D’Town czar Chan’s ‘lofty’ business plan

The Brooklyn Paper
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If you build it, they will come — but with two-million-square feet of office space being built in Downtown Brooklyn, planners still don’t know who “they” are.

Joe Chan, the new planning czar appointed this fall by Mayor Bloomberg to jumpstart the city’s high-rise vision for Downtown Brooklyn, said last week that his top priority is to identify businesses to fill the district’s expanding number of cubicles.

“The question is, who are the next wave of commercial tenants?” said Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, in a roundtable discussion with local reporters.

“And what are the growth industries? Downtown Brooklyn has successfully depended on financial sector and insurance industry. It’s clear that we can’t depend on them alone.”

The City Council approved an upzoning of Downtown — and the use of eminent-domain — in 2004.

At the time, the hope was to snare corporations fleeing Lower Manhattan after 9-11, many of which were headed to New Jersey. But of 62,467 jobs in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, only a handful ended up in Brooklyn. The majority stayed put, while 17,575 landed in Jersey.

The result is a lot of class-A office space with no sure tenants.

“The Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was initiated in a very different real-estate market,” said Chan, “It was right after 9-11. The Bank of New York moved here. Other companies were looking to move. But a lot of the contemplated demand consolidated in Manhattan.

“[The market now] is, frankly, not as strong as we thought it would be, and the residential market is much stronger,” he added.

Nonetheless, Chan, a resident of DUMBO, is pursuing leads in the creative industries — and indicated that the trendy neighborhood of converted loft buildings and sleek towers under the Manhattan Bridge was the type of office district that took off thanks to the relocation of publishing companies, architectural firms, Web design studios and, of course, The Brooklyn Papers, based at 55 Washington St.

Downtown Brooklyn could have some of the same “loft-y appeal” he said.

In the wide-ranging interview at Chan’s 19th-floor offices in the heart of Downtown, he also said:

•City officials have already promised $100 million to spruce up Flatbush Avenue and create a new gateway to the borough from the Manhattan Bridge to Atlantic Avenue.

•City officials are six months shy of releasing a long-awaited call for proposals to develop affordable housing and artists’ studios in a proposed Fort Greene cultural district surrounding the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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