The Plan: How to Turn a Vacant Brooklyn Convent Into Apartments

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Aside from a unique sawtooth skylight that once filtered sunlight into a small chapel on the top floor of 784-786 President Street, there’s almost no trace left of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

The congregation previously occupied the pair of three-story buildings, one block south of the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, for use as a convent. Now they’ll be welcoming very different residents.

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Greenbrook Partners, which has been on a tear buying up multifamily properties in the borough over the last two years, just completed a $3 million redevelopment of the long-vacant properties to convert them into apartments, with 12 units between the pair. Greenbrook purchased the adjacent President Street buildings in March 2021 for $8.4 million after the Sisters decamped to their order’s motherhouse in Brentwood, N.Y.

“The bones were great, and the location was unbelievable,” said Greg Fournier, managing principal at Greenbrook. “We really liked these two contiguous walkups for a variety of reasons.”

The first step in executing the firm’s value-add investment strategy for the project was to convert the properties from their former building class (tax-free religious properties) to multifamily buildings.

The firm then brought on Auver’s Aron Himmelfarb — a frequent collaborator with Greenbrook — to draw up the plans to convert the buildings from a dormitory-style layout to two- and three-bedroom apartments.

“With a project like this, the floor plans are really the most important aspect of the design,” Himmelfarb said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into making the layout feel natural and flow correctly. There’s quite a bit of collaboration that we go through until we land on something that is functional and workable for the building.”

The skylight on the top-floor chapel would be spared, according to the plans Greenbrook settled on. It now fills the living room of a three-bedroom apartment with natural light and helps give the space a capacious feeling by adding variation to its ceiling height.

Greenbrook completed the work by outfitting the apartments with white Shaker-style cabinets and stainless steel appliances — finishes standard across the firm’s portfolio of more than 400 properties.

The 12 units were listed earlier this year with monthly asking rents starting at $6,500, according to StreetEasy. Freestone Property Group signed on as the property manager, according to city housing records.

And it might not be the last vacant conversion, nunnery or not, that Greenbrook takes on in New York City’s most populous borough.

“This is not unique to convents,” said Frederic LeCao, principal at Greenbrook. “It’s a way to think about adaptive reuse of old housing stock. It could also be a building that just needs a lot of work, that previous ownership had neglected over the years.”

Abigail Nehring can be reached at anehring@commercialobserver.com.