Last week, when Domino Sugar Refinery owner Jed Walentas made his first community meeting appearance after announcing SHoP Architect’s revamped plan for the site, he was greeted by—as The Brooklyn Paper put it—”snark, derision, and anger” (otherwise known as the Williamsburg welcome).
“He comes across like Jesse Eisenberg with his tennis shoes and his hoodie,” said community activist Susan Pelligrino, presumably referring to Mark Zuckerberg, “but he’s a total capitalist.” (Last we checked, the multibillionaire Facebook founder is also a total capitalist.)
Two Trees has worked hard to soften that image, with promises of an accessible waterfront and over half a million square feet of office space, to be let at half the going rate of luxury housing in the neighborhood, and today they unveiled their first offering to the community: “interim community uses for Domino site E,” as their announcement so fondly put it.
The City of New York, like many other large landowners, has been selling its land for centuries. However, these last few months have brought what many consider to be a disconcerting flurry of real estate transactions as the city, citing a cash crunch, moves to sell off a number of schools, libraries and municipal buildings.
The city and others have lauded the sell-off as a way to bring much-needed monies to institutions that are in dire need of help. Trading in valuable real estate, we are told, will keep the city’s civic institutions afloat. If only it didn’t have the vaguely desperate vibe of a pawn shop swap.
As Vishaan Chakrabarti, a principal at SHoP Architects, was unveiling the Southside Williamsburg master plan they designed for Two Trees, he evoked the image of Manhattan’s skyline. “Just like in the dead center of New York,” he told the assembled group of reporters, “we have this parabolic moment—there’s this moment of exuberance that happens” as Read More
Planes Trains & Automobiles
In the midst of yesterday’s frenzy of Domino Sugar Refinery-themed press coverage, squished L train riders could be forgiven for asking: how much more development can Williamsburg handle? With only two tracks in a largely quad-tracked system, the L is not as well-endowed as some lines—so how much more Williamsburg can the L really take?
As it turns out, quite a bit.
When Two Trees Management bought the old Domino Sugar site from CPC Resources and a reluctant Katan Group, a local developer told The Observer that Jed Walentas would be “crazy to go back to ULURP” for a rezoning of the site, which had already been approved for thousands of high-rise apartments.
But going back to to everyone’s favorite acronym (to pronounce, at least) is exactly what Mr. Walentas intends to do. He and SHoP, the New York-based architecture firm that Bruce Ratner tapped to design the Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards after Frank Gehry proved too expensive, called a group of reporters to SHoP’s offices near City Hall on Friday to show off their plans for the site.
The first thing Mr. Walentas spoke about was Two Trees’ desire to expand the amount of parkland included in the project—adding two new acres—and to make it more accessible to the public.
He criticized the open space in the old site plan as something that “felt very much like a privatized front lawn for people who lived there,” and spoke about his desire to pull the buildings back inland to make more space for the quarter-mile-long waterfront park, as well as add a new public street between his buildings and the waterfront.
Union Square too expensive for your tech start-up? DUMBO too full? Downtown Brooklyn too… Downtown Brooklyn? Jed Walentas has a new suggestion: how about the Williamsburg waterfront?
Two Trees is looking to return to its commercial roots at the old Domino Sugar factory site, The Wall Street Journal reports. Jed wants to convert the 11-acre site’s signature structure into office space and throw up a new office building, for a total of 630,000 square feet. If successful, that would be nearly twice Williamsburg’s paltry existing stock of 350,000 square feet of large-block space.
For more than a year now, ever since the very first rental units at the monolithic, magnificent Mercedes House came on the market, Two Trees Management has been debating what to do with the rest of its zig-zagging luxury building on the Far West Side of Manhattan. The massive block-long project was a gamble for the Brooklyn firm, about as big and brash and far away from its home turf in Dumbo as one could get (without going to Godforbid, N.J.).
Mercedes House was built in two phases, a swooping base and a connected tower. There would be two sets of rentals, and, the cherry on top, a contingent of condos crowning the 1.3-million-square-foot building, with better finishes and excellent views, on floors 22 through 32. “Everything was high end,” Two Trees managing director Asher Abehsera told The Observer late last week.
He had called in part to set the record straight about the sale of those condos units in a block to Invesco, the Atlanta-based investment management group, that was widely reported last week.
During our conversation with Two Trees managing director Asher Abehsera on the success of the firm’s massive Mercedes House project, we turned briefly to the topic of the Domino sugar refinery in Williamsburg.
As we previously reported, Two Trees is rethinking the entire Domino project, including the controversial move of how much affordable housing to include. We asked Mr. Abeshsera how things are progressing. According to him, the planning process is just getting under way.
Just what makes the Mercedes House so popular? It’s not German engineering, but it sure looks like it. Take our tour and see for yourself what’s inside Two Tree’s latest sapling.
Who would want to live all the way out on 11th Avenue, at 54th Street, no less? What’s there? Nothing! Except the Mercedes House, where the answer to first question appears to be: everyone!
According to Two Trees’ Asher Abehsera, the second phase of the massive Far West Side development has been renting faster than a sports car, with more than half of the units gone since coming on the market a little over two months ago. So far, 174 of the 384 units have been leased, and move-ins are underway—without the help of any outside brokers, Mr. Abehsera said.
“I don’t know that other people have done 170 apartments at market-rate prices with no outside brokers in two and a half months. That’s probably a big deal,” he said.