Record High-rises Set for Brooklyn

The Real Deal

Tiffany Rezzano
June 1, 2006

June 2006
Record high-rises set for Brooklyn
Six towers with more stories than Williamsburgh Savings Bank planned; some worry about loss of low-rise charm
By Tiffany Razzano

Tom D'Ercole, project manager for the 400-foot tall 306 Gold Street, and developer Dean Palin at the tower's construction site. The 40-story 306 Gold Street in Downtown Brooklyn will be the tallest new residential tower in the borough when construction on it is completed in 2008. But it's just one of many high-rises planned for Brooklyn, where buildings tend not to soar. The shift has some residents concerned.

More than 15 towers at least 20 stories tall are planned for the borough, including in Downtown Brooklyn, along the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront, and in Dumbo. The rush to construct the tall towers follows major rezonings by the city and will lead to a north Brooklyn that looks like Battery Park City, Trump's Riverside South or the Miami skyline, depending on who's doing the talking.

The new vertically-inclined borough will also have half a dozen projects taller (in terms of number of stories) than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, now the tallest building in Brooklyn. The landmark spire rises above neighboring structures and serves as a point of orientation. In a sign of the booming market, the 34-story, 512-foot bank building is itself going residential with 216 condos, part of a project by Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds and the Dermot Company.

"A lot of projects that are coming into the area have been designed as high-rises and the area is going to change dramatically from low-rise to high-rise," said developer Ron Herscho, who is developing 306 Gold Street and sister tower, the 35-story 313 Gold Street, along with developer Dean Palin. "Since the rezoning, there are a lot of opportunities for high-rises that were never available before."

Some worry these energized high-rise developments will overshadow -- literally and figuratively -- western Brooklyn's brownstone charm.

"When people think Brooklyn, they think small-town feel next to a big city," said Kristina Lanuza, vice president of marketing and public relations at brokerage Nest Seekers. "Part of the backlash is that [the new buildings] are taking away from the artist community and attracting people who don't want to uphold the nice, neighborly feeling. Now you can walk around, see your neighbor and say hello. There's a fear of creating something large that won't have that same sense."

But the skyscraping development has strong advocates in City Hall. The rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn two years ago made way for the spate of new, large-scale commercial and residential projects now taking shape. Last year, sections of Williamsburg and Greenpoint were rezoned to pave the way for high-rise projects, particularly along the waterfront.

The city also offers developers the option of building more stories on new developments in exchange for allotting a small percentage of square footage for affordable housing, an approach already seen in finished or partly finished projects like Schaefer Landing on the Williamsburg waterfront, which includes a 25-story tower.

In Dumbo, the tallest tower so far is J Condominium, a 267-unit project that broke ground last summer under the auspices of Hudson Properties and Cara Development. When it's completed, the 33-story high-rise will be the tallest building in the neighborhood.

In Williamsburg, the proposed tower that appears to be the tallest so far, though some other projects haven't released height information yet, is a 38-story high-rise on Bedford Avenue between North Third and North Fourth streets. The planned project by Quadriad Realty and former Bronx Borough President Herman Badillo includes three other towers of 36, 20 and 12 stories and encompasses a total of 675,000 square feet. Plans were presented to Brooklyn's Community Board 1 in late April and the project would call for a change in zoning to go through.

In Downtown Brooklyn, construction on 306 and 313 Gold is set to begin in August. While no prices are set for either building yet, Herscho said that he anticipates both will draw $800 to $900 a square foot. Prudential Douglas Elliman, which declined to comment, will handle the sales and marketing. Berkshire Capital, Isaac Hager and Isaac Katan are others also planning lofty towers in the area (see below).

North Brooklyn will soon certainly look different, but what it will look like depends on whom you talk to.

New development marketer Michael Shvo recently said the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront will "look like the Miami skyline in five years."

David Maundrell, president of Brooklyn brokerage, has a different take. "Five years from now, north Brooklyn will look completely different," he recently told Crain's. "The entire area will be brand-new, like Battery Park City or Trump's Riverside South."

And love it or loathe it, Herscho said most of the transformation is a fait accompli.

"Like everything else the government does, there's going to be some resistance and opposition, but that's reality for you, and you can't change it," he said. "I like to have low-rise in the suburbs, but people have to understand there's no more land available. There's no other choice."

Here is a look at some of the other tallest projects:

• The Edge, a 1,300 unit project already under construction on the Williamsburg waterfront, will have 1,000 market-rate units and about 300 affordable-housing units. It's being built by Douglaston Development between North Fifth and Seventh streets. The million-square-foot project will be a mix of mid-rise buildings and high-rise towers, according to the developer.

• A joint venture of Toll Brothers, L & M Equity and RD Management is planning three high-rises on the waterfront. The first will be an FX Fowle-designed condominium at 164 Kent Avenue with 180 units.

• In Downtown Brooklyn, Berkshire Capital will convert the 27-story, 509,000-square-foot 7 Metro Tech Center, the former Verizon Building, into 244 condominium units.

• Isaac Hager is planning a 400-foot-tall residential building at Flatbush Avenue and Tillary Street.

• Developer Isaac Katan is planning to construct several buildings between 28 and 32 stories each on Myrtle Avenue, just east of Flatbush Avenue.

• BFC Construction Corp. is planning a 37-story building with 22 units near the Manhattan Bridge. The firm is also planning a 500-unit building on the corner of Myrtle and Flatbush avenues, according to published reports.

• Leviev Boymelgreen is planning a 23-story tower to be completed next year at 85 Adams Street.

With additional reporting by Vanessa Londono