Boom! Downtown population is exploding faster than the Sun Belt

Boom! Downtown population is exploding faster than the Sun Belt
Community Newspaper Group / Laura Gottesdiener

Take this, Sun Belt — our Downtown may be the fastest-growing community in the country.

Twelve thousand people now live in Downtown, up from a mere 400 residents in 2000. That’s a 2,900-percent increase during the same time when the population of the city overall grew about five percent.

“Downtown Brooklyn is becoming a 24/7 residential community,” said Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

Final 2010 census data isn’t available yet, but these numbers put Downtown in the running for the greatest population increase in the nation.

The state of Nevada, for example, grew 35 percent overall, but no single community in the Silver State grew more than 639 percent, a distant echo of Downtown’s population explosion.

“Decade to decade, we’re the fastest growing state in the country,” said Jeff Hardcastle, Nevada’s state demographer. “But, I guess you guys beat us.”

We did it with zoning. The Downtown population in the area bordered by Tillary, Schermerhorn and Court street and Flatbush Avenue Extension is a new Phoenix thanks to a 2005 rezoning that encouraged residential development — and the high-rises quickly arrived.

Now, rental buildings such as the Avalon Fort Greene and the Brooklyner, plus condos including the Toren, Oro and the BE@Schermerhorn, are almost entirely filled.

“It’s a huge change,” said Mike Weiss, executive director of the Metrotech Business Improvement District. “There’s been an explosive increase of residents, much of it as a result of the building.”

Buildings like the Toren (above) and the Oro have helped create a Downtown population boom.
Michael Weinstein

With people beget business, and Downtown has seen an influx of national retailers, including Aeropostale and Filene’s Basement, with Shake Shack and other chain food centers on the way. The new Planet Fitness gym on Duffield between Fulton and Lawrence streets that opened last January is already one of the chain’s busiest branch, with nearly 2,000 aspiring athletes cycling through each day.

As a result, Downtown added 7,600 jobs in 2010 alone, although the majority are low paying.

And the growth isn’t over; the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership predicts another 2,500 people will move into the area over the next two years.

Some long-time residents — yes, there are some — don’t love the changes.

“It was really quiet out here, really serene,” said Willy Rodriguez, 38, who has lived Downtown for 17 years. “Now it’s not as comfortable.”

Rodriguez moved into the Robert Livingston Building on Livingston Street between Court Street and Boerum Place when he was 21, paying $20,000 for a 450-square-foot apartment, a unit now worth 10 times that.

But other old-time Downtowners think the neighborhood is as close-knit as ever.

“For me, it’s still like a small town,” said Fred Simpson, 79, who has lived Downtown since 1966. “A lot of mom and pop shops are no longer here. But there are still people that will holler at you when you walk by their store. It’s still home.”

Evan Joseph Uhlfelder