Downtown Brooklyn: a neighborhood “in the middle of it all”


For years, St. John Frizell took his son to school in downtown Brooklyn and felt “confused” by the lack of sit-down restaurants in the neighborhood.

“You just had to look up to find out what was going on,” said Mr. Frizell, the restaurateur owner of Fort Defiance in Red Hook, Brooklyn. “There are cranes everywhere and these huge towers going up. It’s becoming a very dense neighborhood, sort of a 24 hour neighborhood instead of the old 9 to 5 neighborhood we used to know before.

This 9 to 5 reputation was due to downtown Brooklyn’s position as the borough’s civic center: it is home to the Borough Hall, the Brooklyn Municipal Building, and several courthouses, as well as buildings housing workers. of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city’s Department of Education and other services.

But in recent years, things have changed: Thanks to a 2004 rezoning to allow for more residential construction, gleaming high-rise towers have sprung up like mushrooms. More than 14,000 residential units have been added to the neighborhood since 2014, and residents are looking for more retail and dining options, according to a 2019 survey by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a non-profit development company. , as well as schools and family activities.

Now the neighborhood is “much more versatile,” said Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. The offices are still there, but so are retail businesses like City Point, which is home to an Alamo Drafthouse cinema, as well as a Target, Trader Joe’s, and a McNally Jackson bookstore chain outpost. DeKalb Market Hall, a food court with more than 40 vendors, including New York institutions like Katz’s Delicatessen and Arepa Lady, opened in City Point’s basement in 2017.

And in August, a new Ace hotel opened on Schermerhorn Street, which – thanks to its chic lobby, neo-brutalist facade (like other Ace properties, it was designed by Roman and Williams) and lively restaurant on the ground floor – gave the neighborhood the official imprimatur of cool.

Even Mr. Frizell is part of that transition to a 24-hour destination: along with his partners, Sohui Kim and Ben Schneider, he revived the Gage & Tollner restaurant, a decades-long Fulton Street institution. Mr. Frizell and his partners planned to open the restaurant in March 2020; the pandemic put those plans on hold, but it finally opened in April and has since become a fixture for area residents.

“We have developed a group of regulars,” Mr. Frizell said. “It’s the people who live in the towers nearby, which is really cool. We have always believed that this is also crucial for the success of the company. It cannot be just a place for a special occasion; it must be a place where people can come a few times a month.

The limits of downtown Brooklyn are a subject of perpetual debate. Known as the Special Downtown Brooklyn District, the neighborhood is located between Tillary Street to the north, Atlantic Avenue to the south, Clinton Street to the west, and Ashland Place to the east. This roughly matches the boundaries set by the three Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Business Improvement Districts, with the exception of Atlantic Avenue.

Part of the neighborhood’s appeal is that it is “at the crossroads of Brooklyn’s more idyllic neighborhoods,” said Cornelia H. Van Amburg, real estate agent at Compass who represents a 59-unit condominium on Schermerhorn Street. called Symon. Residents are within walking distance of Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill to the west, and Fort Greene and Prospect Heights to the east.

“It’s really like being in the middle of it all,” said Ryan Serhant, the real estate broker whose agency, Serhant, manages sales of Brooklyn Point, a luxury condo tower on Willoughby Street that was developed by Extell. , known for its high- end Manhattan properties.

Access to public transportation is also a huge draw – depending on where you are in the neighborhood, it’s a subway or two stops to Lower Manhattan. Other transportation options, from buses to Citi bikes, are plentiful.

The housing stock is largely made up of rentals, thanks to the proliferation of towers built after the 2004 rezoning, many of which include affordable housing – among them, Hub, a 50-story building on Schermerhorn Street with around 600 apartments , and Ava DoBro on Willoughby Street, with over 800 apartments.

But there are options for buyers as well. BellTel Lofts was one of the neighborhood’s first condo developments when it opened in 2008, Ms. Myer said. Its loft-style apartments are housed in the former New York Telephone Company headquarters on Bridge Street, an iconic Art Deco building. Smaller boutique properties, like the one Ms. Van Amburg represents, can also be found throughout the neighborhood.

New put options include 11 Hoyts, designed by Studio Gang, and Extell’s Brooklyn Point, which Mr. Serhant says has attracted Manhattan buyers, thanks to its pricing (including a 25-year tax break) and its 40,000 square feet of amenities including a private dining room and rooftop pool 700 feet above the City Point development.

And more new developments are on the horizon: JDS Development Group is building the borough’s first very tall tower at 9 DeKalb Avenue, with condominiums and rental apartments, and further south, Alloy Development is working on a project. mixed-use multi-building at 80 Flatbush Avenue, which will include hundreds of apartments and two schools.

As of mid-December, 131 properties in downtown Brooklyn were listed on StreetEasy, from a $ 315,000 co-op studio to a three-story, nine-bedroom townhouse for $ 4.8 million. The vast majority were condos and co-ops, with just a handful of townhouses for sale, including a turn-of-the-century four-bedroom property on Concord Street, listed for $ 2.4 million.

The pandemic has affected the number of homes sold in the neighborhood, but not the prices: According to data provided by real estate expert Jonathan Miller, 538 properties sold in 2021, for a median price of $ 997,885. This is an increase of almost 10% from the median selling price of $ 910,000 in 2020, on just 247 properties.

Rental prices are also increasing. According to data from Zumper, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the area was $ 3,744 per month in December, an increase of almost 27% from the start of the year when the pandemic still affected rents.

As of mid-December, there were 158 apartments in downtown Brooklyn for rent on StreetEasy, from a $ 2,400 studio apartment in a building with an elevator to a four-bedroom, three-bathroom duplex. half with a panoramic terrace for $ 25,000 a month.

The vibe in downtown Brooklyn depends on which of its “little pockets” you find yourself in, Ms. Van Amburg said. On the west side of the neighborhood, near the historic Brooklyn Heights, it may feel more residential. Cadman Plaza Park and Columbus Park, where the popular Brooklyn Borough Hall Greenmarket is held on Saturday mornings, are two anchor points in this area. Families regularly line up to visit the New York Transit Museum, which reopened in October after closing for more than a year due to the pandemic.

The east side, where Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street converge, is more densely populated, both with residents and shoppers on Fulton Mall, a commercial artery with small businesses and national chains (including a flagship of Macy’s) .

The pandemic briefly affected these businesses, and some closed completely, but overall, “downtown Brooklyn has done pretty well,” Myer said. According to a recent pedestrian tally by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, foot traffic is now about 60 to 70% of what it was before the pandemic. “I think this is due to the number of people who live in downtown Brooklyn, or who want to come shopping in downtown Brooklyn,” she said.

The neighborhood is also part of what Ms. Myer’s organization calls the Brooklyn Cultural District, which includes raffles like the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Mark Morris Dance Center, and the ISSUE Project Hall.

Neighborhood schools include PS K369 Coy L. Cox at 383 State Street with 527 students from kindergarten to high school. PS 287 Bailey K. Ashford at 50 Navy Street has 119 students in Kindergarten to Grade 5.

Several charter schools have recently opened in the area. Brooklyn Prospect, at 80 Willoughby Street, had 416 students in its 2020-2021 school year, serving Kindergarten to Grade 5. During the 2018-2019 school year, 94% of parents surveyed said they were satisfied with their children’s education.

New York University has expanded its presence in the region, with its Tandon School of Engineering spread across multiple buildings. The mid-century office building at 370 Jay Street, once the seat of what would become the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, will soon become a hub of science and technology for the university’s students.

Downtown Brooklyn is at the intersection of almost all of the city’s subway lines: the Jay Street-MetroTech station offers lines A, C, F, and R; DeKalb Avenue offers lines B, D, Q and R; Borough Hall and Nevins Street stations have lines 2, 3, 4 and 5; and at Hoyt-Schermerhorn, lines G and C are available.

Bus lines include the B25, B26, B38, B52, B57, B41, B45, B54, B61, B65, B69 and B103. Citi Bike is a major presence in the neighborhood, with many bike-sharing racks on main arteries and side streets.

The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges connect Manhattan to the neighborhood via Adams Street and Flatbush Avenue. Downtown Brooklyn is also accessible via the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which connects the area with Bay Ridge and Staten Island to the south, and Williamsburg, Queens and the Bronx to the north.

Downtown Brooklyn has been the civic heart of the borough since before it became a borough: in 1835, a parcel of land near the waterfront in the newly formed city of Brooklyn was set aside for a municipal building. . The Greek Revival building at 209 Joralemon Street, now Brooklyn Borough Hall, opened in 1848 and was designated a New York Landmark in 1966.

Recent efforts to preserve neighborhood sites that played a role in the 19th century abolitionist movement have been successful: in early 2021, a small house at 227 Duffield Street, believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad , was named historical monument of the city.

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