Location: About six months ago you released an Ian McKellen-narrated video of what downtown Brooklyn would look like in five years. Given the current economic turmoil, would you release the same video today?
Mr. Chan: Absolutely.
The video cited $9.5 billion in private investment—that included Atlantic Yards?
That includes Atlantic Yards.
So you still think Atlantic Yards will happen?
Yeah, I think it is in the process of happening.
All 16 towers and arena?
The Atlantic Yards was always a project that was conceived as taking a few economic cycles to fully realize itself.
Is that huge $9.5 billion number a projected number or does it represent actual investment?
That includes projects that are in the development pipeline. … It may take a few years longer than was originally projected. But no project has been taken off the table or just been abandoned.
Have you seen a decrease in the number of new projects coming down the pipeline?
Yeah. But I don’t know how much of that is truly a factor of the financial markets, or how much is due to the fact that there are now 56 projects proceeding in downtown Brooklyn, and there is only so much land down here.
So, downtown Brooklyn is at capacity?
I wouldn’t say it’s at capacity. There’s certainly capacity left. But the majority of the more significant soft sites are spoken for.
When is your job done?
I don’t think it’s a finite job by any standard. We view the Partnership as being an entity that represents the interests of economic development in downtown Brooklyn moving forward. Downtown Brooklyn is a downtown to a city of 2.5 million people.
Are you seeing a lot of interest from national retailers in downtown Brooklyn?
Yes. I think what you’re going to see over the next 12 to 18 months is a real diversification of the retail market down here. I think you’re going to have a number of national-level retailers that have not had a presence in Brooklyn, some not in New York City, that establish themselves here because they realize the power of the Brooklyn market. … Right now, I don’t think downtown Brooklyn is capitalizing on its full potential to draw in shoppers from the brownstone communities and Dumbo. Frankly, a lot of their residents still shop in Manhattan.
Where do you shop?
Depends on for what.
Where did you buy your tie?
Actually, everything I’m wearing I bought in East Williamsburg.
Really? What store?
It’s not a store. It’s Martin Greenfield. You know Martin Greenfield?
You’ve got to write a story about Martin Greenfield.
Who is Martin Greenfield?
He’s a tailor and a clothier based in East Williamsburg.
Do you make it a point to shop in Brooklyn?
Well, I do as much as I can. Except for my shoes, everything was bought in Brooklyn.
Have any retailers in particular expressed very strong interest?
[Despite] being surrounded by some of the most exciting residential neighborhoods in the city, downtown Brooklyn does not have a Crate and Barrel, or a Pottery Barn, or a Pier 1, or a CB2. And I think that’s certainly one industry [home furnishings] where you can expect to see some movement.
Is Nordstrom interested in coming to Brooklyn? I know Marty Markowitz really wants it to.
Um, Nordstrom is definitely someone that could benefit from a downtown Brooklyn location.
I wonder if it’s maybe a little too high-end for downtown Brooklyn.
We have a Morton’s Steakhouse coming to Adams Street.
So, where are all of these stores going to go?
A significant chunk of them are going to go into the City Point project, which is on the old Albee Square Mall site. But, in every residential building that you see being built here, the base is retail.
What do you see the Fulton Mall looking like in five years?
I see a few things. First the physical transformation of the Fulton Mall … There’s a streetscape improvement project that’s going to result in basically taking out all of the out-of-scale, 1982-vernacular stuff that’s there now, like the bus shelters that look like sliced mushrooms.
That look like sliced mushrooms?
They look like a cross-section of a sliced mushroom.
Will people who come to Fulton Mall still be able to shop there or will it cater more to the brownstone communities?
The goal here is not to remake Fulton Mall into Madison Avenue. That’s not what we want to do, nor is it achievable, even if we wanted to do it. The goal here is to create a healthy and diverse retail strip that offers a lot of different products and goods across a pretty diverse set of price points.
What will a walk down Flatbush Avenue look like in 10 years?
You didn’t watch our video where Ian McKellen describes it?
I did watch the video.
I won’t say “Booolevard” though.
I loved his pronunciation of ‘Myrtle Avenue.’
What was it?
Well, today Flatbush Avenue is not an inviting experience.
It’s pretty dismal.
Well, it’s dismal, but it’s also overwhelming to the senses. You’ve got a vehicular-driven strip that is obviously under construction, which is good, but it’s kind of visual cacophony. In the years to come you’re going to see a much more inviting pedestrian environment with $23 million of streetscape improvements on a planted median and trees and really just a softening of the physical experience on Flatbush Avenue. …
Where for years you had a combination of auto body shops and garages, you’re now going to have retail at the base of residential buildings, and retail that’s going to interact with the street in a positive and transparent way. One lesser-known attribute of the downtown Brooklyn plan is something called fenestration requirements.
As in ‘window’?
I went to Prague, to the castle where I believe the word ‘defenestration’ was coined.
What does that mean? Is that like boarding up windows?
That’s throwing someone out of a window.
That’s kind of brutal. Well, fenestration is requirements for glass and glazing and transparency on the ground floor. … You think about Flatbush Avenue and you think about first impressions, right? If you’re coming to Brooklyn for the first time, whether you’re a New Yorker or you’re visiting from Canada or Japan or wherever, and say you’re going to the Brooklyn Museum to see, what is it, the Murakami exhibit? Say you’re driving down Flatbush Avenue; now, it’s not the ideal experience.
Sort of like the experience of flying into LaGuardi
a or J.F.K. or Newark.
Yeah … I think the story that we can tell about the private sector and the public sector working together to transform that experience is an exciting one. And it’s going to take a few years to realize, but I think we’re well under way.