By Mark Fahey
Developers announced plans for the last two of three public development parcels near the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in Fort Greene in October, promising to bring more than 700 new housing units and almost 14,000 square feet of new retail and restaurant space to Fort Greene.
The new buildings, part of the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District, will sit on the northern and southern ends of the plots bordered by Fulton Street, Ashland Place, Lafayette Avenue and Rockwell Place. The plans have drawn generally positive reactions from community stakeholders, despite some skepticism about the district’s overall development plan – set into motion by zoning changes in 2004.
“This has been for a long time a surface parking lot with, for many years, a liquor store on the corner – there is a break in the retail corridor with not a lot of people walking around,” said District Manger Robert Perris. “These new buildings will activate a section of Fulton Street that doesn’t have a lot going on after 6 p.m. It will connect the Fulton Street of Fort Green and Clinton Hill to the Fulton Street of Downtown Brooklyn.”
The 52-story building at the northern site, to be developed by Gotham Organization on what is currently a BAM parking lot, will include 586 new rental units, with 281 affordable units: 117 at 60 percent of the area median income (AMI); 82 at 135 percent AMI; and 82 at 165 percent AMI, according to a plan presented by developers and architects at the Community Board 2 general meeting earlier this month.
The second building, to be developed by Jonathan Rose Companies, will include 109 residential units: 20 percent at 80 percent AMI and another 20 percent at 130 percent AMI (a maximum income range of approximately $48,100 to $78,260 for a single resident), according to a company announcement earlier this month. The first two floors will house a restaurant and science and art programs.
The Gotham development will also include 8,000 square feet of cultural space on the second floor and 10,800 square feet of retail space along Fulton Street. Construction of the 52-story building is scheduled to begin this winter and to be complete by 2017.
At the Community Board meeting, Melissa Pianko, executive vice president for development for Gotham Org., told community board members that the company would aggressively seek out new retail tenants for the building base, which will be built to accommodate either one large tenant or several smaller stores.
Local business owners said that although the new retail space that will be included in the Fulton Street building may drive up lease prices, the additional foot traffic and new businesses may be a boon for existing businesses.
“It’s good that they’re bringing more people to the area,” said Randolph Nicholas, who helps his daughter, Monique Nicholas, run a Reggae fashion store Nicholas Brooklyn on Fulton Street a few store fronts down from the new development. “We welcome the development and businesses that want to come to the area.”
Nicholas said he was disappointed by the negligible impact the Barclays Center had on the shop, which has been at the location since 1999, and hopes that the Fulton developments will do more for the store’s bottom line.
“We hope to get some revenue from the new tenants,” he said. “We’ve been here since it was a parking lot. We hope to get a percentage – we just want a little bit, that’s it.”
The development plan for downtown Brooklyn has not always brought improvements for all parts of the community, said Lucas Shapiro, senior organizer for Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), a grassroots community organization serving low-income families.
“What we’ve seen since the 2004 rezoning was passed was an explosion of luxury-dominated development, with very little public benefit in return for the public creating wealth for the property owners,” Shapiro said. “It made their portfolios vastly more valuable but did not mandate any benefit in return as far as affordable housing, local jobs or support for small local business.”
Shapiro said that the trend along the Fulton corridor is to replace small local start-up businesses with larger chain stores. He said that although not all small businesses should be romanticized –they can have the same problems with unfair pay as other businesses, he said — they tend to sustain community ties better than chain stores. The organization has not yet taken a stance on the Fulton development and will wait for input from its members, said Shapiro.
The Fulton Area Business Alliance and Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce declined to comment about whether the new developments would have an impact on existing businesses in the area. Representatives of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership did not respond to calls for comment before deadline.
Deborah Howard, executive director of the Pratt Area Community Council, said that development trend that is reforming the BAM area will likely continue through the rezoned area from the western side of Fulton Street to Dekalb, forcing out some of the small businesses in that area. A bigger concern, she said, is the rapid expansion in residential space without matching expansions in area services.
“The cultural district will add a context … it at least creates a community,” she said. “I think after you do a rezoning such as this, there needs to be a lot more thought put into the actual support services. You’re going to have thousands of new residents, but do you have new police, fire, schools, and hospitals?”
Those problems may become more apparent as new residential tower tenants start to flood into the area as the area’s many development projects are completed over the next five or 10 years, said Howard.
But for now, Carol Blanco, 35, said that the developments have brought mostly improvements for long-time residents. Blanco has lived in Fort Greene her entire life and has been working at Universe One Stop Smoke Shop near the Fulton Mall since it opened about a year ago.
“I’ve seen new businesses and new faces around,” she said. “I’m hoping our kids’ future can look a bit brighter with these developments.”