Exploring Dumbo: Then and Now

No, I’m not calling you out. And this isn’t a Disney movie review.

As most New Yorkers know, Dumbo is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. When compared to many New York City acronyms, it has been around for quite some time—since 1978, in fact—and refers to an area in Brooklyn.

The Dumbo borders are generally thought of as the East River to the north, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to the south, Bridge Street to the east and Main Street to the west.

Back in the 18th and early 19th centuries, it started out as residential but evolved to consist of almost exclusively manufacturing and warehouse space (as one might expect from an area near a major river). Most of the buildings were constructed of a brick façade with steel, with reinforced concrete coming later in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Fast forward to the late 1970s, when manufacturing was evolving and less expensive housing was needed. At that point, the area became somewhat of an artist/loft (aka live/work) neighborhood, though it was still on the rough-and-tumble side. In 1981, Two Trees Management had the foresight to buy up much of the area, turning it into a mixture of higher-end housing, office and retail. By 2007, much of Dumbo had been designated a historic district by the Landmarks Preservation Commission of New York City.

Okay, now that we’ve had our history lesson, I will (finally) get to the crux of this week’s column. I have been asked about this area so much lately by brokers in my office that I decided to take a closer look at what’s happening over there. The answer is a lot, especially for a very small office market. Essentially Dumbo consists of just 17 properties with around 2.2 million square feet of inventory. With few exceptions, these office buildings date to the early 20th century, though they have been extensively renovated.

Being generally less expensive than Manhattan’s Midtown South (with city and state incentives making it even more affordable), and with a hip loft vibe, Dumbo has taken off as an office location for tech, media and design firms. Companies such as Etsy, Amplify and Datalot have been here for a few years now, and more recently have been joined by start-ups in incubator spaces. And you know an area has made it when Shake Shack announces it will open a location (which it will next year at 1Old Fulton Street). Office vacancy and availability are minimal—2.3 percent and 3.4 percent respectively. The asking rents, meanwhile, range from $30 per square foot up to $50 (plus utilities).

No doubt, it’s safe to say the area has been “discovered.” In the future, look for more residential to be sure, along with pockets of office where it can be squeezed in.

Now, a larger question: What feeds this acronym fever in Manhattan? We’ve got Soho, Tribeca, NoMad and dozens of others. What’s next?! It’s only a matter of time before we shorten Hudson Yards to HuYa and south of Grand Central to SoGrand. But that’s a story for another column!

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