With Manhattan at the epicenter of New York City, the three boroughs immediately surrounding the island are inevitably bound to benefit from their proximity (sorry, Staten Island). Brooklyn has dominated headlines for the past few years—GQ’s “coolest city on the planet,” the opening of the Barclays Center, and on and on—and pockets of Queens are inserting themselves into the conversation as Astoria and Long Island City have emerged as “hot,” “up and coming” neighborhoods.
So where does that leave the Bronx?
Having worked primarily in the Brooklyn marketplace for my 40-plus years in commercial real estate, I can’t help but notice the parallels between Brooklyn and the Bronx that suggest the northernmost borough won’t be far behind its brethren to the south.
And it’s not just me; the past few months have seen several headlines with some sort of play on words repurposing the mythical “Bronx is burning” line for the current state of the real estate market.
The first criteria the Bronx can fulfill in its growth and rise as a borough? Affordability. With Manhattan rents as high as its skyscrapers for both residential and commercial space, the Bronx will continue to see an influx of residents and retailers. Brooklyn and Queens are starting to reach pricing levels on par with parts of Manhattan, and investors and developers are looking to the Bronx for the next great real estate opportunity.
Of course, along with affordability comes the dreaded “g” word: gentrification. It’s an inevitable effect of the rising cost of living, sending people in search of cheaper rents. But there is a strong immigrant community—according to the 2010 census, over 70 percent of the Bronx population is Hispanic—and the sense of multiculturalism and multilingualism is too strongly engrained in the borough to fade.
It certainly helps to have Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., the Bronx’s Latino Marty Markowitz, steering the ship. His passion for erasing the stigma associated with the Bronx is infectious, and makes it impossible not to believe in his vision. Results like 15,000 new jobs, 17,000 new residential units, and over 2,000 affordable housing units in the pipeline are hard to argue with.
In addition to more employment opportunities and additional housing, the New York Restoration Project recently announced the Haven Project, a plan to add green and open space to the Bronx neighborhoods of Mott Haven and Port Morris. With more initiatives like the Haven Project, it’s easy to envision the Bronx as a borough where people will want to live, work and play, just like the Brooklyn of today.
That is all made possible by one of the few things that a borough president, mayor, or anyone else can’t control at this stage in New York City’s history and development: transportation. The incredible network of several train lines, not to mention buses, makes the borough accessible, the basic foundation for the ascension of any area in New York City.
But there are still a few pieces of the puzzle that need to fall into place before the Bronx can become the next Brooklyn. One of the driving factors of Brooklyn’s rise to prominence in the past several years was the conversion of former industrial and manufacturing areas in Williamsburg, Sunset Park, and Gowanus into residential and retail hubs, along with the rezoning of areas like Downtown Brooklyn. The Bronx will benefit from similar rezoning initiatives, which Mr. Díaz has mentioned before in his speeches, and the conversion of industrial spaces into alternative uses that serve a greater and higher use to the community at large.
Indeed, our research at CPEX found industrial sales activity to have spiked compared with last year, with this land banking leading to a 180 percent increase in transactional volume and over $85 million in total sales during the second quarter. With $70 million already invested in developments during Mr. Díaz’s tenure as borough president, more money will follow as these former industrial sites get rezoned to allow for more large-scale residential and mixed-use development opportunities.
Of course, as we witnessed firsthand during the Great Recession of 2008, nothing is guaranteed. But the infrastructure is in place and the potential is there for the Bronx to follow in Brooklyn’s footsteps with a real estate boom of its own. In all likelihood, it’s just a matter of time before we’re talking about the Bronx in the same reverential terms as Brooklyn, or even Manhattan.
They don’t call the South Bronx “SoBro” for nothing.
Timothy King is the co-founder and managing partner of CPEX Real Estate.