“More than 130 buildings are under construction in a haven for artsy young people.”
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In the last decade, Williamsburg in Brooklyn has been a first stop for young people new to the city, just out of college. As they have grown up, the neighborhood has too, evolving from dive bars and movie rental joints to chic sushi restaurants and designer furniture emporiums.
Most of these Williamsburg devotees are now young professionals, often working in creative fields. They tend to be in their 20′s and 30′s and earning $60,000 to $150,000 a year, according to David Maundrell, president of Aptsandlofts.com, a real estate company in Williamsburg.
“It is a small town of late 20- to 30-somethings,” said Mr. Maundrell, who is 30 and grew up in East Williamsburg. “They recognize people on the train going to work in the morning. Saturday mornings you go to walk your dog and get your coffee at 8 in the morning and someone else has the same routine.”
In an area with little real estate to buy, these renters have been hungering for some equity of their own in a neighborhood that has become home, and not just a stopping-off point.
They are about to get their wish.
This little hamlet is going to get bigger. Like a whole town bigger. Imagine all the owner-occupied housing stock of a town like Princeton, N.J., moved to this part of Brooklyn. Twice.
More than 130 buildings are currently planned in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the neighboring area to the north. They are but a curtain raiser for the large-scale waterfront developments that are anticipated with the proposed rezoning along the East River that will transform 75 blocks from industrial to residential use. Last Monday, the plan was approved by the New York City Planning Commission and now makes the next and last stop in the City Council before an expected approval in May.
The buildings under construction now – some small, and tucked between low-slung neighbors, others rising above the rooftops with more than 200 apartments – are just the beginning of a transformation that will some day make the neighborhood look very little like Brooklyn, and more like parts of the far West Village, with sleek glass high-rise buildings and waterfront residences.
Elan Padeh, the president and chief executive of the Developers Group, a consulting and marketing firm with 30 projects currently planned in this area, estimates that in the next two years there will be 3,000 to 4,000 new units in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. “In the next four to five years,” he said, “10,000 to 12,000.”
For people who are not only priced out of Manhattan, but shut out of the brownstone neighborhoods of Brooklyn like Park Slope or Brooklyn Heights because of price creep, the idea of a deluge of new construction is seductive: it will sell for $500 to $700 a square foot, half the price of Manhattan, and the tax abatements of 15 to 25 years will lower monthly costs. With a 30-year fixed mortgage on a $399,000 two-bedroom apartment with a tax abatement, buyers will spend about $2,500 a month, about the same as they would spend on rent in the neighborhood.
But it isn’t just economics. It is also aesthetics.
“I like to design and build my space,” said Jennifer Chan, 30, an architect who recently signed a contract on a one-bedroom apartment with high ceilings and a mezzanine in the Union Lofts building on South Second Street, around the corner from where she has lived for four years. “It seemed like enough of a blank slate.”
She said she had looked in Queens and other areas of Brooklyn for something that she could renovate, but after weighing the money and time decided that “it seemed a lot more affordable to buy new construction.” And she wanted to stay in Williamsburg. “I’m very attached because my friends are there, the base of my social network,” she said.
Mr. Maundrell said he sees it all the time in his buyers. “These people don’t want to live in brownstone Brooklyn,” he said. “They are individuals or young couples. They aren’t going to have much in common with the 50-year-old couple in Brooklyn Heights. Park Slope is another world. They look in Dumbo a little. But Dumbo doesn’t have the sense of community.”
Other brokers agree. “Aesthetically, Park Slope is beautiful, but if you don’t want to live in a house from 1860 and don’t like gargoyles, it isn’t for you,” said Kara Kasper, an agent with the Corcoran Group who specializes in Williamsburg. “To people coming from the East Village, Williamsburg feels like home and Park Slope feels like the suburbs.”
But with so many developers breaking ground across the 11222 and 11211 ZIP codes and hiring architects with typically contemporary notions, will that community and cultural sensibility be maintained? Or will it run out in a wash of construction?
They are building from Broadway in South Williamsburg, where the smoky aroma from the Peter Luger Steak House wafts, to the far northern reaches of Greenpoint and deep into East Williamsburg, where leafy streets like Ten Eyck and Scholes Streets recall “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. With most of the vacant lots already built on, three-story vinyl-clad houses and two-story garages are being replaced by glass towers that mimic those sprouting in Manhattan.
Many developers are rushing to get foundations laid to take advantage of existing zoning. New height limitations will go into effect when the new zoning plan is approved. Others are simply trying to capitalize on the interest in the market.
The neighborhood has come a long way in the past five years. Developers were long dubious that anyone would do anything but rent in Williamsburg. Originally, the conversion of the Smith Gray Building at 138 Broadway in 2001 was conceived as rentals. Mr. Padeh, who was with the Corcoran Group at the time and worked on the project, said that when the owner decided to sell the units, the expected price was $375 a square foot. The building sold for an average of $455 a square foot. (A 1,997-square-foot, three-bedroom penthouse is now available for $1.55 million, or $776 a square foot.)
“Based off of that success, the Gretsch Building was developed,” Mr. Padeh said. “No one would have taken a shot if 138 Broadway would have flopped.”
The Gretsch Building, a 130-unit luxury building at 60 Broadway, was first offered for sale at the end of 2003 and sold for an average of $575 a square foot.
Many of the largest developments in Williamsburg have not been done in the neighborhood’s prime areas, which Mr. Padeh describes as the area immediately surrounding the L line subway station at North Seventh Street and Bedford Avenue, the streets on the perimeter of McCarren Park and, of course, the waterfront.
Those who do sell apartments in the prime areas will get a premium. One building, an eight-unit building at 171 North Seventh Street, about 20 steps from the subway, recently sold for $735 a square foot.
Not long ago, North and South Williamsburg were areas where people could find deals. Now, they are just another option. The best bargains are in East Williamsburg, where buildings in territory better known as “second stop” and “third stop” on the L are selling out in a matter of days.
During an open house last week in East Williamsburg at a new condo building called the Nola, young buyers traipsed out into the cold and cooed at the view as the skyline of Manhattan turned pink on its jagged edges.
By the end of his first weekend of showings at the Nola, Mr. Maundrell, whose firm is selling the apartments, had accepted offers for seven of the eight units ranging from $399,000 to $650,000. Mr. Maundrell keeps a list of interested buyers and holds open houses for people to have an advance look at property coming to market. Next week he will have an open house for those on the reserve list for an 11-unit building on Ten Eyck Street with views of Manhattan called Tower 78. His list is already 200 people long.
East Williamsburg became a viable place to sell, he said, when Manhattan went “through the roof.” And it helps, he said, that the new buildings have appealing design.
Robert M. Scarano Jr., an architect based in Dumbo whose 60-person firm is leading the way, is working on 100 buildings in East Williamsburg alone. With a following mainly gained through word of mouth and support from developers who have seen the firm’s work, Mr. Scarano does not have an exclusive broker for the properties but works with Corcoran, Prudential Douglas Elliman, the Developers Group and Aptsandlofts.com. “We’re like a Switzerland,” he said.
But the firm is really more like a young United Nations with architects, whose average age is 29, pulled from around the world. Thumbing through a two-inch-high pile of papers on a file shelf he said: “This? This year’s resumes.” Moving to the shelf below it with a similarly intimidating pile, “Last year’s resumes.”
It is no surprise. Mr. Scarano bestows an incredible amount of responsibility on his young staff, whom he wisely dispatches to design for people like themselves.
When Carmen Larach, a 25-year-old Honduras-born architect at the firm who lives in Greenpoint, finished designing 171 North Seventh Street with double heights and mezzanines, she knew exactly which unit she would love to live in. The top level, east side. “The developers said, ‘Let me make money on this one.’ Maybe next time I can have one,” she said.
In Mr. Scarano’s office, one wall is all but covered with renderings. The mode for Scarano projects in Williamsburg and Greenpoint is a layered contemporary exterior with glass curtain walls. The quality of the finishes varies, based on the building, but stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops are practically standard issue. Buyers also want high ceilings, lots of light and outdoor space, he said.
Mr. Scarano is excited about the future of the waterfront and anticipates building in the rezoned area. He credits the likely changes to Amanda Burden, the chairwoman of the City Planning Commission. She “is doing for Williamsburg what C. Virginia Fields did for Frederick Douglass Boulevard” in Harlem, he said.
Of course, with so much building, everyone involved is wary of saturation.
Karl Fischer, the architect who designed the conversion of the Gretsch Building, has two of the most ambitious current projects: four buildings on Bayard Street, which runs along one side of McCarren Park, and a waterfront complex, Schaefer Landing, a joint venture with Gene Kaufman, an architect. He expects that the market will be flooded within a year or two after the rezoning takes effect.
“It will actually be very good for the buyer,” Mr. Fischer said. “They will be able to shop around and have lots of product to choose from. Developers will have to try different things to compete.”
For all its emulation of that island across the river, this northern knob of Brooklyn will remain the anti-Manhattan in at least one sense: it’s a buyer’s market.
What’s Available in Williamsburg
By ANNA BAHNEY
Published: March 20, 2005 IN NYTIMES
MOST of the condos now available in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, are selling for $500 to $700 a square foot. In the prime areas like the waterfront, parts of North Seventh Street and around McCarren Park, prices are $800 to $1,000. Here are properties currently available and a small sampling of things to come:
SCHAEFER LANDING, 446 Kent Avenue
The former site of the Schaefer Brewery, on the waterfront, will have two buildings: a 14-story tower with 75 condo units and 140 rentals for those who meet the income limits, and a 24-story tower with 135 condos. Both sit behind a promenade along the river in South Williamsburg. The 14-story tower is 90 percent sold with two- and three-bedroom apartments with two baths available from $865,000 to $1.475 million; sales in the 24-story tower begin at the end of April. Helene Luchnick or Linda Rubin, Prudential Douglas Elliman (212) 965-6008; www.schaeferlanding.com or www.elliman.com.
THE CASA, 92 Conselyea Street
Of the 24 loftlike units in this corner building in East Williamsburg designed by Scarano & Associates Architects, only one, a 1,309-square-foot, ground-floor duplex for $688,000, is available. Aptsandlofts.com (718) 384-5304; www.thecasalofts.com.
THE NOLA, 31 Conselyea Street
One of the eight units in this East Williamsburg building is left, a one-bedroom ground-floor duplex for $550,000. Aptsandlofts.com, www.thenola.com.
252-258 RICHARDSON STREET
Five of 12 units in this traditional-looking masonry building in East Williamsburg are available. Four two-bedroom apartments are on the ground floor with patios; a three-bedroom is on the third floor, and has a terrace. Prices range from $675,000 to $699,000. The Developers Group (718) 222-1545;
WITHERS PLACE, 246 Withers Street
Six two-bedroom, two-bath condos in this 25-unit building in East Williamsburg, designed by Karl Fischer Architect, are available, ranging from a 1,021-square-foot apartment for $590,000 to a 2,324-square-foot ground-floor duplex for $925,000. Helene Luchnick and Patrice Mack (212) 965-6031, Douglas Elliman.
THE STAGG, 63-69 Stagg Street/52 Ten Eyck Street
Seven one-bedroom apartments, five of them duplexes, are available in this building in East Williamsburg designed by Scarano & Associates Architects. Most have two bathrooms and outdoor space and range from $595,000 to $715,000. The Developers Group.
BROADWAY RIVERVIEW, 20 Broadway
In South Williamsburg, five out of 14 units in this converted four-story former hotel are available, ranging from $539,000 for a one-bedroom to $1.225 million for a 1,243-square-foot penthouse with a 900-square-foot terrace. Aptsandlofts.com.
THE GRETSCH BUILDING, 60 Broadway
There are six units left in this loft conversion in South Williamsburg, all with two bedrooms and two bathrooms ranging from $795,000 to $1.025 million. The Corcoran Group, (718) 388-0537, www.corcoran.com.
Coming This Spring and Summer
LUXE226, 226 Richardson Street
A 6-story, 10-unit building designed by Gene Kaufman with an elevator opening directly into the units. The Developers Group.
TOWER 78, 78 Ten Eyck Street
An 11-unit building designed by Scarano & Associates Architects with two duplex apartments, six mezzanine lofts and three penthouse tri-level lofts, priced from $425,000 to $750,000. Aptsandlofts.com.
THE AURORA, 30 Bayard; THE IKON, 50 Bayard
The 58-unit Ikon is a warehouse building converted to lofts, with four additional glass enclosed floors and the Aurora is a 51-unit, 12-story building next to it. Both are in North Williamsburg opposite McCarren Park. The Developers Group.
55 BERRY STREET
A 35-unit loft conversion in North Williamsburg designed by Karl Fischer with one- and two-bedroom apartments on the corner of Berry and North 11th Street, ranging from $710,000 to $1.39 million. Helene Luchnick, Douglas Elliman.