Massey Knakal’s Real Estate Summit brings out the best & the brightest

Tales of Movie Stars Touring Coney, Cries of 'Jed Walentas for Mayor..'

September 18, 2013 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Twenty percent of the apartments TF Cornerstone plans to build at the site of a Downtown Brooklyn parking garage will be affordable housing, a company executive revealed.

The 600,000-square-foot development at 276-300 Livingston St. – which Jeremy Shell referred to as 33 Bond, its side-street address – will have a “different aesthetic” from Cornerstone’s residential properties in Long Island City and Manhattan, the senior vice president of acquisitions and finance told a crowd at the Massey Knakal Brooklyn Real Estate Summit Tuesday.

“We want to create neighborhoods,” said Shell, whose firm is headed by high-profile brothers Tom and Fred Elghanayan. “We’re consciously thinking about who the renters are and what attracts them.”

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Would-be residents are interested in “style,” services and amenities, he told the audience during a panel discussion about Brooklyn multifamily development.

Cornerstone has hired an architect, Gary Handel, for the project, Shell told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle after the panel discussion ended. Handel has drawn up “schematics,” or preliminary designs.

Handel Architects, which has done a slew of sleek residential projects, is the designer of the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero.  

The height of the new building at 33 Bond is restricted by zoning, Shell told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

“It is not a tower,” he said. But the property, which extends through the block to Schermerhorn Street, has a massive footprint, he noted.

“We will spread the density out and live with the zoning,” he said.

Shell didn’t specify how many apartments will be built at the site. CoStar previously reported that 600 units are planned.

The word on the street is that Cornerstone – and other developers – are interested in buying Brooklyn Community Services’ office building next door at 285 Schermerhorn St., the Brooklyn Daily Eagle recently reported. Shell declined comment.

“We’re excited to be part of the evolution of the neighborhood,” he said. “We think our project should be instrumental in the growth of Downtown Brooklyn.”  

Shell told the conference audience that development site prices have been pushed high – “there’s a lot of fever” – but “we think the numbers make sense for our project.”

Cornerstone bought the site last spring for $70 million from Thor Equities – which had paid $6 million for the garage in 2003 before modernizing and refurbishing it.


Massey Knakal’s fourth annual summit held at Stage 6 at Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard was full of juicy tidbits from Brooklyn landlords and tenants.

Thor CEO Joseph Sitt regaled the crowd with tales of being tear-gassed during a trip to Turkey and a recent tour of Coney Island he gave “Gatsby” star Leonardo DiCaprio, including lunch at Gargiulo’s, which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

Sitt  – who bought his first real estate as a college kid – did not speak at the conference about Thor’s recent $1.4 billion bid to buy the company that owns the Empire State Building.

Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management Co., the firm that put DUMBO on the map, talked about the city’s shortage of affordable housing.

“Our affordable housing policies are bad, and the politics around them are also weird,” he said.

Upzoning needs to be done in “certain communities” to allow denser residential construction that would translate to “huge amounts of affordable housing,” Walentas said.

“The truth is, we’re not moving the needle in terms of the demand that we have from the city,” he said. “The only way to really move the needle is with density.”

Asked which neighborhoods should be upzoned, he said he shouldn’t be the “arbiter” who decides.

“Communities need to have honest conversations with themselves about the pros and cons of building more affordable housing, building more schools, getting the private sector to pay for parks – and density,” said Walentas, who insisted “those two things are related as a conversation.

“The point is that there needs to be more of a discussion and dialogue about what the realistic choices are, as opposed to pretending that, you know, money just falls out of the sky. Which is where a lot of the conversation sort of goes at the moment.”

An audience member called out jestingly, “Jed Walentas for Mayor!”     


There was tons of talk by tenants who said Brooklyn was the ideal place to build their businesses.

“We like to be off the beaten path,” said Dave Vendley of Calexico, who used Craigslist to find a space in Red Hook for a commissary to do the cooking for his family’s taco carts. They wound up selling tacos like mad there, and went on to open full-size restaurants at other borough sites.

“Brooklyn is growing so fast,” he said. “Brooklyn gives you built-in clientele.”

It would be nearly impossible to find a space like Calexico’s Red Hook location in Manhattan, he added.

He and his brothers have done so well with the carts and restaurants that they’re looking into expanding in other cities, for instance Philadelphia.


Other speakers talked about the work that needs to be done to create commercial space that suits tenants seeking to join the nascent Tech Triangle in Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

There’s nearly zero vacancy in DUMBO and a list of 100 businesses waiting for space at the Navy Yard, said Tucker Reed, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership president. And a lot of conventional Downtown Brooklyn office space doesn’t feel like a fit for techies, who want accessibility to pets and bikes, and open-plan offices.

The Partnership plans to master-lease vacant upper floors of some Fulton Mall buildings and set them up as space for tech businesses, Reed told the audience.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is,” he said.

David Belt, founder of Macro Sea, talked up the 84,000-square-foot “New Lab” he’s building at the Navy Yard. Macro Sea is making $20 million in capital improvements to the space, where entrepreneurs will have room to launch hardware start-ups and do manufacturing.

“We live in a post-Kickstarter economy where people want to manufacture in small batches” of 1,000 to 10,000 pieces at a time, he said.       


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