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‘Soho lofts’ on the way to Fulton Mall

The Brooklyn Paper
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Is Fulton Mall the next Soho?

The people who oversee the bustling downtown bazaar think so, thanks to a renewed push to convert hundreds of upper-floor offices into artists’ lofts.

“My experience is loft conversion in Soho and Tribeca,” said Albert Laboz, the owner of a seven-story landmark building at 505 Fulton St. on the outdoor pedestrian mall.

“We’d like to do the same thing down there and we want the city to help us the way they helped neighborhoods in Manhattan,” added Laboz, who is also co-chairman of the Fulton Street Mall.

Many regard the mall — which runs from Boerum Place to Flatbush Avenue and is dominated by chain stores, cellphone emporiums, 99-cent joints and electronic outlets — as a missed opportunity, given its location in the center of Brooklyn’s business district.

Yet the mall is the borough’s busiest, with 100,000 shoppers daily, according to the Fulton Mall Improvement Association. Its commercial rents rival only Seventh Avenue in Park Slope and Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, according to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

Yet mall officials say the Target department store at Atlantic Center — plus Bruce Ratner’s proposed Atlantic Yards complex at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues — show that Fulton Mall needs to change its mix.

“If you sit still, you actually can go backwards,” said Fulton Mall Improvement Association President Michael Weiss. “The big boxes and other retailers are competitive. Fulton has to do things that insure its future.”

Weiss believes that adding residential lofts to the mix at Fulton would add to its “diversity” by bringing new people in.

“What people have found in Red Hook and DUMBO is live-work [studio and residential space together] and it has been good for the neighborhoods. We could easily convert some of the space above the storefronts into that kind of loft space,” he said.

The only question would be whether the spaces would be affordable to artists and advantageous to property owners, Weiss said.

Fulton Mall was part of the Downtown Brooklyn Plan that was approved by the city last year, but no specifics were offered.

A loft-filled mall does fit in with the Plan’s stated goal of a mixed-use downtown, but opponents say any proposal to bring artists to Fulton Street smacks of gentrification.

“That space is very important to black New Yorkers,” said Allison Dean, an urban planner who studied the mall for Pratt Institute.

“People grew up going there with grandmothe­rs,” Dean said. “When you ask why they still shop there, they say it’s one of the last places left in Brooklyn where they can still bargain for a deal. I don’t see how loft development will benefit these shoppers.”

Nonetheless, Weiss’s group has begun talking with downtown planners and will soon offer proposals to the city, which would have to rezone the area for residential use.

Proponents believe the Fulton district, with its Romanesque buildings and busy streets, could be eligible for the same city subsidies that lured residential developers to convert old office buildings in Lower Manhattan.

If artists start filling the lofts upstairs, the businesses downstairs are destined to change, too, experts said.

“Nicer stores are coming,” said Eddie Aydag, the owner of Mirage Boutique, a woman’s clothing store with two locations on the mall.

But Aydag thinks the strip will be less like Soho and more like 34th Street in Manhattan.

Before the Civil War, Fulton Street was a way station along the Underground Railroad, as escaped slaves headed for Canada via the Fulton Ferry docks.

By the end of the 19th century, the street was known for its stately brick buildings and upscale department stores.

The fancy buildings remain, but the big-name stores and luncheonettes have long since fled to the suburbs. The high-volume stores that filled the vacuum remain.. .



Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Alice from Forest Hills says:
We discover year ago and shop from Mirage stores in Brooklyn Downtown. We love the designer clothing from Mirage Boutique's that fits so great as well as with huge selection.
Thanks to Mr Mirage Eddie.
Alice
Dec. 26, 2007, 12:53 am

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