Strong Place going strong

<i>Converted Cobble Hill church quickly puts nearly half its units in contract </i>

Brooklyn Bridge Realty’s Saul Retig, who said 10 of the 23 units at the building are in contract at the Landmark at Strong Place, which opened for sales in December.
The old church at 58 Strong Place in Brooklyn hasn’t hosted a mass in years — but lately, Sunday crowds are back.

Those flocking to the 160-year-old building aren’t worshippers, not in the usual sense. They’re there for open houses at the Landmark at Strong Place, the church’s new name as of December, when it opened for sales as Cobble Hill’s latest big condo building.

In a neighborhood where new construction is rare, sales have been strong, the project’s representatives at Brooklyn Bridge Realty say. Of its 23 units, Saul Retig, an associate broker at the firm, said 10 were in contract as of mid-February.

Continued success would be a victory for the developers, a group led by Jim Plotkin and David Yerushalmi, after a difficult conversion process for which plans were first filed in 2006. Plotkin said the project never stalled outright during the downturn, but he noted, “We were not in a rush to move quickly when the economy was tanking.

“We never really stopped any of the process, but we definitely slowed down,” he said.

In addition, the developers had to deal with the fact that the property is located in the Cobble Hill Historic District. “The demolition had to be very delicate, because we had to preserve a lot of the woodwork and the other artifacts,” he said.

Indeed, crews lowered the basement floor, installed extensive steel shoring, and imported mahogany windows from Canada.

But for the developer — whose other projects include the State House condos in Brooklyn Heights, the Satori in Gowanus, and the Absolute in Clinton Hill — the work has been paying off. The units that buyers have been snapping up, Retig said, are two- and three-bedrooms, among the building’s larger and more expensive apartments.

All were poised to sell at or near their asking prices, Retig added. Asking prices in the building ranged from $861 per square foot, for a one-bedroom, to $1,106 per square foot, for a three-bedroom unit. Prices start at $885,000 (which is for a two-bedroom, not a one-bedroom) and go up to $2.1 million (which is for a duplex two-bedroom, not a three-bedroom), according to the building’s website.

Perhaps helping lure buyers is the 15-year, J-51 tax abatement on the property, which Retig said lowers the monthly tax bill for buyers.

The building does have some idiosyncrasies, which can’t be altered because of the building’s landmarked status. Unit 4C, for example, has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, but only has one window, a smallish round porthole. The rest of the apartment’s light comes from skylights, a quirk that is reflected in the lower price per square foot of $710. That translates to an asking price of just under $1 million.

Several other former houses of worship have been converted to condos in Brooklyn in recent years, including a church at 450 Clinton Street, also in Cobble Hill, and the Sanctuary, a former church in Fort Greene. Agents who have handled sales in buildings like these said the frustrations, and the rewards, are similar to those that the 58 Strong Place team described.

“They definitely are challenging to divide up,” said Ezra Orchard, who sold three units in the Arches, a former church at 401 Hicks Street in Cobble Hill.

Orchard — who has worked at the Corcoran Group and Brown Harris Stevens and is now the owner of his own firm, the Orchard Group — said a developer’s mandate to maximize square footage can come into conflict with the aesthetics of a church building.

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“You’ve got 40- and 50-foot ceilings, and these big open spaces, and you’ve got to put floors in and chop them up vertically as well as horizontally,” he said. “It’s going to make for some really great apartments, but I think there’s going to be some runts of the litter, too.”

Still, Orchard said, converted buildings tend to be popular with buyers. Deborah Rieders, a senior vice president at the Corcoran Group, agreed. The occasionally awkward layout, she said, tends to be balanced by such buildings’ dramatic character.

Rieders is selling a two-bedroom unit at 360 Court Street, a building a few blocks southeast of 58 Strong Place that was converted from a church in 1990. The asking price at that unit, $1.2 million, works out to $857 per square foot.

In general, she said, converted churches in Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and the surrounding neighborhoods sell “like hotcakes.”

As for 58 Strong Place, she said, the building had several neighborhood factors working in its favor. First, inventory in the area is low, with large buildings especially scarce and the only available development sites too small for big construction.

According to data compiled by StreetEasy, roughly one-quarter of the 93 active sales listings in Cobble Hill as of mid-February were at 58 Strong Place itself. Another 30 were at 110 Warren Street, a converted factory across the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that is arguably outside the neighborhood’s traditional boundaries.

Those two buildings aside, available units in the neighborhood are sprinkled sparsely around in clusters of two and three.

But the real appeal of a building like 58 Strong Place, Rieders argued, has to do with apartment size.

“There’s a real lack of big apartments in Cobble Hill, and that’s P.S. 29” — a coveted school district, she said. “Anything that’s large enough for a couple of children is going to sell very quickly.”

Early sales at 58 Strong Place appeared consistent with that principle: None of the first wave of apartments to go into contract was a one-bedroom.

Retig, of Brooklyn Bridge Realty, said he was pleased with the early sales in the building, especially since the property’s first weeks on the market coincided with the December holidays and January snowstorms. He has, he noted, been involved with the building for years: A developer operating under the name 56 Strong LLC bought the building from the Catholic Church in 2000, but decided to sell it in 2005. It was Retig who brought in Plotkin’s group as buyers, and handled that sale, for $7.3 million.

Retig said Brooklyn Bridge Realty, though relatively small, was able to compete for such a large-scale project because of its community ties.

Plotkin, for his part, said that in close-knit neighborhoods like Cobble Hill, he prefers to go with local brokerages.

“I find that the local firms do a better job in certain communities than bringing in the big boys,” he said. “They know the neighborhood, they know the people, and they’ve been around for a long time.”