Block tease! Atlantic Av land deal bears first fruit

The Brooklyn Paper
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There’s a new blockbuster on Atlantic Avenue, and after two years, $8 million, and many gallons of fresh, brightly colored paint, newcomer developer Barbara Koz Paley is ready to show off her work on eight consecutive townhouses between Third and Fourth avenues.

Back in 2005, Paley bought up the buildings on the north side of the avenue for $8.3 million, creating her own personal superblock out of a stretch of Atlantic Avenue long known for its Islamic bookstores, and Arabic-themed clothing and accessories shops, and halal restaurants.

Indeed, that’s what attracted Paley to the buildings, which welcomed Paley’s first tenant last week: a high-end salon.

“We bought these buildings because they were at the intersection of eight neighborho­ods,” said Paley, of the spot that connects Boerum Hill to Park Slope, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights, Downtown and Cobble Hill. “Retail is the great connector, as we’ve seen in Manhattan and Paris and London.”

For now, the “connector” is Sanctuary Salon, where owner Andi Jones opened for business last week.

“I’m such a staunch supporter of shopping and buying locally. I want to give people a reason to avoid that cab ride into Manhattan,” Jones said. “When I first moved to New York, I would always hear people say, ‘Oh, I don’t do Brooklyn,’ but when I moved to this neighborhood, I just fell in love with it.”

Jones said she spent two years trying to find the perfect space, and finally settled on Paley’s building, despite critics who said that that section of the avenue would never generate enough foot traffic.

But Paley remains bullish, saying she envisions shops that will cater to the changing surroundings, like a coffee house, a prepared foods market, a bakery-café, and housewares and clothing boutiques. The retail spaces are each between 600 and 1,000 square feet, except for one that is 2,000 square feet. Paley said she hopes to attract a restaurant there.

In addition to rehabbing the storefronts on all eight buildings, Paley combined six of the townhouses into 22 one- and two-bedroom rental units and landscaped a backyard garden. She will also curate rotating exhibits from local artists throughout the building and in the courtyard, she said.

Many neighbors were eager to see the neighborhood’s emerging “out with the old, in with the new” attitude.

“This street is undergoing some really rapid changes,” said 20-year-Brookyn resident Michael Hewes, pointing to the upscale clothing boutique Steven Alan, which opened at 349 Atlantic Ave., and the antique kitsch shop Vintage Signage, which opened at 334 Atlantic Ave., this summer.

“I welcome anything that comes in here and gets people out on the streets,” he said. “The more we can build up this community, the better.”

But the transformation didn’t come without a fight.

Soon after Paley purchased the buildings, she raised rents on the local businesses that had been housed there for years, including at Casbah, where local jeweler Ahmed Lamrini was paying $1,550 for his space until Paley demanded $4,500.

And the extensive renovations kept much of the block in the dark during the last two years, said Sandy Balboza, president of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association.

“It’s a problem that the stores were kept empty for two years,” Balboza said. “It’s a good thing if she can rent them, but it’s a problem to the other merchants when you have so many storefronts empty.”

Jones, meanwhile, can hardly contain her optimism.

“High-end retail will bring more of these residents out onto the street,” said Jones. “All of the business owners on this street are excited, and even the mailman was excited to see something open up down here.”

— with Emily Lavin

Updated 5:42 pm, October 2, 2008
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