New Brooklyn Boss: Hits, Not Homers

Flatbush Avenue Envisioned.jpg
Brooklyn coulda been a contender

Downtown Brooklyn’s lament has been the inability to attract mega-tenants to four different sites that were painstakingly drawn and measured in a city-led massive rezoning two years ago.

Joe Chan, the president of the new Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, indicated in an interview last week that he was headed in a different direction: go for singles rather than home runs. Small parcels here and there might work better for the “creative industries” that he says could make Brooklyn home.

“Those four major sites that you are referring to were assuming large buildings of 30-40,000 square feet,” he said, referring to the size of the floor plates. “There are a number of other sites that were rezoned as a result of the Downtown Brooklyn Plan that may accommodate maybe 15- or 20,000 square feet…. There is a significant amount of opportunity beyond those four sites. Those four sites may change. They could be divided into two or three development parcels. The most important thing in terms of planning and economic development and real estate is creating an environment where the planners and real estate developers can be flexible.”

Chan, who used to be Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff’s emissary to the borough and is now sort of acting in the reverse role, won’t discount movement on those four sites, and in fact told The Sun a few weeks ago that he wants to enlist a developer to build a “mixed-use project of more than 1 million square feet” in the next six months.

But in our interview, Chan made a point of saying that market conditions had changed since the Economic Development Corporation and the Department of City Planning devised the Downtown Brooklyn Plan a few years ago. That plan permitted more residential buildings, in order to soften the edges of MetroTech, but it also imagined that the area would continue to be a sort of Jersey City office park marketed toward “traditional Manhattan tenants with back-office operations who would consider relocating to less expensive but convenient space in Downtown Brooklyn.”

So far condo construction has taken off, but the 4.5 million square feet worth of megasites, where another 19,000 people were supposed to be working, have been waiting for anchor tenants to come forward and claim their prize.

“The Downtown Brooklyn Plan was created in a different market and markets change in the city,” Chan said. “Financial institutions are scaling back and that in turn means they need less space.”

That’s a big admission coming from someone who personally worked on the downtown plan when he was in city government. It’s also a good indication of what the Mayor’s economic planners believe can happen in Brooklyn. While the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is a nonprofit corporation (with $2 million of its $8 million annual budget coming from the city), it was set up to merge four entities (the MetroTech BID, Fulton Mall Improvement Association, Downtown Brooklyn Council and BAM LDC) in order to smooth out communication with City Hall. Chan won’t have any real power when it comes to designating developers, but he will be promoting the area, and it helps to have someone who used to work for the deputy mayor rooting for you.

Glenn Markman, a Cushman & Wakefield executive director, said in an extensive Observer article last January on the neighborhood that downtown Brooklyn would be a natural magnet for creative industries. “We totally agree [with that] and we think it’s worth pursuing,” Chan said. “But we have to understand what the creative industries are, what sort of product those firms are looking for. That’s the big challenge.”

The other big challenge will be to keep those companies from going first to Hudson Square, Long Island City, Chelsea, the Flatiron or Dumbo–all of which are also marketing themselves to “creative industries.” May the best nabe win.

-Matthew Schuerman