Adding some zeroes: Is Pacific Park ready for a 1M sf office tower?

MaryAnne Gilmartin, Jed Walentas talk office, retail and resi at Only Brooklyn event

MaryAnne Gilmartin and Jed Walentas
MaryAnne Gilmartin and Jed Walentas

The fate of the development site across the street from the Barclays Center remains unclear, but developer MaryAnne Gilmartin is confident that a massive-mixed-use tower can rise there.

Gilmartin, former CEO of Forest City New York and co-founder of L&L MAG, thinks Pacific Park is “missing zeroes” for majority owner Greenland USA — in terms of the megadevelopment’s scale and the company’s equity check. Building a 1 million-square-foot-plus tower with significant office space at site five — occupied by P.C. Richard & Son and a Modell’s — would help amend that, she said during a panel at TerraCRG’s Only Brooklyn conference on Wednesday.

Such a building would require public approvals and the transfer of air rights from the arena. Those rights were once pegged for a 62-story skyscraper next to the arena, designed by Frank Gehry and dubbed “Miss Brooklyn.”

“To me, at the end of the day, it seems to me a much better urban planning decision to put more density on that site than to muck up our beautiful arena by landing a building in front of it,” she told The Real Deal after the panel.

Much of Wednesday’s discussion focused on the fact that Brooklyn has yet to attract major office tenants and that new development is disproportionately residential. Two Trees Management’s Jed Walentas said signing on smaller office tenants currently makes more economic sense in the borough. Gilmartin agreed, but said there’s an “inevitability” that bigger companies will find Brooklyn prices compelling enough to move.

“It only takes one very large company, someone with vision and guts and ability to see that it’s a good move,” she said. “Once that happens, I think others will do it.”

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High land prices don’t exactly encourage variety in development, instead leading developers to build condo towers. Walentas said the city needs to do more to curb the volume of condo development.

“The mostly residential-only mega projects that have been built around the city are basically terrible,” Walentas said. “They are suburban, uninteresting places. Not from an investor standpoint, or even if you live there, but in terms of making the city a more interesting and dynamic place, it doesn’t contribute a lot.”

Walentas said Brooklyn is also “under-retailed.” He acknowledged that the sector is struggling in the city but said that was simply because “landlords’ expectations went fucking insane.”

He said retail opportunities will persist in the city because people still want to interact with one another. Walentas likened the evolution of retail to a fight he used to have with his father about whether or not New York City was “going out of business” because of advances in technology.

“He was like, ‘they have a thing called the fax machine, and this thing called the computer. And who the fuck would stay in New York and get mugged and get accosted on the subway and get pissed on?”‘ Walentas joked. “‘You can go to Austin, Texas, or Seattle and play golf every afternoon. Send everything on the fax machine.'”

“I was like, ‘nah.’”