A Clinton Hill building site that was supposed to house a nine-story apartment building has been derelict so long that a sapling has sprouted instead.
“The tree is now so tall you can see it over the top of the eight-foot construction board,” said Dominic Holden, a writer and community organizer who lives around the corner.
Fogarty Finger, the architect, revealed renderings of a 112-unit building at the corner of Grand Avenue and Fulton Street two years ago. It was meant to replace a parking lot adjoining the Bethel Seventh Day Adventist Church. Developer Ranger Properties installed fencing, demolished the parking lot and built a foundation, with completion expected this summer.
Then work at 445 Grand Avenue, an estimated $72 million project, came to a halt. Weeds are budding, construction fencing is sagging and pedestrians share half a block of Fulton and Grand with Jersey barriers. The reason: a falling out between two Ranger Properties executives, according to a lawsuit filed last month by Ranger.
Nearby, other projects are springing up as developers look to cash in on Clinton Hill’s strong market. Right across the street, for example, at 1031 Fulton, all eight stories of a mixed-use building are now in place. The owner, Big Apple Developers, filed those permits more than a year after Ranger. Daten Group’s 135-unit building at 540 Waverly Avenue topped out in July after submitting permits in January of 2020.
Local leaders are hoping for a speedy resolution. The stalled site is bad for nearby businesses, said Christina Chavez, executive director of the Fulton Area Business Alliance. She wondered whether another developer could be brought in to move the project along.
“I don’t know if that’s possible at all,” she said.
The origin of the lawsuit dates back to when Fogarty Finger first filed building plans in September 2018. Ranger principal Sheldon Stein tapped Idan Nir, listed as the firm’s vice president on its website, to supervise construction.
Nir agreed to the work as part of his job at Ranger and didn’t ask for extra pay, the suit says. In an email from November 2019, Nir confirmed he’d been “performing the work without any fees,” according to the suit. Meanwhile, a crew had bulldozed the site and a rendering of the finished building appeared on the fencing.
Then, in June 2020, Nir and Stein had a falling out unrelated to the Clinton Hill project, according to the suit. Local residents say construction ceased about the same time.
A month later, Nir invoiced Stein for his work on Grand Avenue, but Stein refused to pay. In January of this year, Nir upped the ante, filing a mechanic’s lien demanding almost $200,000. That mothballed the project because Ranger cannot close on its construction loan until the lien is cleared, according to the suit it filed against Nir seven months later.
The lien could also place Ranger in default of its construction agreement with the church, from which it has leased the land for 99 years.
None of the parties involved in the suit — Ranger Properties, Stein or Nir — returned requests for comment. Stein’s attorney, Keith Richman, also didn’t respond to a request for comment. Nir’s attorney could not be reached.
The legal wrangling shows few signs of ending. A hearing on the lawsuit slated for today in Brooklyn has been rescheduled until mid-November. If Ranger wins, the lien would be canceled and the developer would, presumably, be able to start building.
Without financing, it’s unlikely Ranger will be able to do much. With 120,809 square feet to build and construction prices running $600 to $800 per buildable square foot, the project would run Ranger at least $72 million, according to a principal at a New York developer who requested anonymity to discuss a competitor. Only a few development firms in the city have the capital on hand to fund a project of that size, the person said.
Ranger faces at least one other suit. The developer, which refinanced a condominium project at 199 Chrystie Street twice in 2019 and 2020, has owed a contractor on the project nearly $550,000 since September 2019, according to litigation brought by DCD Construction last September.
Reached for comment, Fogarty Finger spokesperson Bridget Moriarity estimated that the project would wrap up in 18 months. Later, the firm’s marketing director, Lisa Thide, said it had entered into the construction administration phase, which can include procuring a contractor, and that construction was imminent.
Residents are growing impatient. Holden, the writer who lives nearby, called the site an eyesore that attracts rats and said barriers that block the sidewalk have created an economic dead zone in an otherwise vibrant commercial corridor.
“The project effectively puts a tourniquet on the pedestrian lifeblood of that street,” Holden said.