There’s Life Anew in [the] Gowanus

Gowanus. For many old-time South Brooklyn natives, the very name draws a chuckle and a shake of the head. For them, Gowanus isn’t a neighborhood, it’s a canal, and a foul-smelling, gag-inducing one. But that was the old days.  Today, it’s the canal, still dirty but no longer the fetid deadwater it was fifty years ago, and the neighborhood covering two blocks on either side of it on the north end and two blocks on the east side further south. And like many other once-written-off areas of Brooklyn, it is fast on the rise, with new businesses, increased residential development (and corresponding rising housing prices), and lots of places to go and things to do.

The Gowanus area in colonial times was a wide saltwater tidal marsh. The Native Americans living there when the Europeans first arrived, the Lenape, sold the area surrounding Gowanus Bay to the Dutch in 1636, and the new owners immediately built several thriving industries in the area, the largest being oyster growing, milling, and farming. The names of the early settlers now grace numerous streets in the area, including Luquer, Denton, Cole, Boerum, and Bergen. The earlier settlers, the Lenape, had a leader named Gouwane, and the Dutch perhaps named the area for him. In any case, the name Gowanus dates from the earliest European settlement of the region.

The area played an important part in the Revolutionary War. During the Battle of Brooklyn, near the Old Stone House a regiment of Maryland troops fended off the British army long enough for the Continental Army to retreat to Manhattan and avoid being destroyed. Many of those Maryland troops are buried in a mass grave next to the FVW post on Ninth Street near Third Avenue, where a wall plaque marks the site. The Old Stone House behind the playground at Fifth Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets is a reconstruction of the original. The commander of those brave Maryland men was William Alexander, whose name is the official moniker of M.S. 51 in the next block across Fourth Street.

In the early 1800s, as Brooklyn grew and industry increased on the Gowanus creek, the need to accommodate large vessels and people to work the docks resulted in the building of the canal and the filling in of the marshland for urbanization of the area. The chosen design for the canal was the cheapest of all those proposed, and the finished waterway was open only at the harbor end, and there was no way to flush the water and keep it clean. Built for its times, the canal soon attracted more industry, and the surrounding new neighborhoods quickly filled with workers and stores. Those neighborhoods were constructed in a way that the sewage from those areas flushed into the canal. That combined with the waste dumpings from the oil refineries, mills, cement factories, and other toxin-producing industries lining the canal quickly fouled the waterway.

By the 1950s and ‘60s, the construction of the BQE/Gowanus Expressway and then the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge obviated the need for water shipping for many of the companies along the canal, and the economic decline in the city during the ‘60s and ‘70s drove many companies away or out of business, and many of the empty spaces were claimed by small-scale artisans and artists for use as studios and small manufacturing. There is a large number of these types of tenancies remaining in the area, and they attract a large contingent of visitors during periodic Open Studio events.

Today, Massive cleanup efforts for the canal are well underway, a flushing tunnel that was first built in the early 1900s has been refurbished and now pumps water from Buttermilk Channel in the harbor into the canal to move the water downstream,  on-and-off dredging operations take place, and rezoning has led to residential building once again, this time large apartment complexes like 365 Bond Street, which sits directly on the canal at Second Street, and others along Bond Street and Fourth Avenue. It’s even possible now to go canoeing on the canal, with the reopening of the Gowanus Dredger’s Club launch site at the foot of Second Street on the East side of the canal.

The neighborhood today is garnering attention for its relative low rents in the older buildings, and its growing hip (not hipster) vibe. With the general influx of younger, more affluent residents, support businesses have sprung up faster than one can keep track of. Newcomers such as Taheni, Dinosaur BBQ, Pig Beach, and Ample Hills Ice Cream are all along Union Street, and microbreweries with attached beer gardens flourish on President and Douglass Streets between Third and Fourth Avenues. There’s also Whole Foods at Third Avenue and Third Street. These and many others complement less recent and older, established places such as 2 Toms, Monte’s, Runner and Stone, Little Neck, and the Bell House. There’s plenty to do and plenty to eat and drink. That’s a neighborhood worth living in!

Prospect Park: Brooklyn’s Outdoor Treasure

DSCN9039If you live in Brooklyn, you know Prospect Park. You’ve been there to run, bike, play ball, whether baseball, football, basketball, soccer, tennis, pétanque, or extreme Frisbee (okay, that’s not ball), lay out in the sun, take the kids to the myriad playgrounds, ride horses, build a snowman, work out, hike the ravine, go to a summer evening concert, paddleboat in the lake, see fall colors, go to the zoo, sit on a bench and read, cross-country ski, ride the carousel, watch birds, watch fireflies, play chess, take your pup to the dog pool, have a picnic, collect leaves, play in or listen to conga jams, ice skate, visit a museum in a colonial house, feed the ducks, go sledding, throw a party, have a barbeque, or even, on a summer night, walk into the trees and listen to the amazing cacophony of a million singing bugs.

Prospect Park is a draw not only for Brooklynites. Even if you don’t yet live in Brooklyn, there’s a chance you’ve been to our crown jewel of leisure. Designed by Olmsted and Vaux, the same team that created Manhattan’s Central Park, Prospect Park is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Like all of the city, the park has been through cycles of highs and lows through the years, and at this time is riding as high as it’s ever been. Fueled by support systems including the Prospect Park Alliance, The Friends of Prospect Park, and the rangers of the National Park Service, the park in many areas within its 526-acres has been refreshed, renewed, and, when necessary, restored, with a wide range of clean-up/fix-up projects completed, many others ongoing, and more big ideas in the planning and development stages.

Access to the park is easy, with the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, Q, F, G, and Franklin Avenue Shuttle trains all stopping within a block or two from a park entrance, so whether you live in Greenpoint or Brighton Beach you can get there with one train ride. With all that the park offers, it’s no wonder that many people moving to Brooklyn, especially those in Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Prospect Heights, and Crown Heights, were sold on the area because of Prospect Park. And that’s not to mention the nearby Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, all lined up next to each other along Eastern Parkway just across Flatbush Avenue from the park.

If you’re moving to or within New York City, we know you’ll be looking at Brooklyn. If you’ve never been to Prospect Park, you must spend a day or two getting to know Prospect Park. There are a million great reasons to move to Brooklyn. Prospect Park and the areas around it hold many of them. Check it out.

Is Brooklyn’s Business Boom an Empty Dream?

Brooklyn has been a strong magnet for residents for many years now, but what about the business community? Many former industrial waterfront areas in DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint have been either retooled for or replaced with condos, none of which seem to have too much trouble finding eager buyers. The past few years have seen a push to create office space, as well.

Some big-name retailers have moved into downtown on Fulton Street to serve the new residents coming into all the nearby condos that have sprouted up. Well beyond downtown, the race to create office space is instead resulting in a glut of empty space. According to a recent article on Bloomberg.com, there are plans by various developers to build about seven million square feet of office space in the next few years, mainly in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Sunset Park, as well as the old Watchtower Building in DUMBO. The article sites 23 projects due to open by 2020. That much space will require either a ton of small companies taking out leases or help from a few big companies that will take several floors of space at once. The problem experts are seeing is that the big guys don’t seem too eager to make the move.

Prices on Manhattan office space have plateaued, and there is room for negotiation there, so big companies with no real yen for Brooklyn have little incentive to pay for a big, expensive move and to uproot their employees for possibly newer digs and beautiful offices in a place that’s frankly not that easy to get to from Westchester, New Jersey, Connecticut, or even Manhattan and Queens. Big companies that have recently moved to the NYC area, including Facebook and Alphabet (Google), have settled into Manhattan, and those that have come to Brooklyn have put pieces of their businesses in rather than move the entire company.

Several commercial real estate experts interviewed for the Bloomberg article remain upbeat. Although the signing of a 100,000+ square-foot lease would be newsworthy and perhaps a shot in the arm, Andrew Hoan, the CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, noted that Brooklyn has added jobs faster than any other borough, and related his feeling that not being dependent on large companies is “a good thing.”

So, bring on the office space, we say. As long as it’s being concentrated in otherwise unused or underused buildings like those in the navy yard or Sunset Park’s Industry City, it’s a plus for Brooklyn, and in time, we feel, for the patient developer as well.

Read the full article on Bloomberg.com:
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-04/brooklyn-as-the-next-hot-spot-for-new-york-offices-not-so-fast

 

Renters, Work with Us

Thinking of renting an apartment? These days, you have a lot of tools at your disposal to help you find your dream home. Real estate-specific Web sites such as Street Easy, Zillow, and Trulia get you in touch with real estate agents and landlords so you can make four or five appointments with four or five agents/landlords to see four or five different apartments on the day you’re out looking. Such a scattershot approach may work for you, or it may not.

Having meetings set up with lots of different people can cause a time crunch for you that could compromise your search. It can take just one late train, one clogged roadway to back up your whole afternoon, cause you to run ragged from late appointment to late appointment, cutting down on the time you get to see each apartment or perhaps missing out on a showing because the next agent has another appointment and you’ve been held up so long she can’t take you out.

Also, you should be aware that most of the major Web sites allow only exclusive listings to be posted. Many landlords refuse to give a listing to one agent exclusively, giving out what’s referred to as an open listing to a number of brokers. This means that there are many great apartments perfect for you that you won’t see listed on the real estate rental sites.

The best way to find an apartment is to find an agent you trust that you will work with exclusively. Most people, probably including you, are more comfortable working with someone they feel is interested in them and is working in their interest. That’s a relationship that is easier to establish if you’re working with one agent showing you many apartments versus many agents showing you one apartment each, often one that doesn’t come close to suiting your needs. And agents working with different agencies should be willing to open their listings to you and your agent, so there’s no need to worry that you might get shut out of seeing a given apartment.

An agent who has been in apartments with you knows what you like and don’t like, knows what you consider to be an adequate-size bedroom, knows what features and amenities are important to you, and can preview lots of apartments, winnowing availabilities down to those she’ll know you’ll appreciate seeing. Touring a neighborhood and seeing four or five apartments with a single agent, with no time constraints, is a much more relaxed way to look at apartments than rushing from appointment to appointment. In addition, after the first day you’ll know that any apartments the agent has lined up for you to see will be of a size, layout, and fit and finish that you will be happy to consider.

Scattershot, by definition, is broad, even wild, and unfocused. It’s no way to search for anything, but especially not for a home for you and your family. Focus on finding a good real estate agent, one who will focus on you and your needs and who will guide you purposefully to an apartment you’ll love to live in.

Is Prospect Park Losing its Beloved Horses?

The residents of the Kensington stables, a fixture in that neighborhood for the past eighty years, grace Prospect Park and its bridal paths, taking daily strolls through the park and thrilling kids and adults alike as they lope or cantor by, huffing and snorting hellos and how are yous to all. Their home has been for sale for several months now, having fallen behind in property taxes and experiencing other headaches in the five years since the death of its owner. The property was scheduled to be auctioned off at the end of March, but at the last second an anonymous investor made an offer that the owner is considering. Word is that the investor has indicated that they would keep the stable in place, but the anonymity of the investor has area residents and equestrians worried that the plan is to raze the stable and redevelop it in the standard New York way, i.e., condos!

Local council member Brad Lander has made it clear to the mystery investor’s lawyer that he will block any rezoning requests for the property unless there is an ironclad promise to keep the stable open and running made by whomever ends up buying it. That, of course, could make other potential investors think three or four times about bidding on the property.

No matter what type of alterations are done on the property, the stable will in all probability have to be closed or moved during the construction period, which could be for years. We’re old enough to understand that nothing lasts forever, and the only sure thing in life is change. But it would be a truly sad day for riders and all of us if Prospect Park lost these beautiful animals.

The Clocktower that Gair Built

Unless you’re deeply into Brooklyn history, you probably don’t know the name Robert Gair. But if you’ve ever checked the time as you traversed the Manhattan Bridge or poured yourself a bowl of Cheerios (or any other boxed cereal), you’re only a degree or two separated from him.

Gair was a nineteenth-century immigrant from Scotland and a civil war veteran. While the war was still on, in 1864, he began producing paper products in a loft in downtown Manhattan, where he developed a mass-production system for printing and cutting cardboard boxes, complete with creases for easy folding. Gair’s customers included Colgate, Nabisco, and several cereal companies.

Success drove the need for more space, and in the late 1800’s Gair moved to Brooklyn, commissioning buildings at 25 and 30 Washington Street in what is now DUMBO, and later, 55 Washington Street and 1 Main Street, the building now known as Clocktower Building or, more simply, The Clocktower. The entire complex, referred to as Gairville, was interconnected, on the street by railways, underground through a warren of tunnels, and above ground by enclosed walkways. All Gair’s DUMBO buildings stand today, and several continue to bear his name.

Gair died in 1927. The Robert Gair Company was bought by the Continental Can Company in 1956. The commercial real estate giant Helmsley-Spear acquired the Gairville complex, which it sold to DUMBO’s current real estate mogul, David Walentas, in 1981 for $12 million, which amounted to $7/sq. ft.

Walentas has converted many of the buildings into condos, and this week the Clocktower’s clock tower penthouse alone closed for $15 million, or $2,140/sq. ft.

Buyer, Be Prepared

Be Prepared. That’s the Boy Scout motto, and as a buyer, it should be your motto, too. Time and real estate wait for no man or woman. Deals fall apart and homes are lost out on every day because the buyers are not as prepared as they should have been or as they thought they were.

If you’re considering buying a property, there are many things you can and should do to be ready and willing when the time comes to sign a contract. These include (in order):

1) Be ready to move. The heads of many “buyers” are ready to move long before their hearts are. Going through the motions and then backing out causes disruptions, disappointment, and lost time on the part of everyone else involved in the buying/selling process. No one will be happy with you should this occur.

2) Determine what type of property you are interested in: Apartment, single-family home, or multi-family house.

3) Decide what areas you are willing to live in. Don’t be too limiting, as different areas have different types of properties, and there might not be many of the types of properties you want to buy in a given neighborhood.

4) Do the math. Come up with a realistic price point for your purchase, one that you’re sure you can manage and are willing to commit to. If you feel in any way that you might get cold feet later when your offer is accepted, you’re not prepared to buy. Once you’ve estimated this on your own, it’s time to talk to a professional, so…

5) Get pre-qualified by a bank or mortgage lender. Any company that issues mortgages should be willing to go over your finances with you and determine just how much they would be willing to lend you. You might think you can afford X, but a thorough examination of your financial situation could determine that you can afford X+, or perhaps X-. Either way, you need to know before you start passing over For-Sale properties you think you can’t afford or visiting and falling in love with those you might not be able to have. The lender will give you a letter stating the amount of their pre-qualification for you to present to a real estate broker or seller. Have an accurate number for your price point. (BTW, it’s okay to visit more than one lender to get the best pre-qualification you can. But don’t use one that’s perhaps too much higher than others you might have gotten.)

6) Have your funds ready. This will probably be discussed during your pre-qualification meetings, and it will be important once you receive notice of an offer acceptance. You will need money for a down payment. Often, there is earnest money, which eventually goes toward the down payment, required to be advanced to the seller when the contract is signed. If you are a homeowner now, determine whether your purchase of a new home will be contingent on selling your current property.

7) Get a real estate agent. In most situations, the real estate agent will receive their commission from the seller, though not in every circumstance. There is no reason to traverse on your own the complex process of such an important, unfamiliar, and financially significant transaction as buying property. You should want and should have professional guidance.

8) Hire a real estate lawyer. You may already have a lawyer who helps you in your business or other areas of your life, but for a real estate purchase you should have a lawyer who specializes in this area. Real estate agents are legally prohibited from practicing law or giving any legal advice, but your agent might be able to give you a list of names of real estate lawyers, or you may have associates who have used ones that worked well for them. When it’s time to go over the sales contract, and again at the closing, you’ll want a legal eagle on your side, one that’s an expert in real estate. It is money well spent.

Having completed all the above steps, you should be totally prepared to take your tours, find a place you love, put in an offer, close, and move in to your fantastic new home.