Transformer! Brooklyn’s Biggest New Tower Set To Change Downtown’s Tone, For Better or Worse

Hundreds of new residents will pour into downtown Brooklyn when its tallest building—the 51-story Brooklyner—opens in 2010.

Building the high-rise at 111 Lawrence Street—Brooklyn’s tallest by two feet—has not been cheap. According to a March report from Commercial Mortgage Alert, the Clarett Group borrowed $181.5 million from the Bank of America, JP Morgan, and ING Real Estate for the $280 million project.

But rents are likely to offset the cost. Studios will start at about $1,550 per month, and rents are likely to go up to $3,000 for one- and two-bedroom apartments, according to Joe Bartolo, the project’s plumbing foreman, who saw a document from the Clarett Group listing prospective rents. He added that floor space is being valued at $40 per square foot. Members of the Clarett Group—including its managing partner, Veronica Hackett—declined to comment.

The 491-unit high-rise is made up almost entirely of studios and one-bedroom apartments, according to Mr. Bartolo. From the fifth floor to the 41st, there are five studios, five one-bedroom apartments, and one two-bedroom apartment per floor. From the 42nd floor to the 50th, 11 apartments are reduced to nine, with two one-bedroom apartments lopped off each floor.The high-rise’s most desirable apartment sits at the top: a majestic duplex penthouse overlooking New York City from all four sides of the 51st floor. It has three bedrooms, four bathrooms and a kitchen.

But the studios, according to Mr. Bartolo, are small: 350 to 400 square feet apiece. “The fixtures are pretty basic,” he said. “Nothing fancy.” There will also be a parking garage underground and on the second and third floors. The fourth floor will have a gym, party room, laundry room and other amenities.

While the Clarett Group originally wanted to build 52 floors, the Department of Buildings would not give it a permit to add the extra floor.

If you’re eager to rent out that Brooklyner penthouse right away, it’s still under construction—as is much of the rest of the building. “Nothing is done,” said one electrician at the work site this week, who predicted that construction will finish in eight months to a year. “Most of the work done is structural—and the interior walls.”

“The top floors look like a wide-open shell,” his apprentice said. “But you got a hell of a view. You can see the whole city.”


DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN HAS ITS juxtaposed contradictions: a prominent branch of the New York Stock Exchange stands just a couple of blocks away from a 99-cent store (both within short walking distance of the Brooklyner). But the Brooklyner’s arrival indicates that it may be the NYSE—and not the 99-cent store—that holds downtown Brooklyn’s future.

“We need a change,” said Jack Paz, the owner of Jack’s Barber Shop, who said he’s lost 50 percent of his business in the past two years as a result of the financial crisis. “Those tenants will make [downtown Brooklyn] a lot better than what it is now.”

Other retailers near the Brooklyner and the adjacent office complex at the MetroTech Center, the home of the NYSE branch, said they’re looking forward to having more business as a result.

Jennifer Zeng, a cashier at the Chinese buffet Wok and Roll and also the manager’s daughter, said that September 11—not just the financial crisis—has hurt business in Brooklyn. “After 9/11, it’s been pretty quiet for us,” she said. “Hopefully, [the Brooklyner] will give us more exposure.”

But not everyone in Brooklyn is cheering the tower’s arrival. “It’s not helping most people here,” said Latoya Smith, a student at Long Island University. “They should help build low-income housing and shelters instead of this big high-rise for no reason.”

Nonetheless, the high-rise is drawing locals’ attention. James Gibbs, a retired porter who now teaches chess at Washington Square Park, stood gazing up at the Brooklyner as he leaned against a newspaper stand. “I call it the first wonder of the world in Brooklyn,” he said.

Mr. Gibbs compared the Brooklyner to downtown Brooklyn’s clocktower—formerly Brooklyn’s tallest building, which he nicknames the Big Ben (and which goes by the official moniker, One Hanson Place). Ever since trying to find his way through monsoons in the Vietnam War, Mr. Gibbs says he has looked for landmarks whenever he is lost, and he said that the Brooklyner is now his new landmark. “It’s my guide.” 

Transformer! Brooklyn’s Biggest New Tower Set To Change Downtown’s Tone, For Better or Worse