Municipal mall! City sells two floors of D’town building for shops

Downtown planners are calling on the city to add ground-floor retail (above) to the “dead space” in the Municipal Building (top).
The Brooklyn Paper / Zachary Kolodin

A Manhattan developer has plunked down $10 million to buy the first two floors of the Municipal Building, saying he’ll transform it from a lifeless office into a retail hub — and bring in an upscale restaurant.

City officials announced on Monday that they had selected Al Laboz — who is also bringing H&M to the Fulton Mall next year — to develop the property on Joralemon Street where people ordinarily get marriage licenses or pay parking tickets.

The $10-million purchase price is about half of what experts said the property was worth — and it dashes hopes that Brooklyn would attract its first Apple store to one of its busiest corners.

But city officials — including Mayor Bloomberg — weren’t complaining at the big announcement on Monday.

“Even though we weren’t able to attract Steve Jobs here, thanks to Al we’re getting something better — actual jobs,” said Borough President Markowitz — who pitched the location to Steve Jobs last year . He sai the project would create 114 permanent and 64 temporary construction jobs.

Apple did not even bid on the site, Markowitz said.

Laboz says he will bring in multiple chain stores, including a housewares depot and a locally owned full-service restaurant.

“We have no doubt we will bring unique vibrant retail to this incredible location,” Laboz said. “The building will sell itself.”

The quest to fill the dour government building near Court Street with retail began in 2007, when the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership released renderings of how the “dead space” could actually raise revenues for the city.

The Municipal Building’s privatization is part of the city’s effort to consolidate money-sucking city offices and make room for tax-paying shopping centers — which officials say will save up to $36 million a year.

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership said last year that the two-floors could gross up to $20 million — double what Laboz will pay. City officials would not comment on the shortfall.

Laboz’s selection to revive a key Downtown building is no surprise, given that he’s chairman of the Fulton Street Mall Association and is an executive of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

Laboz said he would pay cash for the first, second and basement floors facing Court Street. Before he can develop the building, which was erected in 1925, he will go through a public review process with the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The Finance Department, which currently occupies the space, will consolidate and move to other floors in the 13-story building before construction starts in 2012.

Laboz’s firm, United American Land, has developed luxury lofts and high-end retail space for Puma and Dolce & Gabbana. The group also owns the landmark Conway building at 505 Fulton St., where a glassy H&M is under construction for a 2012 opening.

In winning the site, Laboz bested four other developers running the gamut of the retail world. One vanquished bidder was Jack’s World, which operates a popular chain of 99-cent stores, while another was Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, which owns the Madison Avenue property that houses Barney’s New York. Somewhere in the middle was a bid from Triangle Equities Development Company, which owns a Flatlands retail complex anchored by a Target. And the hometown favorite may have been the Bright City Group, which owns the Union Market chain of Brooklyn-based supermarkets.

The secretive Laboz is little known outside his circle, but did make headlines in 2007 after he evicted small business owners on Willoughby Street to make room for his 30-story retail and residential space between Bridge and Duffield streets.

More than three years later, the buildings remain empty.

…And how it might look once it becomes a mini-mall.

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