High hopes for Bushwick… er, East Williamsburg

Nov.November 21, 2007 02:47 PM

Once a refuge for displaced Soho bohos, Williamsburg has undergone a gentrification of its own, dispersing its trendy minions to other parts of the city.

Aesthetes who lack disposable incomes but desire to stay in gritty Brooklyn have pushed the frontier of Williamsburg into the nebulous neighborhood that once formed the western edge of Bushwick, but, thanks to real estate professionals, is now convincingly known as East Williamsburg. Neighborhood boosters and developers have proclaimed the area to be the next real estate hotspot, despite the lack of a catchy nickname.

Other industry insiders claim that the area retains its stigma as a locus of an arson and looting spree during the 1977 blackout, and will remain a fringe neighborhood for the foreseeable future, especially in a cooling real estate market.

The nexus of the artist enclave in Williamsburg is located west of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. East Williamsburg is centered around the second and third stops on the L train on the other side of the elevated highway, said Michael Brooks, project manager at the Developers Group, which has 14 projects under way in the area, a number that will increase this year to around 20, he said.

“We’re starting to see changes over the last three years, but it all depends on the health of the market,” Brooks said. Units at the group’s development at 69 Stagg Street range from $495,000 to $715,000.

“There is an area in Williamsburg along Broadway that people said they would only visit if they had an armored car, but now there are luxury condos going up there,” Brooks said. “What was a scary area 10 or 15 years ago can turn around. The best grocery store in the area is now located on Union Avenue near the second subway stop, and the stability of the community is solid.”

The buzz has extended to neighboring Bushwick. Last month, the Brooklyn Public Library held a forum entitled “Brooklyn’s Next Real Estate Hot Spot: Bushwick,” for instance, and, in 2004, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce wrote about the “creepy and exciting development feeling,” in Bushwick, “much of it focused on the attraction-repulsion of gentrification.”

Bushwick still suffers from a bad reputation, but new developments are occurring along the J, M, Z, and L lines. As the artistic crowd moves farther east, however, the rundown quality of the J, M, and Z lines may become an issue, said Brooks.

“Bushwick has a long way to go,” said Marcy Feltman, owner-broker at Brooklyn Cornerstone Realty. “Some developers think that whatever they touch will turn to gold, but what’s the amenity out there? There’s nothing to attract the Manhattan buyer.”

Schools, transportation, and a dearth of landmarked properties are issues that have hindered movement into Crown Heights and Stuyvesant Heights, she said. The lack of a sexy neighborhood nickname also hurts the area, since East Williamsburg sounds derivative and Bushwick is equated with urban decay.

“Everyone I know is heading into Long Island City and bypassing Bushwick and Greenpoint,” she said. “That’s the next hot spot.”

Other developers and brokers are bullish on Bushwick. Core Developers Group transformed a former textile factory into condominiums. The building, located at 101 Wyckoff Avenue, eight stops from Manhattan on the L line, almost sold out in 12 weeks.

“Bushwick is a whole new ballgame and has changed dramatically, like the Lower East Side,” said Lisa Maysonet, senior vice president with Prudential Douglas Elliman, who represents the property. “The people who pooh-pooh the area are the same people talking about the real estate bubble. This is a strong, solid market and Bushwick is the next big thing.”

One 1,158-square-foot loft sold for almost $500,000 cash. Amenities and high-end finishes are few, and Maysonet’s typical customer appreciates the industrial feel of the building. “We sold private cabanas on the roof and storage space,” she said. “My kind of customer doesn’t want anything too foofy.” Buyers include an actor, artists, and a financier. “I was blown over by the profile,” she said. “They’re mostly low-key people who are trendy, but down-to-earth.”

Maysonet is sanguine about other properties that will be coming onto the market, including 1610 DeKalb Avenue and 93-95 Wyckoff Avenue.

Factors that play into the neighborhood’s future as a real estate mecca include the number of factories available for conversion and favorable zoning that encourages high-density development, she said.

“Knickerbocker Avenue is similar to what 14th Street in Manhattan was like 10 years ago, but the bodegas are starting to get new canopies,” Maysonet said. “The overall neighborhood feel is what attracts the new buyers.”

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