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Waiting game: Fort Greene development decades in the making

Cats cradle: A rendering of 81 Fleet Pl., the second piece of John Catsimatidis’ four-building complex in Fort Greene.
Dattner Architects

A real estate tycoon and mayoral also-ran’s vision for a Fort Greene block is finally coming together — more than 30 years after he bought the property.

Billionaire and former Republican candidate for mayor John Catsimatidis bought up nearly a block of land along Myrtle Avenue between Ashland and Fleet places back in the early 1980s and sat on it for decades, waiting for the right moment to get his project going. Now, with the first tower of a four-building compound built, the second under construction, and the remaining two on the horizon, is that time, he said. The bigwig who was a proponent of aggressive policing during his colorful 2013 campaign joked that he packed illegal weaponry while visiting the neighborhood back when Myrtle was nicknamed Murder Avenue.

“I bought the properties when you had to come here with two guns,” Catsimatidis said during a press conference inside the under-construction building. “Just in case one of the guns runs out of bullets.”

The fat cat said his purchase of the block for less than $1 million and his subsequent decades of sitting on it were all part of the strategy of his company Red Apple Group.

“We are buyers and holders,” he said. “We invest in neighborhoods. We believe in our city.”

The 2004 rezoning of Downtown opened the door for Catsimatidis to build skyscrapers on the site. The plan he settled on included four residential towers with ground-floor retail. Building would have started soon thereafter, but the Great Recession threw a wrench in the works, he said.

“If the world didn’t fall apart in 2007, these all would have been done years ago,” Catsimatidis said.

Instead of abandoning the project, Red Apple decided to do it piecemeal, one edifice at a time.

The first is the Andrea, a nine-story building on Ashland Place named after his daughter. It contains 95 market-rate rental units, a Red Apple supermarket, and a CVS pharmacy. It opened in 2010.

Catsimatidis hopes to have the second building finished by the end of the year. The 15-story apartment tower includes 205 rental apartments, all of them market rate, with more ground-floor retail. Catsimatidis said he wanted to name this one after his son John, Jr, but that practical considerations made him think twice.

“We could call it ‘The John,’ but nobody wants to live in ‘The John,’ ” he said. “We’re going to call it ‘Giovanni,’ ” using the Italian variation of his son’s given name.

A third building will be about the same size as The Giovanni, but will include about 40 so-called “affordable” units. The company hopes to break ground on that one later this year.

The final piece of the project is the largest — about twice as big as the one currently under construction. Details are not pinned down yet, but construction is slated to start in 2015.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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