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Category ArchiveTimothy King

Two Trees Has Shrugged Off the Retail Apocalypse, Landing High-Profile Retail Tenants

Signs of retail’s continued demise are everywhere you look, from the recent death of Toys “R” Us to an almost weekly march of articles explaining why they and other stores can’t survive the current landscape.

But don’t try telling Jed Walentas, the CEO of Two Trees Management Company, that retail is dead. He’ll likely be too busy celebrating his recent retail triumph to notice.

Throughout its developments in high-end Brooklyn neighborhoods Williamsburg, Fort Greene and Dumbo, Two Trees has had great success in attracting both America’s hottest major retailers and proprietors of smartly curated one-off spaces to its properties.   

Retailers either open now or coming soon to Two Trees properties include monoliths like Apple and Whole Foods, both of which recently opened at the company’s 300 Ashland Place development in Fort Greene; smaller, more bespoke retailers are also appearing such as Sky Ting Yoga (open now), and a new, as-yet-unnamed restaurant from Lilia Chef Missy Robbins, which is scheduled to open this summer at the Domino Sugar Factory development at 325 Kent Avenue in South Williamsburg; and in Dumbo, the children’s activity space The Little Gym (coming soon).

At a time when so much retail seems on life support, how has Two Trees continued to draw such desirable retailers to its properties?

“We’ve always tried to put ourselves in the retailers’ situation, and understand that an arrangement is only good if it’s good for both parties,” Walentas said. “Having a lease with some huge number with somebody that can’t make it and they go out of business a couple years later, that’s not really what you’re trying to accomplish. You want to put retailers where you think they can be successful.

Two Trees’ retail philosophy has changed little since the company began developing Dumbo back in the 1970s, when you probably saw more rats on the streets than people. Walentas used the example of Jacques Torres Chocolate, which opened its first retail shop in Dumbo, at 66 Water Street, in 2000 as an example of his thinking.

“With Jacques Torres, my first conversation with him was a fight where he just wanted to do manufacturing,” Walentas said. “I forced him to do a little retail counter as part of the lease, and he was like, ‘No one’s ever going to come here.’ ”

But Walentas and Two Trees understood that developing a residential and destination neighborhood required an enticing retail environment, and considered that essential if Dumbo was ever to be more than just an industrial area.

“We really used retail as a place-making experience,” he said. “We had 3 million square feet of space. We recognized that if you walked around the neighborhood, you had no idea what was happening on the sixth floor or the 12th. Your retailers are your public face. So 20 years ago, we recognized that there was no traffic there, and we gave away a lot of free rent. We knew that the stores were in a position where they couldn’t spend any money on capital.”

Of course, different types of retail call for different approaches. Securing the deal for the Fort Greene Apple store, for example, was a lengthy endeavor, and Walentas admits he didn’t have much leverage doing the deal for the store, which opened this past December.

“That deal took seven years. It took a couple of years just to make contact with them and get them interested,” he said.

“When you get Apple interested in real estate, the reality is, they’re Apple,” Walentas said. “I wasn’t running that negotiation. That wasn’t the world’s most pleasant thing, but I wasn’t the one with the leverage in that situation. I knew I had the best real estate and I really wanted them to be there, but when Apple’s like, ‘this is how much rent we’re going to pay,’ that’s kind of how it goes. We have 350 apartments above it that I’ve got to rent every year in perpetuity. You’ve got to be an idiot to throw away a deal with Apple over a couple hundred thousand dollars. They add a lot of value to everything you’re doing and they know it.”

Christopher DeCrosta, the founder of the boutique tenant and landlord rep brokerage house Good Space, represented Apple in the deal, and makes the location sound like an easy decision for a prestigious tenant like Apple.

“Jed has shared plans with me for what he wanted to do here, and how special this site was, since 2005,” DeCrosta said. “You don’t need to be a genius to know how special it is. It’s in the middle of everything. He talked about how important the site was to Two Trees. When you have a landlord who shows that type of care and concern for a property, that matches well with having an uber-quality tenant in there.”

twotrees2 Two Trees Has Shrugged Off the Retail Apocalypse, Landing High Profile Retail Tenants
TWO TREES GROWS IN BROOKLYN: 325 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg will include Sky Ting Yoga (above); but Jed Walentas (below right) and his family have been building up Brooklyn for decades, including some of the most expensive condos in the city, like One Main Street (far left). Photos: Dan McMahon; Francesco Sapienza/for Commercial Observer; CoStar Group

For the more specialized (and smaller) retailers, Walentas said Two Trees makes an effort to identify properties that stand out as specifically appropriate for their environments.

“We look for things that have a uniqueness and a level of interest. We definitely discriminate against chain operators. We like to have individual partners or people that are doing interesting things,” he said.

One example of this, Sky Ting Yoga, which opened in February at the Domino property at 325 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, sprung from a relationship many at Two Trees, including Walentas, had with two women who taught them yoga.

Krissy Jones and Chloe Kernaghan ran yoga studios in Chinatown and Tribeca, and were facing many requests from their students for a Williamsburg location, especially given the impending shutdown of the L train, which will make it difficult for many Brooklyn customers to reach Sky Ting’s Manhattan locations. The pair said that thanks to Two Trees, the decision was a no-brainer.

“We’ve always done our own build-outs and had to file our own permitting and deal with our leases and all that ourselves. Two Trees presented this offer to us where it they made it quite easy,” Jones said. “They were in charge of the buildout, and basically handed our studio to us as we wanted it designed. Also, because the building has so many residents, we already have a community of people living basically at our studio.”

Two Trees’ thoughtful approach to retail has played a significant role not only in their success, but in the success of Dumbo overall.

“The Walentas family has a long history, going back to when they were pioneers in Dumbo, of being very selective in curating their tenant mix,” said Timothy King, the managing partner at CPEX Real Estate. “They don’t just grab the first tenant that comes along. They have the staying power to get the tenant they want, that they think makes the right mix for whatever project they’re working on. Then, retailers want to know that they have a quality, qualified, financially stable landlord they can rely on to deliver the product that was promised, and who will be there in good times and bad to take care of the property.”

And given that Two Trees is seeking the sort of singular retailers who don’t have the resources of a chain, they go into the deal prepared to help.

“The conversation [we have with potential retailers] is often, what do you need from us to be successful,” Walentas said. “We help them with the capital buildout of the stores and give them some free rent to get them off their feet a little bit.”

Walentas will even do a percentage deal with certain retailers, although he acknowledges that shrewd retailers steer clear of that.

“For almost anyone who will let us, we’re happy to do a percentage deal. [After all], it is our job to some degree to build up the traffic base,” he said.

“Some people are too smart for that. We went after Sweetgreen [at 50 Washington Street between Water and Front Streets] specifically because we thought there was a shortage of lunch places for our commercial workforce in Dumbo,” Walentas said. “I kept telling them, ‘You’re going to kill it here. I’ll do a free rent deal with you. I’ll do a percentage rent deal with you.’ I eventually got them to Dumbo, but they were too smart to do a percentage rent deal, and now the line is out the door every day at lunch. But that’s okay. We’re thrilled for them.”

Asked about the retail approach of Brooklyn competitors like Empire Stores or Industry City, Walentas is nothing but complimentary, although he notes differences in how Two Trees might have handled one of the properties.

“I think the world of [Industry City CEO] Andrew Kimball and the folks at Industry City,” Walentas said. “I think the place-making work they’ve done is extraordinary. I’ve become a little friendly with the Empire Stores guys, too. They’ve got a slightly different philosophy than we do. They did way more food there than we would have done. At first I was super skeptical, but I think it’s working great. They executed that totally differently than I would have, and I think it’s awesome. The great thing about cities is that you get a lot of smart people doing lots of different things, and it can all work. There’s not just one set of good ideas out there.”

So while forecasters cast doom and gloom on the retail environment, Walentas will continue taking his company’s good ideas, combined with their not-inconsiderable resources, and create the sort of satisfying retail mix that Brooklyn’s higher-end areas are becoming known for.

“Has retail changed forever? Yes. Are people going to do more and more shopping online to some degree? Yes. But is there still a place for great urban retail and real proprietors, and do people crave that experience? Yes. I think they do,” Walentas said. “There’s a reason cities exist and prosper. It’s because people really like personal interaction with other people. So yes, if you’re just buying paper towels, you don’t need to walk down the street. You can have Amazon deliver them. But there are certain things [for which] human interaction is never going to be replaced.”

Source: commercial

Dollar Stores Likely to Benefit Big From Toys ‘R’ Us Closures

Dollar stores could “benefit” from Toys “R” Us closures, according to a new research survey by Coresight Research, formerly Fung Global Retail & Technology.

With the New Jersey chain shutting down, Amazon, Walmart and Target are the big retail giants who will be duking it out for the $7 billion in annual toy sales that are up for grabs, as per the Coresight data. But, the survey concludes, “dollar stores…could also benefit from Toys ‘R’ Us closures.”

Looking at where shoppers have browsed and bought children’s toys and games in the past 12 months, excluding Toys “R” Us (which placed fourth in the rankings), Coresight found that Amazon led the pack (63.8 percent browsed and 53.7 percent bought) followed by Walmart (54.7 percent browsed and 45.5 percent bought) and then Target (50.4 percent browsed and 38.6 bought). Dollar stores came in fourth (25.3 browsed and 21.4 bought).

“On a percentage basis, they may see the biggest boost to their sales [of all toy sellers],” said Timothy King, the managing partner of CPEX Real Estate.

Toys “R” Us announced this month that it is closing its 800-plus U.S. Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us stores, six months after filing for bankruptcy protection. When surveying Toys “R” Us shoppers to find out where else they browsed for toys and games in the past year, Coresight, which provides future-focused analysis to organizations at the intersection of retail, technology and fashion, found Walmart and Amazon tied at 65.4 percent and Target was close behind at 63.6 percent. Dollar stores ranked fourth at 29.8 percent.

“For most consumers, low price and convenience are paramount features,” King said. “Dollar stores offer both low prices and ease of shopping. Smaller stores in more locations make them easy to get to and easy to shop at. A trip to Costco is time consuming and tiring—at least for me. Targets are large stores as well. A dollar store is like the 7-Eleven of retail—convenient locations and easy in and out.”

Retail consultant Kate Newlin said of dollar stores: They are “okay and cheap. They have a good enough selection and the prices are low. I believe some great portion of the stock is close-out and remainders, but for some kid you don’t know’s fifth birthday a bright and shiny something is the price of admission to the party.”

One retail broker, Eastern Consolidated‘s Robin Abrams said that while her mother loves to buy her great-grandchildren toys at the local dollar store, and dollar stores “will get a share of the business,” she can’t “imagine [it] will have a huge impact unless they greatly broaden their product offering to embrace some higher price points.”

Source: commercial

FiDi Gristedes to Bite the Dust

Red Apple Group’s John Catsimatidis is looking to close his Gristedes in the Financial District, Commercial Observer has learned.

The 5,500-square-foot store (with 360 square feet below grade for storage) at 90 Maiden Lane near Pearl Street is available for a 10-year sublease, CPEX Real Estate marketing materials indicate. Catsimatidis said that Gristedes supermarket has been open for 30 or 40 years, but now it’s “a little too small for us.” A partnership led by Normandy Real Estate Partners owns the building. The asking rent is $165 per square foot, according to a spokesman for CPEX.

“After [Superstorm] Sandy [in October 2012], we lost power for a week,” Catsimatidis said. “We never really made a comeback.”

The supermarket magnate is also looking to lease the 7,793-square foot space occupied by a Gristedes (plus 1,870 square feet of storage space on the lower level), at 71 South End Avenue at West Thames Street in Battery Park City, as The Real Deal previously reported. The asking rent is $70 per square foot, the CPEX spokesman told CO. Catsimatidis said the supermarket has been open for about 20 years.

“We have two stores in Battery Park City,” Catsimatidis said. “We look at more efficiency. That one is not doing as well. And the other store will pick up the sales.” That other one is at 315 South End Avenue.

Timothy King of CPEX, who is marketing both properties for Catsimatidis along with CPEX’s Dimitri Venekas, questioned the logic of having two Gristedes so close to each other.

“I don’t quite know why he opened two,” King said. “They probably cannibalized each other. His desire there is to find a tenant who is not in direction competition [with his other market].” At the Maiden Lane location, King added, any type of tenant is welcome.

Between its Gristedes and D’Agostino markets, Red Apple today has about 35 stores, Catsimatidis told CO in June, when discussing why he was closing the last Red Apple Supermarket, in Downtown Brooklyn. The Red Apple head said the company is evaluating all of its leases, and previously he noted that his markets are functioning as convenience stores.


Source: commercial

Marijuana Dispensaries Are Here and Now—This Is How the Real Estate Is Playing Out

New York is slowly but surely getting into a California state of mind with ground-level retail marijuana dispensaries beginning to pop up across Manhattan. So far only a small handful of companies have been licensed by the New York State Health Department to sell medical marijuana in New York since Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a 2014 bill legalizing medical cannabis (New York’s medical marijuana program launched in January 2016). And only three dispensaries have opened thus far, but experts say more are on their way.

“The addition of these registered organizations will make it easier for patients across the state to obtain medical marijuana, improve the affordability of medical marijuana products through the introduction of new competition and increase the variety of medical marijuana products available to patients,” New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a  press release this summer after the announcement that five more dispensaries would open in Manhattan and Brooklyn over the next year.

That means both landlords and real estate brokers are having to take a crash course on the logistics of hosting a tenant that deals in medical marijuana and the byzantine regulations surrounding a dispensary, including high levels of security and accessibility for extremely ill customers.

“At the moment, it is very much a novelty; people are not quite sure what to expect,” said Timothy King, a managing partner at CPEX Real Estate. “So while it might not be fair to paint a medical marijuana dispensary with the same brush as say a methadone clinic, it is possible that is seen as a noxious use in the minds of many landlords. But I think you will start to see that change as the concept of medical marijuana is less new to the New York area and people see what it is all about and what the clientele looks like. Perception frequently trumps reality.”

The latest landlord to embrace the new face of pot is Telepro Realty—owned by Kent Charugundla, the founder and chief executive officer of Eagle Teleconferencing Services. Telepro Realty leased a roughly 2,200-square-foot ground-level retail space at 142 East 39th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues to Etain,a women-owned medical marijuana dispensary, in the second quarter of this year. Asking rent was $25,000 per month, but all of the parties involved declined to comment on the true value of the several-years-long lease. The dispensary began taking appointments in July, and a few so-so Yelp reviews, which complain of the high prices yet praise the convenience, are already in.

“It was an unconventional deal because of the use, but rentwise, it would be competitive to what any other tenant would have paid for the space,” said Jake Velazquez of Compass, who represented the tenant. Michael Azarian, the director of retail services at Cushman & Wakefield, represented the landlord.

Both brokers said that it was a unique and, at times, difficult deal to negotiate.

“I get blow back on restaurants, so you can only imagine the blow back I got from landlords on this,” Velazquez said of his experience hunting for space. “Usually, they would just say, ‘Ownership won’t take that use,’ and we’d have to move on. It’s a new industry with a lot of regulation, so everyone is sensitive about it. A lot of landlords don’t want to be early adopters of something like this. I got crazy questions about what kinds of smells it would produce.”

However, since the dispensary is not allowed to sell any marijuana flower and will only deal in oils intended mostly for pain management, smell isn’t a particular issue at the moment, according to Azarian. Generally speaking, landlords, he added, were more concerned about consumption on site, liability and security.

“It highly regulated and highly controlled. This isn’t going to be a place where people will be hanging out,” he said. 

Velazquez added that it was also a challenge to find a space in the city that met both state and federal regulations and was extremely accessible for patients. The East Side of Manhattan was selected because of its proximity to city hospitals. Also, like liquor stores, dispensaries are not allowed near schools and churches. Unlike liquor stores, multiple state agencies have to approve the location—a frustratingly tedious process.

High Times reported that the state’s program failed to receive even 1,000 patients in its first year. That is partially because the state only licensed five dispensaries and only allows them to sell expensive, pharmaceutical-like products. They have since approved chronic pain and PTSD as qualified conditions, but businesses say they have been unable to turn a profit since they opened nearly two years ago.

“I believe this to be a true statement, which is no registered organization has made even a penny in profits since day one,” Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Queens-based Vireo Health of New York, told USA Today.

Velazquez focused his search near transportation hubs like Union Square and Grand Central Terminal. He said that, while Etain wasn’t initially looking for ground-floor retail, it quickly became the best option.

“For one, a retail storefront comes with a certain level of signage,” he said. “It is sort of a first for a dispensary in New York to have pedestrians seeing a dispensary as they walk by.”

Azarian said that the deal was able to come together with relative ease because the landlord in this case is an independent owner with no partners and not an institution.

“He was able to make the sole decision as to whether he would accept the use or not,” Azarian said. “He is also in the tech world, so I think he has a very different outlook than your typical New York landlord. He has a futuristic and visionary perspective and thought that this could be a cool thing to be a part of, considering that [Etain] is a grassroots operation in New York.”

The nature of the deal, however, necessarily differed from your standard retail lease, according to Azarian. For one, the duration of lease had to be shortened to reflect the maximum licensing period and renewal process for a dispensary. The final lease came with “option periods,” he said.

“One thing we learned is patience,” Azarian said. “Once the tenant was able to commit to the space and the landlord was able to commit to the transaction, there are regulator procedures that have to play out and that takes time. It’s not a ‘one, two, three’ thing.”

“I think it takes some one who has an open mind and understands that this is going to become more common in our state and city,” he added. “There is still a stigma to overcome, but now that these tenants are highly funded and backed by venture capital, they are becoming more and more attractive to landlords.”


Source: commercial

Delivering Amazon: This Is What’s Right and Wrong With the City’s Pitches for HQ2

Earlier this week, The Associated Press reported that Amazon received 238 proposals from cities and regions that want to house its second North American headquarters.

Indeed, Amazon has a lot to offer: a promised 50,000 jobs and $5 billion to spend. Everyone—including Gotham—wants in on the action.

In its attempt to lure Jeff Bezos to our city, New York hasn’t shown this much leg since The Deuce era.

More than 70 elected officials—from Public Advocate Letitia James, to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—signed a statement touting New York City’s accessibility to both Boston and Washington, D.C.; its commitment to sustainability; Citi Bike and the largest subway system in the world (wisely, nobody mentioned MTA’s “summer of hell”) and “affordability”—as in, the fact that the administration has promised 200,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years. (Friendly advice: The word “affordability” isn’t something that really works to New York’s advantage in real estate matters. But too late now.)

“Companies don’t just come to New York,” Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote in his seduction letter. “They become part of New York.”

In its official presentation, the New York City Economic Development Corporation proposed four different neighborhoods that could conceivably do the job: Lower Manhattan, the Far West Side, Long Island City and Downtown Brooklyn.

And while everybody weighs in (Moody’s pegged New York’s chance of landing Amazon as sixth in the country—after Austin, Texas; Atlanta; Philadelphia; Rochester, N.Y.; and Pittsburg—as per a New York Times story), it’s worth considering the four areas up for consideration, what they all have to offer and what the NYCEDC probably won’t mention.—Max Gross

Lower Manhattan

Over the 16 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks, Lower Manhattan has been transformed from a financial district to a commercial and residential hub.

It is this very evolution—plus its transportation network—that makes the neighborhood ideal for Amazon’s second headquarters in North America, Lower Manhattan boosters say.

Amazon wants 500,000 square feet of office space in 2018 with another 7.5 million square feet over time. And Lower Manhattan has the potential for over 8.5 million square feet of space, according to the city’s recent proposal to Amazon.

Granted, Downtown Manhattan would not be the cheapest option nationwide. But, “cost of space should be least of their concerns,” Marty Burger, the chief executive officer of Silverstein Properties, said in a survey for Commercial Observer’s upcoming Owners Magazine. (The landlord owns the majority of the World Trade Center buildings.)

“Most important is access to new talent,” he continued. “You want a place that has A) the best transportation, B) a great pool of people to draw from. When we look at the lower tip of Manhattan, it has the best access to all this talent—Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Jersey City, even Long Island. There are 10 million people to draw that talent from.”

Lower Manhattan has a high concentration of mass transit with 13 subway lines and the PATH train, and those transit hubs have been upgraded with abundant retail and dining options as well as climate-controlled concourses, said John Wheeler, a managing director who runs JLL’s Lower Manhattan office.

Downtown Manhattan boasts access to the waterfront, more than 83 acres of open space and enticing dining options, from food halls like Hudson Eats in Brookfield Place to restaurants helmed by star chefs, like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa and Danny Meyer, to fast-casual chains like Chop’t Creative Salad Company and Dig Inn.

Burger has already figured out how to make it work for what’s being called Amazon HQ2.

“We could put together a campus for them,” Burger said. “They could take the top of 3 World Trade Center. We could work with Durst [Organization] to get them the top of 1 World Trade Center. We have a potential to build 2 World Trade Center and 5 World Trade Center. We could put together 7 million square feet.”

But there are also other options for Amazon.

Wheeler noted that, while the World Trade Center would be “part of the solution,” other candidates include Brookfield Place, 28 Liberty Street and Guardian Life Insurance Company of America’s headquarters building at 7 Hanover Square.
Lauren Elkies Schram

Long Island City

Long Island City’s relatively recent transformation from an industrial outpost to Queens waterfront hotspot has been mostly fueled by residential development, with more than 14,000 new units built since 2006 and another 19,000-plus in the pipeline, according to data from the Long Island City Partnership.

As far as commercial development is concerned, however, the neighborhood by most accounts has some way to go. Most of Long Island City’s new office stock has come in the form of repositioning existing warehouse buildings into loft-like spaces mostly of a scale smaller than what Amazon would demand.

But the city is floating LIC as a legitimate option for Amazon, citing the neighborhood’s “creative” appeal as “home to over 150 restaurants, bars and cafés” and more than 40 “arts and cultural institutions” including galleries, museums and theaters, according to the NYCEDC’s proposal.

While the proposal cites “over 13 million square feet of first-class real estate” available in the neighborhood, how much of that qualifies as office space that would suit Amazon’s needs is murkier. Per the LIC Partnership, the area has roughly 7.5 million square feet of existing, nonretail commercial space—which would already fall short of the 8 million that Amazon will eventually require—and another 4.5 million square feet on the way by 2020.

But projects like The Jacx—Tishman Speyer’s two-towered development that promises to bring 1.2 million square feet of Class A office and retail space to Jackson Avenue—hope to further enhance the neighborhood’s office chops. And perhaps the biggest advantage LIC has is its relative affordability compared to the other areas under consideration with the city citing “price points that compare favorably with commercial centers across the five boroughs.”

For developers like TF Cornerstone, which was an early believer in Long Island City and has helped facilitate its transformation via multiple large-scale residential projects, Amazon’s arrival would be a massive boon to the neighborhood’s economy—one that would fuel demand for the thousands of new residential units due to come online, attract needed retail to the area and heighten its profile as an office destination. In turn, LIC’s relatively central location within the five boroughs and robust public transit offerings would give Amazon what it needs for a viable HQ2.

“The north Long Island City waterfront offers the best location for a large user like Amazon,” Jake Elghanayan, a senior vice president at TF Cornerstone, told Commercial Observer in a forthcoming interview for Commercial Observer’s Owners Magazine. Elghanayan cited the neighborhood’s large “contiguous development area” and robust public transit offerings, as well as its proximity to the new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island.—Rey Mashayekhi

West Side of Manhattan

Those associated with the Hudson Yards megaproject like to say that “a new city” is being built on Manhattan’s Far West Side, and it’s hard to argue with the assessment. With tens of millions of square feet of new commercial space due to come online in the area over the coming years, Hudson Yards would most likely serve as the centerpiece of the city’s effort to get Amazon to commit HQ2 to Manhattan’s West Side.

Besides the sprawling 28-acre development being undertaken by Related Companies and Oxford Properties, there is also Brookfield Property Partners’ Manhattan West project nearby, where Amazon already has a sizable footprint. Last month, the tech giant committed to taking 360,000 square feet of office space at 5 Manhattan West, where it will house 2,000 employees and serve as the primary location for Amazon’s advertising division. (CO first reported that Amazon was in talks for the space in April.)

The city’s proposal for HQ2 also cites the nearby Penn Plaza district, where Vornado Realty Trust—the largest commercial landlord in the area surrounding Penn Station—has in recent years talked up a large-scale repositioning of its assets in a bid to capitalize on the West Side’s newfound appeal as an office destination.

In total, the city says the West Side offers Amazon more than 26 million feet of available office space to build its campus—more than triple the 8 million Amazon will need long term—as well as ample transit options for the company’s sizable workforce: 15 subway lines, plus access to the PATH, the Long Island Rail Road, the Metro-North Railroad and Amtrak, not to mention the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Hudson River ferry service.

But the West Side could prove cost prohibitive; it is the most expensive of the four New York City submarkets being floated as options for Amazon. With the cost of living and doing business in New York already the biggest drawback in the city’s bid for HQ2, the likes of Related and Brookfield may have to look elsewhere to fill up all that office space.

Such cost concerns aren’t discouraging neighborhood stakeholders, however. “Manhattan’s always been expensive, but it gives you other things,” said Robert Benfatto, the president of the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Alliance Business Improvement District. “It has its upsides and downsides, but it tends to be attractive to businesses.”—R.M.

Downtown Brooklyn

Out of the four neighborhoods New York City proposed for Amazon’s second headquarters, the “Brooklyn Tech Triangle” of Dumbo, Downtown Brooklyn and the Navy Yard might hold the most promise. Although the area doesn’t have much office space right now, several large projects are either under construction or in the pipeline. At the Navy Yard, Rudin Management and Boston Properties’ Dock 72 will bring 675,000 square feet of offices—anchored with a 222,000-square-foot WeWork—to a former dry dock on the East River.

Besides Dock 72, landlord Brooklyn Navy Yard Economic Development Corporation is leasing up a newly renovated 1-million-square-foot industrial and office building called Building 77, and there’s available space at Steiner Studios, the film and television production complex on the eastern edge of the yard. The closest subway stations are about a mile away in Dumbo (certainly its biggest drawback), but the yard has begun running shuttle buses that take commuters into Dumbo and Downtown Brooklyn for easy transit access. It’s also about to open a new ferry stop next to Dock 72.

TerraCRG Founder Ofer Cohen dispelled concerns about the Navy Yard’s lack of transit, pointing out that it hasn’t prevented hip companies from setting up shop there. New Lab, an innovative science and tech coworking space, recently opened in Building 128. And Building 77 hosts tenants like startup incubator 1776, a commissary kitchen for small food manufacturers called Tiny Drumsticks and fashion company Lafayette 148. He noted that Dock 72 would probably be the only project large enough to accommodate Amazon’s requirement of 500,000 square feet of office space in 2019.

“Downtown Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle are poised for significant growth,” said Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Regina Myer. “There’s a huge demand for Class A space in Downtown Brooklyn. We have 1,400 innovative companies in the broader tech triangle. And we have an amazing pipeline of new talent for companies relocating to the tech triangle because we have 10 different colleges.”

Myer pointed to several sites in Downtown Brooklyn that could host Amazon. Rabsky Group could build an office building as large as 770,000 square feet on its vacant parcel at 625 Fulton Street, and RedSky Capital could develop a huge commercial and residential project on its assemblage bounded by Dekalb Avenue, Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street. And Tishman Speyer is developing the Wheeler, a 10-story office building, on top of the Art Deco Macy’s department store at 422 Fulton Street.

CPEX Real Estate’s Timothy King, the brokerage’s managing partner, pointed out that Amazon would have convenient access to plenty of retail and amenities in Downtown Brooklyn, including hospitals, hotels, shopping, restaurants and bars. And when you consider Atlantic Terminal, the broader tech triangle offers 13 subway lines. “Short of going out in the desert somewhere and building some kind of utopian village,” he said, “I’d be hard pressed to find some place better for Amazon than beautiful Downtown Brooklyn.”—Rebecca Baird-Remba


Source: commercial

Is ‘DoBro’ Finally Happening?

For more than a decade, Downtown Brooklyn was always about to turn a corner in terms of livability—or so developers said.

In 2007, Albee Development—a consortium of Acadia Realty Trust, Curbcut Urban Partners and Washington Square Partners—purchased the site of the former Albee Square Mall, expecting to hit the ground running on a new and exciting shopping, entertainment and residential destination. 

Then, of course, everything fell off a cliff.

“We bought the property in ’07—a defunct, failed, multilevel retail project that had tried to find success on Fulton Street for several decades with the expectation that we were going to be going great guns through ’08 and ’09,” said Acadia Chief Operating Officer Christopher Conlon. “Our project, along with many others, stalled from 2008 to 2011.”

While predictions for a more residential, leisure-oriented Downtown Brooklyn have been giddy for at least a decade, it is only now, on the heels of the recent opening of Albee Development’s project—the long-awaited City Point—and its amenities, such as the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater and the DeKalb Market food hall, that the business district’s lifestyle potential is coming to fruition.

“First come the people. Then comes the necessity retail—dry cleaners, liquor stores, candy stores. Then after that, when the critical mass is here, that’s when the last wave comes in and you get the leisure and nighttime activities,” said Brooklyn broker Timothy King, the managing partner at CPEX Real Estate Services.

That’s where DoBro appears to be in 2017 with a slew of dining and drinking options either open or in the works.

“The neighborhood went from the sort of place where, if you passed out on the sidewalk at night, they wouldn’t find you until the next day, to where it’s much more of a neighborhood,” King said.

The area’s expansion has been underway since then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council passed the Downtown Brooklyn Plan in 2004, a rezoning which, according to the city’s website, allowed for “the creation of 4.5 million square feet of new commercial office space, 800,000 square feet of retail, 1,000 units of housing, new open space and retail amenities, as well as streetscape improvements.”

ric 2406 pano dtedit Is DoBro Finally Happening?
City Point in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: Acadia Realty Trust

As it happened, many of the plans that came together over the next several years were put on hold due to the 2008 financial crisis.

“The rezoning was a pre-financial-crisis event,” Conlon said. “Had there not been a global financial crisis right after the rezoning, [this development] probably would have happened a lot sooner. The development world shut down with the crisis, and people couldn’t get financed. Tenants weren’t moving, and everything sort of seized up.”

But the crisis was simply the first obstacle. Once it abated and development money began freeing up, you still had a very buttoned-up, office-centered neighborhood with little residential presence or nightlife. This evolved slowly, as many developers waited for others to make the first move.

Residential was the first to push ahead. Slowly high-rise apartment buildings like The Brooklyner at 111 Lawrence Street and 388 Bridge Street and Avalon Willoughby West at 100 Willoughby Street kept rising year after year in Downtown Brooklyn and surpassing one another as the tallest building in Brooklyn, bringing thousands of residents to the area.

But catering to these residents stagnated. Conlon recalls how retailers would send representatives into the area to scout potential locations.

“They would get orders from their corporate office—‘Go find us a store in Brooklyn,’” he said. “So they would send their retail real estate experts out to Brooklyn, and they would take the subway out and walk around…[and a] lot of retailers looked and were like, ‘I don’t get it,’ and they just left. They went to Williamsburg.”

Of course, they could hardly be blamed for failing to see the potential for a vibrant social and shopping life in an area that had virtually none.

“Downtown Brooklyn has always been a very bustling place during the commercial hours—there are 100,000 office workers there every day—but after dark, when those businesses close down, it got very quiet,” said Tucker Reed, a principal at Brooklyn-based Totem Real Estate and the president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership until last year.

“I remember three or four years ago went Ganso, a little Japanese ramen place on Hoyt Street, opened up, and we were like, ‘That’s a game changer’—the first neighborhood scale restaurant isn’t an iconic destination like Juniors or something. When Macy’s closed at 7 o’clock, the neighborhood was pretty deserted.”

“No business wants to take the risk until the neighborhood has changed,” said Jake Elghanayan, a senior vice president at TF Cornerstone, which recently unveiled the 25-story, 714-unit residential rental building 33 Bond at the corner of Bond Street and Atlantic Avenue and will open a 52,000-square-foot outpost of Chelsea Piers in the building in the spring of 2018. It became a catch-22.

“It’s difficult to get retailers to be the first one in, so everything takes a little longer because there’s always a nervousness about going into a new neighborhood for a retailer. So the deals we’ve had, we’ve had to try to de-risk the opportunity for the retailer, showing how the demographics and the population will change in the next few years.”

There were occasional signs of life and hope from independent operators over the years. Brooklyn Fare, the supermarket that evolved to include a four-star eatery, opened in 2009 at 200 Schermerhorn Street at Hoyt Street; the Catskills-inspired bar Livingston Manor opened at 42 Hoyt Street, by Livingston Street, in 2014. 

But the most likely catalyst for heavy activity was the progress of City Point, which opened last year at 445 Albee Square West, bringing with it an outpost of the food-and-drink-offering movie chain Alamo Drafthouse, as well as the 60,000-square-foot, 40-vendor DeKalb Market.

“People believed in the market before City Point opened, knowing it was on the horizon,” said Dan Marks, a partner at TerraCRG. “Just knowing that a project of that scale is on the way gave people a lot of confidence to build there.”

But City Point’s first salvo has been very impressive: Conlon said that the Drafthouse, which will add a beer garden to its already existing House of Wax restaurant this fall, is already No. 1 in sales among the chain’s 43 theaters nationwide.

house of wax full shot photo by victoria stevens Is DoBro Finally Happening?
The House of Wax bar at City Point in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: Victoria Stevens

In addition to Alamo, DeKalb Market, Trader Joe’s and Century 21, as well as other retail outlets setting up shop at City Point, the area will be getting Brooklyn’s second Apple Store at the 32-story 300 Ashland Place, a Two Trees Property on Ashland Place near Lafayette Avenue, which also houses 379 luxury rental units, and will host the new Whole Foods 365 outlet, a BAM movie theater and a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Other offerings include the 6,000-square-foot brewpub Circa Brewing Company, at 141 Lawrence Street between Willoughby and Fulton Streets, which offers beer brewed on the premises to drink along with its wood-fired pizza.

The Kimoto Rooftop Garden Lounge is now open at 216 Duffield Street between Willoughby and Fulton Streets, above the Aloft and Sheraton Hotels, with “breathtaking views of the Statue of Liberty, Barclays Center and Hudson River,” according to their website, along with its Asian-inspired menu.

The Ashland offers the second New York outpost of the Gotham Market food hall with highlights like the “beer, bourbon and barbecue” joint Mason Jar, the brick-oven pizzeria Apizza Regionale and the premium chicken outlet Flip Bird. 

Inside 33 Bond, TF Cornerstone will host the second Brooklyn outlet of Devoción, which describes itself as “the only exclusively farm-to-table coffee roaster in the world.”

“They have their first location in Williamsburg,” Elghanayan said. “It’s a beautiful store that’s won lots of awards and has great Colombian coffee. We thought it was a great offering, and they’ll probably be open before the spring.”

While the proliferation of leisure could be seen as long overdue, some believe it a natural progression that’s happening right on time.

There will almost certainly be no shortage of foot traffic in the neighborhood—the residential and mixed-use developments aren’t letting up. Projects like the aforementioned 58-story, 826-unit AVA DoBro (also known as Avalon Willoughby West) at 100 Willoughby Street, from Avalon Communities; Steiner NYC’s 600-unit The Hub, at 333 Schermerhorn Street; and The Ashland at 250 Ashland Place, from The Gotham Organization, a 53-story tower with 586 rentals, have begun giving the area the density it needs to support a vibrant social and community life.

Given the area’s proximity to so many already thriving Brooklyn neighborhoods, Regina Myer, the current president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, added that the new retail offerings add to an already rich assortment of cultural offerings not far away.

“The culture has always been here,” Myer said, referring to such entities as BAM, BRIC and the Theater for a New Audience. “They’re the ones that have been making Downtown Brooklyn a great place to come and see entertainment for years. So it’s amazing now that there are great places to eat finally, how that’s really catching up.”

Given some of the new projects on the way, the area is hardly done experiencing new places to eat, drink and be merry. The mixed-use Caesura at 280 Ashland Place, being developed by the Jonathan Rose Companies at the corner of Lafayette Avenue, in addition to offering 123 rental apartments will host the Center for Fiction, the Mark Morris Dance Group and a 2,800-square-foot craft brand restaurant from the founders of ‘Wichcraft. The project is due to be completed this year.

Longtime city residents have marked the neighborhood’s growth in traditional New York ways.

“To me, a great indicator [of the neighborhood’s change] is the ability to catch a cab by Fulton Mall,” Reed said. “All of a sudden, there are cabs stopping by the corner of Willoughby Street. Before—and before Uber—you had to walk back to Fort Greene or Brooklyn Heights to find a cab… The cabs follow demand.”

What’s most exciting to those with whom Commercial Observer spoke is that the current explosion feels like the tip of the iceberg. Now that Downtown Brooklyn is massing growth and showing both a desire for, and the success of, more leisure and lifestyle-oriented outlets, the floodgates are open now for exponential growth in the years to come.

“If you took a panoramic picture of the neighborhood five years ago and laid it next to the same picture from today, people might think you were speaking about a different city. The same will hold true five years from now,” King said. “Retailers are like a herd of animals—very few retailers like to be the first guy in. But once the marketplace is established and proven, it’s an awful lot easier to get the next folks to follow.”


Source: commercial

A Big Chunk of Downtown Brooklyn—on Albee Square West—Is Finally Having Its Moment


Source: commercial

City Urges Developers to Build Office Buildings in East New York


Source: commercial

Alan Washington Leaves Downtown Brooklyn Partnership for Charter Schools Network

After nearly five years as the managing director of real estate and economic development for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Alan Washington has left the local development not-for-profit, he said in an email to board members that Commercial Observer obtained.

His last day was last Thursday, and he will soon start as head of real estate at Success Academy Charter Schools. Founded in 2006, Success Academy Charter Schools boasts on its website that it is “the largest and highest-performing free, public charter school network in New York City,” operating 41 schools serving 14,000 students in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

Washington wrote in the email announcing his departure: “With over 14,000 scholars rising through the grades, the network is needing to become a major lessee and owner of real estate. I am very excited to get back to the transaction side of the business, the opportunity to build a team, as well as a portfolio or real estate across the city.”

The search is underway for a replacement for Washington, a spokesman for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, or DBP, said. Washington was part of a two-person real estate team at DBP.

Regina Myer, the president of DBP, said in a statement to CO: “Alan made a significant contribution to the DBP team and will be missed. We wish him well at what promises to be an exciting new challenge.”

Among other things, Washington is credited with launching DBP’s quarterly real estate reports.

“Alan was the driving force behind the creation of DBP’s quarterly real estate reports, which helped position the organization as the go-to source for the latest information on Downtown Brooklyn’s thriving development market,” said Tucker Reed, the former president of DBP who brought Washington on board. “He knew more about current trends in the area than anyone and built a real estate department in Downtown Brooklyn that reflected it.”

Washington declined to comment, and no one from the charter school network responded to requests for comment.

Timothy King, a managing partner of CPEX Real Estate and who was involved with Washington as a board member of DBP, emailed: “He will be missed. Alan was a driving force behind the revitalization of Downtown Brooklyn. I’m sure he will be happy in his new role. He now goes from being on the sidelines, watching things happen to being the guy who makes things happen.”


Source: commercial