Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Who Needs Manhattan? Downtown BK Renewal A Bona Fide Reality

When The New York Times pens a story on the revitalization of Downtown Brooklyn's Fulton Mall—just steps from my beloved Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, it heralds a watermark moment: sort of like, if the Times sniffs it as a reality, the revival has got to have credence. Its August 28 piece announced "National Retailers Discover a Brooklyn Mall."

I fell in love with DT BK while working for the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, walking the mile-long stretch from the Heights through Fulton Mall nearly every day.

While I dug its seedy persona—with wig shops, pawn shops, cash-checking joints and low-cost clothing—you could smell change in the air... as one, then another national retail chain took a chance on what was once Brooklyn's premiere shopping district. Back then, it was distinctly racially divided; often, I was the only white dude walking down the street. That's certainly not the case anymore, as gentrification has meshed the color lines. Truly, two years later, I hardly recognize the place.

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership's $300 million public improvements initiative to remake the flailing shopping mecca got the ball rolling at the beginning of the decade after 30 years of neglect, with newly paved streets and traffic patterns, wider sidewalks, contempo streetlights and shiny new bus stops that immediately gave the dingy streetwalk a glistening whitewash.

Much credit also has to go to Shake Shack, whose opening in December 2011 was perhaps the turning point, with a chain willing to take a chance on the promise of Fulton Mall. This year alone, the 17-block walkway has welcomed (or soon will): Gap Factory Outlet, Brooklyn Industries, Starbucks, Raymour & Flanigan, Victoria’s Secret, Express, Armani Exchange, Nordstrom Rack, H&M, TJ Maxx, Aeropostale, Seattle's Best, Century 21 and the mammoth City Point's 1.6 million square foot commercial, retail and residential project, due for completion in 2018. Add to that the development of Willoughby Square Park. Albee Square abutting City Point, new restaurants along Adams Street and the coming of the Downtown Tech Triangle... So are you paying attention Apple? Meanwhile, the ink keeps on flowing about Downtown Brooklyn's rejuvenation.

Racked posted a piece, "National Chains Are Still Racing to Open on Fulton Street," which discusses Raymour & Flanigan furniture store's 28,000 sf lease for the second floor of 490 Fulton Street, scheduled to open in February; and notes an undisclosed developer that's close to signing a 45,000sf lease with a major apparel retailer. In addition, The Real Deal wrote about "How Fulton Street is attracting national retailers," pointing out that Century 21 is the first department store to open in the nabe in some 50 years.

The Daily News noted the area's revolution, "long home to neon-lit sneaker shops, hot dog stands and cell phone stores" to its evolution as "state-of-the-art Brooklyn, complete with skyscraping condo towers and flowery landscaping along Flatbush Ave. Extension." Curbed remarked, "Fulton Street Mall Gets Popular," while The New York Observer profiled Michael Weiss, CEO of Express, which opened a new outlet in August at 490 Fulton Street. Even AP alerted its press members about the in-the-works story. And let's not forget one of the primary reasons for the area's boom: a revolution in Downtown highrise housing.

Brooklyn Heights residents are indeed eyewitnesses to a truly historic urban revival—just steps away from our homes—destined to forever change the texture of the neighborhood... literally week by week. Hey, who needs Manhattan, anyway? *