The Real Deal New York

Rubenstein Partners putting together
full-block assemblage in Williamsburg

Site could be 50% larger than company’s signature development at 25 Kent Ave
By Rich Bockmann | January 14, 2019 03:35PM

Rubenstein Partners’ Robert Andrews and an aerial shot of the Brooklyn block between Gem Street, Banker Street, Meserole Avenue and Wythe Avenue (Credit: Google Maps)

The developer behind the one of the biggest office projects in Williamsburg, a neighborhood whose fortunes are tied to the vagaries of the L train, is making another big bet on the area.

Rubenstein Partners is putting together a block-sized assemblage where the company could develop an office-and-light-manufacturing building that could be 50 percent larger than its signature development just a few blocks away at 25 Kent Avenue, sources told The Real Deal.

The Philadelphia-based company has four separate “option” contracts with property owners who collectively control the entire block bounded by Meserole and Wythe avenues and Banker and Gem streets near the Williamsburg and Greenpoint border, property records filed with the city show.

The “option” part of the deal, sources told TRD, is most likely an agreement to purchase the properties based on the buildable square footage Rubenstein can negotiate for the site through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process.

Rubenstein’s assemblage currently has about 233,500 buildable square feet as of right. But when the developer joined Toby Moskovtiz’ Heritage Equity Partners in 2015 to work on 25 Kent, they were able to secure a rezoning that tripled the size of its project to 500,000 square feet.

That could put Rubenstein’s newest project somewhere in the area of 730,000 square feet, based on rough math. Sources said development sites in the area have been trading for between $200 and $300 per square foot, which could put the purchase north of $200 million.

The developer’s option on the site expires in September 2023.

A representative for Rubenstein Partners did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rubenstein and Moskotviz showed great confidence in the Brooklyn commercial market when they began developing 25 Kent – the first ground-up office construction in the Williamsburg in 40 years – on spec. It was a period when companies were inking big deals for office space such as Wet Elm’s 150,000-square-foot lease at Empire Stores in Dumbo, WeWork’s 220,000-square-foot lease to anchor the Dock 72 project at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Time, Inc.’s 55,000-square-foot lease to relocate some employees from Manhattan to Industry City.

But in the years since, there’s been one glaring omission that’s frustrated the Brooklyn office market: Industry players are still waiting on a major corporation to relocate its headquarters to the borough, a deal that would cement it as a legitimate office destination. (Brooklyn missed out on the competition for Amazon, which chose to open offices in Long Island City, thanks in part to its wealth of transit options.)

Further complicating matters for Williamsburg is the fact that for more than a year the neighborhood has been bracing for an 18-month shutdown of the L train. That, of course, was reversed earlier this month when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his plan keep the train running through the workday and only do repair work on nights and weekends. But sources said the expectation of the shutdown has turned tenants away from many neighborhoods that rely on the subway line to connect to Manhattan.

Rubenstein and Moskovitz have been rumored to be in advanced discussions with tenants for 25 Kent for some time, but have yet to announce the development’s first lease.

Rubenstein has been gearing up for a larger footprint in New York City. The company in 2017 hired former RXR Realty executive Robert Andrews to head up its acquisitions department in the five boroughs. That same year the company launched a fund that had some $700 million in purchasing power. Last spring, Rubenstein opened an office at 515 Madison Avenue.