is marketing the building’s 2,652-square-foot ground floor retail space for rent. The state Division of Parole currently occupies the site.

On the block of Livingston between Nevins Street and Hanover Place the ambiance – and landlords’ earning power – will be further improved by a campaign to spiff up Grove Place, the alley behind the buildings. (See related story.)

Will the day come that the Livingston Street retail corridor will have sufficient vibrancy and charm to draw Brooklyn Heights families who want to walk to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for shows?

“I would absolutely hope so,” said Hebron, the real estate broker. “In ten years.”

It’s a 20-minute stroll, if your heels aren’t too high, from Livingston’s starting point at Clinton Street to BAM’s front steps on Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene.

“That will be seven to 10 years from now – that’s when Livingston Street will really take shape,” predicted Diack, the shopkeeper.

“It’s won’t be that soon or that fast – I think it will be eight to 10 years,” echoed Vora, the Greyhound franchise owner.

“But I have faith,” he said. “The new generation doesn’t have ‘old Brooklyn’ fear, that thought of, ‘I can’t go that way, I know someone who got robbed.’

“This will be a wonderful neighborhood.”

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