Crown Heights

Crown Heights merchants are divided on proposed Spice Factory towers

May 9, 2019 Lore Croghan
Here's the developers' vision for the Spice Factory project. Rendering via the City Planning Department

As the city considers a proposal to build a two-story mega-project on the site of the old Spice Factory, Crown Heights business owners are examining how the project might affect their own day-to-day operations.

The proposal for 960 Franklin Ave. would see the construction of two new towers, each 39 stories tall, with a total of 1,578 apartments. Half would be affordable units. The city has not yet granted the zoning changes that developers Continuum Co. and Lincoln Equities have requested.

Many activists and neighborhood residents oppose the project — so do numerous Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s executives and staffers. Many union members support it.

Other developments are planned on the next block, which would swell the neighborhood’s number of new residents even further.

The folks toiling in nearby shops and cafes should be thrilled because they’ll gain customers thanks to the thousands of people who will be moving in. Right?

In fact, shop owners’ and workers’ responses to the proposed project are far more nuanced.

Levels Barbershop on Nostrand Avenue

Donald Ramel is pleased to hear a 1.37 million-square-foot development could be headed to Crown Heights South. So many new apartments. So much potential to grow Levels Barbershop’s customer base.

Donald Ramel, seen here cutting hair, hopes the proposed Spice Factory development brings Levels Barbershop new customers. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Donald Ramel, seen here cutting hair, hopes the proposed Spice Factory development brings Levels Barbershop new customers. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“There’d be more business,” said Ramel, a barber at the Nostrand Avenue haircutting haven. “I’m all about business.

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“The more money I make, the happier the boss is,” he said.

“I might try to get an apartment there if it’s affordable,” Ramel said of the proposed Spice Factory apartment complex.

Its affordable units would be for tenants of four different income levels. The lowest of those levels includes individuals who earn up to $36,550 annually.

In the highest of the four income levels, a family of four could earn as much as $125,160 annually.

Half the Spice Factory units would be market-rate, meaning the developers are free to set the rents at whatever levels they think they’ll be able to get tenants.

Tony’s Market on Nostrand Avenue

Sara Brock has objections to the planned Spice Factory towers.

“I think the developer should make the apartments more affordable,” the worker at Tony’s Market said.

ara Brock, who works at Tony’s Market, thinks apartments planned for the Spice Factory site need to be more deeply affordable. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Sara Brock, who works at Tony’s Market, thinks apartments planned for the Spice Factory site need to be more deeply affordable. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“People are not rich around here,” Brock said. “They’ve got good jobs, but not good enough.”

Folks come into the Nostrand Avenue grocery store and talk for hours about not making enough money.

Also, Brock said, she’s worried about the impact that shadows cast by the proposed Spice Factory towers would have on Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Numerous experts from the famous garden testified at a Department of City Planning meeting in March that the skyscrapers would cast harmful shadows for up to four hours per day on parts of the 52-acre grounds and its greenhouses and nurseries.

The Spice Factory site stands about 150 feet from Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea at all,” Brock said of the plan to build two 39-story towers.

“It’s going to cause a mess,” she said. “They can put up a building there — just not that tall.”

Anna Cleaners on Nostrand Avenue

“Anything has pros and cons,” said Ray La, who works at Anna Cleaners.

v=This is Anna Cleaners on Nostrand Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
This is Anna Cleaners on Nostrand Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

The proposed high-rise Spice Factory development’s upside would be that “it would attract more people to the neighborhood. There will be more foot traffic,” he said. “It’s going to bring us more customers.”

The development’s downside would be that “people who live here already will suffer because it will drive up their rents,” said La, whose mother owns the Nostrand Avenue dry-cleaning business.

Also, landlords might raise storefront rents, which are already rising, he said. A beauty supply shop nearby had to close because the property owner raised the rent.

Webb’s Closet on Carroll Street

Kevin Webb thinks the proposed Spice Factory towers wouldn’t cause a surge in foot traffic past his clothing boutique. Webb’s Closet is on Carroll Street near the corner of Nostrand Avenue.

 Kevin Webb plans to put business cards for Webb’s Closet into mailboxes at the Spice Factory development. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Kevin Webb plans to put business cards for Webb’s Closet into mailboxes at the Spice Factory development. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“That Franklin Avenue crowd won’t walk over here,” the shop owner predicted.

If those high rises get built, Webb will take steps to win over some of their residents as customers.

“I’ll put business cards in the mailboxes. I’ll put up flyers, if they’ll let me,” he said.

When told that the developers have already paid for part of the Spice Factory site, Webb said, “I know one thing. The people who sold that building feel amazing.”

Continuum Co. and Lincoln Equities paid an entity whose president is Zev Golombeck $33 million for part of the property, city Finance Department records indicate. And the developers have signed a contract to buy the rest of the property for a price that’s not specified in the public record.

Morris J. Golombeck Inc., a company that imports spices, has been located at 960 Franklin Ave. since 1955. The brick complex, which is still standing at this moment, was constructed a century ago as a brewery and beer garden called Consumers Park Brewing Co.

Eleven36 on President Street

Having a pair of luxury high-rise towers as neighbors might not be good for the vibe at “cozy” cafe Eleven36, Luke Fater said.

Luke Fater of Eleven36 wonders if well-heeled tenants at the Spice Factory development will change the cafe’s vibe. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Luke Fater of Eleven36 wonders if well-heeled tenants at the Spice Factory development will change the cafe’s environment. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“We do well now,” said the line cook at the President Street cafe, which is open for breakfast and lunch. “It’s not a hustle-bustle place.”

Residents of the Spice Factory towers might walk past Eleven36 on their way to the 2 train’s President Street station for their morning commutes.

One concern is if new customers from the development are “Fi-Di Wall Street types” who rush in and pick up morning to-go coffee, “it could change our relationship with our customers,” Fater said.

Koala Cafe on Franklin Avenue

Joseph Dave feels pessimistic about a revenue uptick for Koala Cafe from well-heeled people moving into the proposed Spice Factory development’s market-rate apartments.

Joseph Dave is pessimistic about the prospect of the Spice Factory project bringing new customers to the Koala Cafe. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Joseph Dave is pessimistic about the prospect of the Spice Factory project bringing new customers to the Koala Cafe. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“They’re not going to come out and visit the small businesses,” the Franklin Avenue cafe’s barista predicted.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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