Fourth Avenue finds footing

<i>After tough stretch, Brooklyn’s ugly duckling finally sees boost in activity </i>

Fourth Avenue

Fourth Avenue — a wide boulevard wending its way from downtown Brooklyn to Bay Ridge — is still a far cry from the “Park Avenue of Brooklyn” that politicians predicted during its mid-2000s rezoning.

Development on Fourth Avenue, especially the section that skirts the western edge of Park Slope, did indeed take off during the real estate boom. Pioneering condo projects in the area, like Novo and the Crest, are now sold out. But as The Real Deal and others have reported, the area saw a number of projects stall mid-construction during the downturn. Plus, the notoriously unattractive area — known for garages and empty lots — still has more auto¬ shops than doormen.

Recently, however, brokers say demand for residential properties on Fourth Avenue has spiked, with the help of post-downturn price cuts. And even more new construction is on the way, now that the worst of the downturn appears to be over. The Marketing Directors’ Jackie Urgo, who is handling sales at the Arias at 150 Fourth Avenue, said she knows of three soon-to-be-announced projects within 10 blocks of the Arias.

To help Fourth Avenue come into its own, the city is trying to encourage more retail and commercial development along the strip with yet another new zoning proposal. The surge of housing, housing and more housing — without enough retail to accompany it — in the last few years has been criticized for making Fourth Avenue “less inviting, less pedestrian-oriented” than it should be, said Craig Hammerman, Brooklyn’s Community Board 6 district manager. But City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden’s recently unveiled plan aims to make the area more pedestrian-friendly, with more storefront retail space and fewer garages. The rezoning, which still needs city council approval, will address issues that were “overlooked” during the earlier rezoning, Hammerman said.

This month, TRD took a stroll down Fourth Avenue to assess the state of residential and retail development in the area.

The Arias: 150 Fourth Avenue

Orignally built by the Iconic Group as a luxury condo during the market’s peak, this 95-unit building was reincarnated as a rental in 2010 to adapt to the less-than-stellar market and the glut of inventory and planned units on Fourth Avenue. That seems to have been the right move, because the building is now 60 percent leased after only three months on the market, according to the Marketing Directors’ Urgo. Move-ins began June 27; studios are renting for roughly $2,150, one-bedrooms for $2,900, and two-bedrooms for $3,800. That’s significantly higher than Park Slope’s rental averages of studios at $1,657, one-bedrooms at $2,214, and two-bedrooms at $2,646, according to a July 2011 report from the brokerage MNS. Arias, a full-service building with a gym, a pet spa and a rooftop fire pit, seems to appeal to Brooklyners looking for amenities that are rare in the area, Urgo said. “As opposed to being in the typical brownstone environment of Park Slope, [the Arias has] a 24-hour doorman and the amenities,” Urgo said. In fact, that seems to be the allure of Fourth Avenue overall. “New construction is the name of the game,” she said. Arias’ ground floor has almost 6,000 square feet of retail, and FasTracKids, an early childhood learning center, has already signed a lease. Another tenant is currently negotiating for space, according to the retail agent for the building, Ryan Condren of CPEX Real Estate Services.

C560: 560 Carroll Street

The once-stalled condo at the corner of Carroll Street and Fourth Avenue is almost sold out after roughly three months on the market, with 27 units closed and 12 in contract, according to listing agent Deborah Rieders, a Corcoran Group senior vice president. Apartments in the 44-unit building are selling for $700 to $900 per square foot, she said. By comparison, the average price per square foot for a new condominium in Brooklyn is $640, according to Prudential Douglas Elliman’s second-quarter market report. The building’s current developer, Astoria-based Mega Contracting, bought the site and completed the project in 2009, after construction had been stopped for a few months, Rieders said. Most one-bedroom buyers are coming from Manhattan, she noted, while two- and three-bedroom buyers are often Brooklyners looking for more space. “There was never anything on Fourth Avenue, but now there are a tremendous amount of new places opening up every day,” Rieders said.

Maria’s Mexican Bistro: 899 Union Street (now closed)

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All the activity on Fourth Avenue has resulted in rising retail rents on the strip. Maria’s Mexican Bistro left its 669 Union Street location at the corner of Fourth Avenue last year, after the rent rose from $9,000 to $12,000 per month, according to restaurant owner Eduardo Nacipucha, reached at his new Downing Street eatery in Manhattan, La Camelia. “For that kind of money, we could move to the city,” he said, adding “we’re paying less here.” Nacipucha said Fourth Avenue “is a beautiful neighborhood for business, but the rent is too high.” When The Real Deal checked out the now-empty space at 669 Union, a person on the premises who identified himself as the building owner (but declined to give his name) said a new bar-lounge will be opening in the space shortly.

Ivy Garden: 244 Fourth Avenue

This upscale deli-grocery opened in June on the corner of Fourth Avenue and President Street, after a $10,000 renovation of the previous ground-floor office space. The market sells gelato, fresh produce, organic beauty products and food, vitamins and flowers. With its namesake ivy painted on the store’s redbrick exterior and a counter made from an old Volkswagen van, the market caters to both newly minted Fourth Avenue residents and longtime locals. “We live around here and we didn’t see anybody around here doing organic stuff,” store manager Paul Kim said. “We wanted to make the area better.”

385-393 Fourth Avenue

Developer Baruch Singer once planned to build an 11-story, Enrique Norton-designed condo on this 12,340-square-foot parcel. But the long-stalled site is currently a vacant lot bounded by an unkempt construction fence, which neighbors complain is unlocked and falling down. The city’s Department of Buildings recently issued a stop-work order at the site (to the satisfaction of a few local residents, who scribbled “thank you” on the order posted on the fence).

But it looks like the site may soon see some activity, since it traded hands in June for $6.5 million. Public records listed the buyer as 278 6th Street LLC and the seller as 6th Street Development LLC. According to Sean Kelly, a CPEX agent involved in the deal, the developer has asked to remain anonymous, but is planning to build an all-rental residential project.

According to a buildings department spokesperson, the stop-work order was lifted in mid-July, when a new contractor was hired: Red Hook-based Arc Electrical and Mechanical Contractors. Arc Electrical was founded by the Rigas family, suggesting that the developer is Greg Rigas, who has built several projects in the area, including the 80-unit rental tower 574 Fourth Avenue, near 16th Street. Rigas did not return messages left for him at Arc Electrical’s office.

The Argyle: 251 Seventh Street

This 60-unit condo building hit the market in October 2007. Three years and one price cut later, it finally hit the 100 percent sold mark in June, according to Rafa Maciejak, a senior associate broker at Corcoran. Maciejak said the building lost momentum in late 2009, prompting a five-month stretch without any sales. A 10 percent price cut in March of 2010 helped get things going again. “This price cut, combined with the federal incentive being offered to first-time buyers, attracted a new pool of buyers and led to a surge in sales,” Maciejak said. Per-square-foot prices in the Argyle ranged from $550 to nearly $900, he said. One three-bedroom apartment in the building, Unit #4D, closed in April for $725,000, or around $549 per square foot, according to StreetEasy. A one-bedroom resale in the building, listed at $770 per square foot, is in contract.

500 Fourth Avenue

One of the largest condominiums in Park Slope, 500 Fourth Avenue hit the market more than two years ago with 156 units. After a price cut, 35 units are still on the market, according to exclusive listing agent Joyce Kafati-Batarse, an executive vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman. Units in the building are selling at an average of roughly $700 per square foot, Kafati-Batarse said. She also said the developer, Matri Holdings, is negotiating with a potential tenant for the building’s 7,300 square feet of ground-floor retail space.