Dreams of Brooklyn Central Business District Dashed

Joe Chan, the head of the public-private Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, is scaling back expectations that downtown Brooklyn will ever achieve the dizzying heights of central business district-dom once imagined way back in 2004.

“You are not seeing historically what has happened in downtown Brooklyn, which is exclusively commercial office towers being built,” Mr. Chan told a gathering of reporters this morning in one of those exclusively commercial office towers at MetroTech. “I think you are going to see smaller increments of office space being built within what we call hybrid buildings, like the City Point building, a mixture of residential, retail, in some cases hotel, and office.”

Mr. Chan has sounded this note before, though never so definitively. The partnership now says that it expects just 1.6 million square feet of office space to be built in the next five years, compared to 4.5 million square feet that the city Economic Development Corporation estimated would be built when it proposed a massive downtown Brooklyn rezoning three years ago.

More office space might come eventually, Mr. Chan added, and the plan was also supposed to bring a 24-7 character to an area with a few hundred residents. But, still, a big justification for allowing 60-story towers in Brooklyn was that they would house jobs—some 19,000 of them, according to the EDC. Trim that number to less than 7,000 now.

“Are we fully hitting the 4.5 million square feet of office space that could have been created? No,” Mr. Chan said. “The 4.5 was really seen as a ceiling. We hope that the 1.6 will increase over time and again as markets change.”

The funny thing is that it looks like grassroots types made better predictions about the downtown Brooklyn real estate market than the experts did. Back when the downtown Brooklyn Plan was being approved in 2004, neighborhood groups asked why the city was envisioning so much back office space when, as the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association put it, “back office space is being exported to other countries.”

The city insisted that the office space would be filled, responding in the final environmental impact statement that “growth in sectors such as business services will drive regional demand for new office space to over 110 million square feet. In order for the city to be able to compete effectively in the region and ensure that it maintains its current market share, a breadth of office space options must be made available.”

The residential trend in downtown Brooklyn will also mean that, while the nightlife might get better, the one new park planned for downtown (Willoughby Square, pictured above), is going to get a lot of wear and tear.

“One of the criticisms we had was that it wasn’t realistic and it wasn’t addressing the impending realities that we all expected we would see as all this residential moved in,” said Jo Anne Simon, an attorney and coordinator of downtown Brooklyn groups during the rezoning. “The city has guidelines about how much open space there should be per person. We were below the guidelines anyway, and now that there will be more residential, we are going to fail to meet those guidelines even more.”

Dreams of Brooklyn Central Business District Dashed