The lawsuit brought by local park activists challenging the civic experiment that is the 85-acre waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park — a public park sustained by private buildings to be developed within it — was dismissed last fall, allowing construction to proceed this spring, aiming for a 2012 debut.
But the park’s first new development, One Brooklyn Bridge Park — the largest industrial-to-residential conversion in Brooklyn’s history — plans to open much sooner. Developer RAL Companies & Affiliates has been busy for the last 18 months converting the 14-story, 1-million-square-foot former Jehovah’s Witness distribution center at 360 Furman Street into a luxury condominium with 449 apartments. It expects to finish the building by the end of 2007.
That’s good news for the park, as the building will begin kicking in its annual contributions six or so months after it closes on its condominiums. But how fast will buyers line up for apartments in a building so close to a construction site?
“In the pre-opening phase,” reports Bruce Ehrmann, executive vice president at Stribling Marketing Associates, sales agent for the property, “we’ve been trying to get through a substantial number of the 4,000 people who have called since the sign went up with the Web site address and telephone number. It’s been three days, and we have 37 deals already.” Sales officially began on April 28.
Aiming for broad appeal
Marketed by the Developers Group, along with Stribling Marketing Associates, One Brooklyn Bridge’s apartments come in a range of sizes and prices. “You can’t do a building this size and aim for one type of buyer, configuration or price point,” says Ehrmann. “You have to appeal to a broad cross section of savvy buyers.”
Residences include loft apartments ranging from 588-square-foot studios to 2,360-square-foot four-bedrooms; townhouses with two to five bedrooms, from 1,700 to 4,000 square feet; and three- and four-bedroom penthouses, from 2,500 to 4,640 square feet. The highest-priced, top-of-the-tower penthouse with panoramic views is listed for $7 million.
Prices announced for the apartments average about $1,000 a square foot, starting from $500,000 for a 588-square-foot studio. The price is healthy for Brooklyn, but not on the level of Richard Meier’s On Prospect Park, the glass-fronted condo on Grand Army Plaza, which averages $1,200 a square foot.
“The pricing is really a function of the size of the building,” according to developer Robert Levine, president of RAL. “If we had fewer apartments, they’d be much more expensive.”
RAL bought the mammoth 360 Furman, built as an industrial building in 1928, from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for $205 million in 2004. “We paid a premium for it because the park had already been announced,” says Levine. “That’s why the Jehovah’s Witnesses sold it. They took a building that would otherwise probably have been worth a third of what we paid for it.”
Of course, RAL’s project will profit considerably from its location within the park. In fact, from the beginning, the company could have chosen to apply for a rezoning of the property and maintained an independent existence, with a separate entrance, without the need to contribute to park funding.
But, confident the condo would benefit from being interwoven with the park, RAL made an agreement with the city’s Economic Development Corporation to pay a share of the park’s maintenance costs, starting at $1.25 million a year, with cost hikes built into the plan. It will cost about $15.2 million a year to maintain the park.
Levine figures construction costs at 360 Furman will add up to $200 million. “Plus we had to carry the building for three years,” he says. “And with the expenses of financing and marketing, costs for the building will be well over $500 million.”
Park benefits from RAL sales
The park has a stake in RAL’s sales success at One Brooklyn Bridge Park, as the developer has agreed to pay additional lump sums to the park if it hits certain sales revenue targets. When gross sales exceed $500 million, the contribution begins at $3 million and escalates from there. The park will earn $32 million if gross sales hit $700 million, a figure One Brooklyn Bridge may exceed.
The builder also will award the park a one-time payment of $3.5 million to be allowed to lease out a 15,000-square-foot gallery space on the second floor of the building. RAL made a land contribution to the park as well, donating 50 feet of easement in front of the building. And the building’s 500-car, on-site, attended parking facility will serve park visitors as well as residents.
A 12-acre landscaped section of Brooklyn Bridge Park is already in operation and recently attracted visitors for an Easter egg hunt with 16,000 eggs laid out on the lawn for neighborhood children.
Designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the 85-acre version to come will be an urban wonderland of rolling hills, open plazas, lawns, wetlands, meadows, tidal pools, dunes, marshes, a coastal forest, an aviary island and 40 acres of playgrounds.
The developer agreed to fill its more than 70,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space with park and community-friendly operations, such as supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops and bicycle shops. RAL has just begun marketing the retail space through its leasing affiliate Spandrel Property Services and outside brokers.
But the company is in no hurry. “It’s better to show when it’s built out,” says Levine. “It’s still a shell right now, with the storefronts just going in.”
Critics of the public-private financing arrangement have argued that state officials gave RAL a sweetheart deal.
Community activists say that the Empire State Development Corporation rubber-stamped Levine’s deal, according to a published report. They said they attempted to keep the condos out of the park, to no avail.
The transformation of 360 Furman has been a formidable challenge for RAL, though one it has been able to handle. The job has progressed without major setbacks because, says Levine, “our organization is completely vertically integrated.”
The project did present challenges to architects. According to Jerry Gallo, director of architectural services for RAL, “The challenge in the building was opening it up to get as much light and air into the apartments as possible. The biggest major modification was the removal of stair towers at the perimeter — moving them inboard.”
Half of the open ends in the H-shaped building’s massive courtyards were occupied by 30-foot stair towers. Removing the stair towers and replacing them with interior stairwells, says Gallo, “created a beautiful amenity space for the tenants and added a lot of light to the apartments.”
The building’s poured-concrete structure gives it a profound solidity, but compounds the demolition challenge. “The removal of sections of concrete has been a truly Herculean effort,” says Levine. “We are still removing sections and cutting concrete, removing enormous things from the building 18 months later.”
Strange things happen when clearing out a concrete building, says Gallo. “You think you know how things go together, and then when you start demo and open it up, you see the strangest details that were typical at the time but not what you’d expect today. Because the building is concrete and painted beige, you can’t tell until you start cutting or chopping what was added to the building over time.”
The roof of the existing building had a 12-foot parapet that had to be removed to make way for penthouse apartments. As with much of the unwanted materials in the building, the parapets were cut, brought into the building, lowered to street level, loaded onto the trucks and driven away.
To determine their weight-bearing capability, elaborate load tests were set up on the roof and a few of the floors. “We built huge swimming pools 40-by-40-feet and 8-feet high,” recalls Levine, “to fill with water so we could establish the basis for the structural slabs. You know the exact weight of a square foot of water, so it’s the one thing you can do to establish the loads you’re trying to achieve.” At the same time, the supporting floors are checked for signs of stress. The building won’t have a swimming pool, though. The lower floors were needed for the parking garage.
With ceilings up to 13-feet high, “the feeling of volume is everywhere,” says Ehrmann. “We’re advertising it as cubic feet rather than square feet.”
Packed with amenities
Apartments contain 9-foot-tall windows, 8-foot solid wood doors, individually controlled heating and air conditioning, washers and dryers, open kitchens with Italian cabinets by Dada, quartz countertops, SubZero and Bosch appliances and master baths with Hansgrohe fixtures and free-standing tubs.
Condo amenities will include refrigerated storage for FreshDirect deliveries, a 3,000-square-foot fitness center, yoga/Pilates room, children’s playroom and art facility, game room, meeting room, entertainment lounge, golf simulator, 7,000-square-foot landscaped garden and roof deck with private cabanas for sale. The on-site garage will offer 132 private parking spaces for sale — which will cost more than $100,000 per space — in addition to rental spaces. Two Zipcars will be available for hourly rental.
And then, of course, there’s the private development, occupying about 8.5 acres at the southern end of the park, starting at Atlantic Avenue. In addition to 360 Furman, there will be four new residential high-rises, a 225-room hotel, 151,000 square feet of retail space, 86,000 square feet of restaurants and cafes, and 30,000 square feet of offices.
The beginning of the park’s construction is set for June, just two months off schedule. “We’re thrilled they’ve finally vacated all the existing structures,” says Levine, “and it looks like they’re getting ready to start.”