A Mall Grows in Bushwick?


For more than five years, an exodus of the young and hip from the aluminum-siding-studded homes of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has been flowing southeast into neighboring Bushwick.

But now a nascent 80,000-square-foot retail and nightlife complex at 82 Bogart Street threatens to cement the neighborhood’s imminent transformation from underground hipness to mainstream retail success once and for all.

Could 82 Bogart Street attract… these hipsters?
Could 82 Bogart Street attract… these hipsters?

North Development Corp. acquired the 200-by-400-foot behemoth across the street from the Morgan L train stop in August for $12.15 million, and the developer plans to turn the building, which takes up an entire block, into a sprawling nightlife, retail and artist gallery complex on an otherwise underwhelming stretch in Bushwick.

Think Mall of America writ small and, to those involved, more independent minded.

“What we’re planning on doing is turning this into some sort of creative entertainment and retail venue,” said Andrew Clemens, a director of leasing at Massey Knakal, the firm selected to exclusively market the space. “Think a grittier Chelsea Market.”

While only in preliminary, conceptual stages, the plan is to break the property into multiple sections and feature bars, restaurants, artist galleries and studios, Mr. Clemens said.

Potential anchor tenants might include an independent movie theater, music venue or museum, though Mr. Andrews didn’t rule out the potential for national retailers like Guitar Center or Urban Outfitters to take space in the building.

“I think there is a demand for these types of venues, but again, I think it’s going to have to be a grittier kind of scene, and this is going to be something that caters to the crowd that’s already out there … that kind of hip, hipster, art scene,” Mr. Clemens said.

Zoning on the property also permits the owner to build an additional upper floor if necessary, which would double the floor space to 160,000 square feet.

“The owners are considering putting studio workspace for artists on the second floor of the building, if they decide to build up,” he said. “There has also been talk about the possibility of a hotel or hostel.”

Asking rents will range between $35 and $45 per square foot, which Mr. Clemens called “jaw-dropping” for owners of industrial space in the area, which traditionally commands little more than $15 a foot.

The young, hip and artsy who birthed a new cool in Williamsburg are increasingly unable to afford its exorbitant rents, as they look over yonder to Bushwick, a neighborhood once listed among Brooklyn’s most sordid.

A wave of gentrification has moved east from Williamsburg along the L train, first from Lorimer Street to Graham Avenue, and then to Bushwick’s two main retail hubs, clustered around the Morgan Avenue and Jefferson Street stops.

“Everybody follows the artists, and it’s typically bars and restaurants that take hold first, then other retailers take notice of that, and that’s when you see clothing boutiques and your service-oriented shops start to pop up,” Mr. Andrews said.

The latest data from residential brokerage MNS shows that average two-bedroom rents, at $1,925 in Bushwick, are less than half the average $4,155 in Williamsburg, creating something of a clear choice for the starving artist.

“As residential rents increase, the people that really got Williamsburg going in the first place are getting pushed out into the outskirts,” said Hymie Dweck, an associate director with Newmark (NMRK) Grubb Knight Frank Retail.

Roberta’s, the now-famous pizza joint that opened in 2008 and sits at the heart of Bushwick’s rebirth and gentrification, lies just two blocks south of the Morgan stop. And a range of trendy coffee shops, art studios, bars and organic grocery marts have popped up around the Morgan and Jefferson stops.

“There’s quite a bit of activity, with small, trendy retail opportunities opening up and creating their own little community,” Mr. Dweck said. “If you talk to people in Bushwick, Williamsburg isn’t cool anymore—Bushwick is cool.”