Two weeks ago, the unthinkable happened. A new tower is coming to the Williamsburg waterfront, the first since the bubble burst three years ago. It is the biggest news in the neighborhood since then, both figuratively and literally: the third tower at North Side piers will house 500 luxury rental apartments in a 40 story tower, the largest project of its kind yet in North Brooklyn, arguably the entire borough, if the neighboring towers are included.
But really, that is nothing—at least next to the development Park Tower Group has planned.
One of the first developers to see the potential of the Brooklyn waterfront, Park Tower procured the development rights to the old Greenpoint Lumber Exchange almost a decade ago, a 20-acre plot at the tip of the neighborhood, where Newtown Creek empties its Superfunded waters out into the East River. On this site, now home to construction storage and movie backlots (the boardwalk in Boardwalk Empire is here), will some day rise 10 luxury apartment buildings with 4,000 units of housing inside. After years of planning, at least one of them should begin to rise starting next year, according to a person with knowledge of the project.
While the neighborhood has already seen a major boom and bust in the past five years, since the rezoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Park Tower has been at work long before then. The firm is led by George Klein, who built a number of marquee office towers in Midtown in the 1980s while also playing a major role in city and national politics—like his development, it most often done behind the scenes. With its stake in the waterfront, Park Tower helped shape the plan for the rezoning, particularly the high-rise zone on the waterfront. The firm has been biding its time, quietly designing its project, under the direction of architect Gary Handel, whose work includes the Trump Soho, condos in Hudson Square, a handful or Ritz Carltons and the 9/11 Memorial.
Whereas before Park Tower was considering condos, it has shifted its focus to rentals as those are more easily financed and filled these days. The developer is in advance talks with lenders and hopes to secure construction loans in the coming months, to enable a ground breaking sometime next year.
“The project has been there a long time, but now the market is finally there,” the person involved with the project said. Financing does remain tight, and has grown more difficult in recent months as the global economy has begun to sink again. Regardless, Park Tower remains confident in its ability to realize the project given the strong demand for housing in North Brooklyn—rents have risen 10 percent in the past year.
The firm has been making other entrées into the neighborhood, recently offering a $25,000 donation for investments in community facilities on the waterfront, according to a source in the neighborhood.
Even so, the sweeteners may not be necessary as a good portion of the community already supports the project. Unlike other developers, Park Tower is sticking to the parameters of the rezoning, rather than trying to add stories and reduce amenities. Acres of open space and a 20 percent set-aside for affordable housing—some 800 units—will be there, as per the rezoning.
“Until stuff gets built in Greenpoint, we don’t get any waterfront access,” said Ward Dennis, co-chair of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth. “I guess some people would gladly trade that for a less crowded neighborhood, but the thing is, the rezoning is done, the land is going sit largely fallow and underused—or overused and productive, with at least some benefits to the community at large.”