Don’t believe the hype. That’s the main lesson to be learned from the news that Mayor Bloomberg has created a new office to oversee commercial development in Downtown Brooklyn.
The new “czar” will be charged with rescuing the Downtown Brooklyn Plan — a massive, high-rise-friendly upzoning that passed unanimously just two years ago.
Where the Downtown plan envisioned large skyscrapers filled with commercial tenants, back offices and even some corporate headquarters, developers in the zone have responded by proposing more of the badly needed housing for which the market is clearly crying out.
The plan didn’t just upzone Downtown Brooklyn — something virtually everyone applauded — it made the whole area an eminent-domain zone, anchored to the assumption that government knows best.
The plan’s evolution should have been anticipated. First, by using the threat of condemnation, the city stymied the area’s small business owners who hoped to benefit from the Downtown renaissance. Next, the bureaucracy made the case that since small property owners were incapable of maximizing Downtown’s potential, government would have the moral (and legal) right to grab their land. Third, they would then turn over those seized sites to preferred developers, who would quickly fill big buildings with important commercial tenants.
In the end, though, even the most-favored developers aren’t going to build unless the market exists.
Instead of trying to prop up the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, the mayor should be listening to the market.
True, there is currently little available office space in Downtown Brooklyn. But as The Papers’ Ariella Cohen points out on the front page, Brooklyn would quickly be awash in office space if all of the currently proposed projects were built.
As a result, Bruce Ratner has reduced the amount of office space he originally proposed in his Atlantic Yards mega-development in Prospect Heights. Ratner is reading the same tea leaves as the mayor, but drawing the correct conclusion that the post-911 market for commercial space in Brooklyn will not be as vibrant as predicted.
Whoever gets the job of Downtown Brooklyn “czar” should encourage developers to follow the market. Brooklyn is so hungry for residential development that commercial space along Montague Street and even on the Fulton Mall is being converted to apartments. Long-written-off Fourth Avenue is also booming with residential development.
New housing, rather than back offices that will bring thousands of car-driving commuters into an already choked Downtown Brooklyn, is clearly what Brooklyn needs most.