The Finger Will Be 14 Stories and Will Be Called the Tree

finger building 2 1 The Finger Will Be 14 Stories and Will Be Called the TreeIt’s become a cliché now: for the past few years, the Finger Building has been getting the finger from Williamsburg residents, the guy who sued (Scott Spector), HSBC, and even from its new owners, who have changed its name to the Albero (“the Tree” in Italian).

Though construction had stalled and the building had even entered foreclosure, the Finger (as it is still known in Williamsburg) at 144 North Eighth Street is finally under construction again and may actually get finished.

After years of heated debate in the courts and the streets about how high this aesthetically challenged building should rise, it’s been resolved: the Scarano-designed Albero will be 14 stories high, according to the project’s construction manager Mike Schon, and it will be finished in 10 months.

The top floor will be all penthouses, and the 13th floor will have two two-bedrooms. The floor plan—though “not consistent”—has four apartments per floor for most of the rest of the building, consisting of one studio, one one-bedroom, and two two-bedrooms, according to Mr. Schon.

The first floor is going to have retail space (which hasn’t been leased yet), and the second floor is going to be the condo’s crown jewel. With a gym and a few apartments on the inside, a large green roof-deck will surround the second floor, with patios and other amenities. “[It’s] probably going to be the biggest outdoor area in Williamsburg,” Mr. Schon said.

GFI bought the Finger from HSBC several months ago, after HSBC took over the foreclosed building when Mendel Brach, the previous developer, defaulted on construction loans. Even those leading the project have been taking a defensive stance. “Rather than have a horrible ugly skeleton looming over them, now they’ll have a finished product,” said Steven Horowitz, the GFI Capital vice president charged with managing the Finger.

Nearby retailers did not express a great deal of enthusiasm for the rusting Finger, though they did say that the new condo owners will bring in more business.

“I don’t even care about this building anymore. It’s just ugly now,” said Williamsburg local Robert Wnorowski, who works at the UPS Store across the street. “It’s probably terrible to look through the window and see this big monstrosity.”

“It doesn’t fit in the neighborhood, to be honest,” said Mike, the owner of SUNAC Natural, a grocery store right across the street from the condo at Seventh Street. “Are they going to finish on time? It’s been there for five years already.”

 

THE HALF-FINISHED BUILDING, which is still mostly torn open, is recognizable from nearly anywhere in this low-rise neighborhood. Its red metal outer walls try to mimic red bricks, while all the nearby buildings are townhouses made of real bricks. Like the budding Trump Soho, it towers over everything else in the area.

While the Finger’s new residents will probably help business in the sultry streets of Williamsburg, the drawn-out legal battle has actually forced a nearby restaurant to shut down.

Planet Thailand—the Finger’s next-door neighbor on Seventh Street, which has been blocked from view by construction scaffolding for the past five years—is set to close within a week, according to the restaurant’s manager, Francois Bertin.

While Mr. Bertin did not want to comment on the Finger’s impact, a Williamsburg local told The Observer that the scaffolding has “really hurt this business.”

It’s this sort of bad publicity that GFI is hoping to rectify in a PR conference in mid-September. “We’re going to present the whole building to the community and to the neighborhood,” said Mr. Horowitz from GFI, “and hopefully get everyone comfortable about it.”

Though Mr. Horowitz declined to comment on how much the condos will cost, since the marketing office has yet to open, there’s clues in recent neighborhood numbers. Sales of Williamsburg condos plummeted 70 percent annually in the first quarter of 2009, according to Crain’s, mostly due to the surfeit of new ones flooding an already struggling real estate market. The price of Brooklyn condos has fallen accordingly, from $586 per square foot in the fourth quarter of 2008 to $471 per square foot in the second quarter of 2009, according to appraisal firm Miller Samuel. The median sale for Brooklyn condos in the second quarter was $475,283.

How many stories the building would boast has been a perpetual point of contention. While the building has been frozen at 10 stories, plaintiff Scott Spector—who claims to own the space’s air rights—at first went to court to keep it at 10 stories and succeeded in preventing it from reaching the originally planned 16 stories. Then he wanted it torn down. Then, when the Finger needed a new permit two years ago, residents pushed for it to get cut to half its size—to 50 feet high (five stories) instead of the original 100 feet it had already reached, since zoning only allowed for 50 feet.

Finally, the Board of Standards and Appeals determined in December 2007 that the Finger could stay at 10 stories. A year later, when the Finger—still stalled—found a new owner in GFI, the BSA allowed for it to rise to 16 stories. Though Mr. Horowitz has declined to comment on how tall it would rise, it is thanks to Mr. Schon from East Wing Construction that we know it will rise to 14.

At least one person is thrilled about the prospect of a finished Finger. “Everybody likes big buildings. But it’s too expensive for me to live there,” said Alp Saruhan, a co-owner of the nearby restaurant Döner Turkish Food. “A lot of people are going to live there, and a lot of people are going to come here to eat!”

bkavoussi@observer.com