This Park Slope lot has been vacant for decades. Here’s why

The curious tale of 15 Plaza Street West

New York /
Oct.October 30, 2019 08:15 AM
15 Plaza Street West in Brooklyn 

15 Plaza Street West in Brooklyn

Brooklyn’s real estate boom has made Park Slope one of the priciest neighborhoods in New York City. But one prime location, just steps from Prospect Park and a subway stop, has remained stubbornly empty for decades.

The lot, at 15 Plaza Street West, once had a paddle tennis court for the stately Montauk Club next door. But the social club sold it to developer Donald Minerva in 1998, according to property records and Montauk Club general manager Larry Berson.

The court was ripped out and the lot has remained vacant ever since, covered by weeds that reach eye level at times.

Minerva has proposed at least two developments for the site, which stretches from Plaza Street to Eighth Avenue, but both fell through, according to Berson and city records.

The first was a 15-story, 150-foot-tall building with 13 apartments that Minerva filed plans for in 1999, according to the Department of Buildings. He withdrew that plan in December 2005, citing “no work done” as the reason, agency records show.

Five years ago Minerva applied to build a five-story, single-family home spanning 8,700 square feet and standing 58 feet tall, according to city records. Architect William Bialosky was to design it. But in early 2015 the Department of Buildings deemed the application incomplete, according to agency spokeswoman Abigail Kunitz.

Kunitz said it is common for such applications to go through several rounds of examination before being accepted, and the agency does not know why Minerva decided not to continue. Neither Minerva nor Bialosky responded to requests for comment.

Berson said he would love to see Minerva put up something, at least a community garden or even a parking lot. He called its current state harmful to the Montauk Club, which was founded in 1889.

“It doesn’t help because he keeps it looking pretty bad, and everybody assumes it’s part of the club,” he said. “So we do keep up on it, but because it’s an empty lot, people just throw garbage there.”

Occasionally people relieve themselves on the derelict property as throngs of Park Slopers stream to and from the Grand Army Plaza subway station 50 feet away.

Despite its unhappiness with the lot, the social club has not considered trying to buy it back, Berson said.

But Alex Maroni, an agent at Douglas Elliman who focuses on Park Slope, said it is “inconceivable” that Minerva hasn’t received at least some offers for the property.

“He probably gets offers all the time to buy that lot,” he said. “I bet every time he goes to check his mail, his mailbox is filled with ‘I want to buy this lot from you.’”

Apartments in the North Slope fetch $1,000 per square foot or more, as Minerva undoubtedly knows: He is a licensed real estate broker and president of New Millennium Real Estate in Park Slope, according to its website.

Given the site’s location in a historic district, any development would require approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, Maroni acknowledged. He speculated that Minerva is simply not motivated to sell or develop it.

“My guess is that it doesn’t cost him much to own, and he’s just patient,” Maroni said, describing the situation as “one of these stalemates where a guy has no particular motive to let it go for less than he thinks it’s worth.”

Charlie Ruoff, an agent at Brown Harris Stevens’ 7th Avenue Park Slope office, echoed Maroni’s point. The attention generated by any project Minerva undertook might be one reason he hasn’t moved forward, he said.

“It’s going to have a lot of scrutiny, not just from the Montauk Club but from everybody who owns nearby and across the way,” Ruoff said.

Referring to one of Minerva’s past proposals, Ruoff said, “Something was floated, but it was sort of garish. It didn’t fit with the mindset of the neighborhood. That may have been a reason why it was pulled back.”

At about the same time that Minerva first sought to develop his lot, a few locals did object to plans for a 16-story building on another long-vacant parcel, two blocks away at 939 Union Street. But that project, the Shinnecock, completed in 2003, was a success. Its units have sold recently for an average price of nearly $1,300 per square foot.


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