Developers eyeing D’town parcels for skyscrapers

The Brooklyn Paper
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With a major rezoning plan for Downtown Brooklyn just weeks old developers are wasting no time in assembling parcels upon which to build office and residential skyscrapers.

Designed as a major push to retain back-office space in New York City, and keep corporations from fleeing to New Jersey, the Downtown Brooklyn Plan is expected to encourage at least 6.7 million square feet of office development in addition to 1 million square feet of retail space and residential development.

The proposal passed early last month and property owners in the 60-block area are now plowing ahead, either selling off plots of land or planning for their development.

A sign advertising class-A office space has been hanging on the above-ground parking lot along Flatbush Avenue Extension and Willoughby Square for months.

Joseph Sitt, who owns both that lot and the adjoining Gallery at Fulton Mall, formerly known as Albee Square Mall, which he recently spent millions renovating, plans to build a 1.2 million-square-foot office tower in place of the garage.

While under the old zoning, Sitt would have had to go through the city’s lengthy land use review process, which includes a series of public hearings, the Downtown Plan eliminates the need for such review, paving the way for development.

There is “considerable interest” in the planned skyscraper, said Lee Silberstein, a spokesman for Sitt, who added that designs for the site were still being hashed out.

That new tower would be just one of three planners expect to flank a 1.5-acre open space to be known as Willoughby Square.

The park will be created by the seizure of private property through the state’s power of eminent domain. As part of the total Downtown Plan approximately 100 residential units and 130 businesses are slated for demolition.

On the western edge of that park, a Queens-based hotel developer recently purchased a range of buildings from 216 through 228 Duffield St. including a parking lot and a popular fish and chips lunch spot, according to Timothy King, a managing partner for the Brooklyn and Staten Island operations of Massey Knakal Realty, which handled the sale.

Just down the street, a Manhattan-based developer bought a six-story building at 55 Flatbush Ave. for $2.2 million.

Because of the rezoning, the property can now be doubled in size, according to King.

“It’s been dramatic,” King said of the recent interest in Downtown Brooklyn. “There’s the old truism that a rising tide lifts all boats — there has been an across-the-board increase in value.”

Over on Myrtle Avenue, grocery store magnate John Catsimatides, chairman and CEO of Red Apple Group and owner of the Gristede’s grocery chain, is going ahead with plans to build both a residential building and an office tower.

While he tapped fellow developer Donald Capoccia to head the project, the deal is still being worked out. Catsimatides owns many of the properties on the south side of Myrtle Avenue between Ashland Place and Flatbush Avenue.

Councilwoman Letitia James, whose district includes the Fort Greene sections of the plan, originally asked for a 250-foot height limit for developments along Flatbush Avenue but comprised on 400 feet.

“I was told that most buildings would not go higher than 30 or 35 stories,” she said.

A developer by the name of Bruce Kaplan plans to build a 200-foot residential building across Myrtle Avenue stretching to Johnson Street between Gold and Prince streets.

That site is not listed as one of the projected development sites in the Downtown Plan.

Kaplan is scheduled to present his plans at the monthly Community Board 2 meeting in October. Some residents who have gotten wind of the project have already started complaining about the height and size, according to James.

But real estate brokers and city officials say they are pleased, overall, with the increased activity downtown.

“This neighborhood has location, location, location, and now the rezoning has made it more fertile ground for investment,” said Rachaele Raynoff, a spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning.

The city has pledged to spend $100 million in infrastructure costs over the next 10 years.

The initial steps of the plan will include revamping Flatbush Avenue into a “gateway” to Brooklyn.

If all goes smoothly, reconstruction of Flatbush Avenue Extension could begin in a year, City Planning Director Amanda Burden told The Brooklyn Papers last month.

“It will have a center median with trees on both sides — it will be a connector and not a divider and give a signal that Downtown Brooklyn is really reborn,” she said.

Critics have called the $100 million “chicken feed” and say much more is needed for traffic mitigation alone.

Despite the plan’s approval, before it goes forward, the City Council’s landmarks subcommittee has agreed to hold a special public hearing on the potential connection between homes along Duffield Street — one of the primary development sites in the plan — and the Underground Railroad.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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