For the past few decades, 8th Ave has been a sort of community center for generations of Chinese immigrants at Sunset Park. People live on 7th and 9th avenues, but they interact on 8th.
On the west corner of 62nd Street and 8th Ave, there is a four-story mixed-used brown brick building where dozens of small businesses sell Chinese groceries, deli and baked goods, and medicines on the first floor. People sit in tiny restaurants for a $5 lunch. Residents living in the upper levels stick “Fu” symbols on their windows to wish for good luck.
In fact, if you drive down Sunset Park along 8th Ave, you’ll feel you’re traveling in a small Chinese town around the 1980s. That could change, because 37-19 REALTY INC and Raymond Chan Architects, a pair of Queens companies, are planning to build two giant glass structures right across the street. The two buildings make up what they call the Eighth Avenue Center. They have struggled to win approvals but if they succeed, this mixed-use complex will break the impression of that small town and quickly drag you back to the contemporary western world.
While the project would bring business development to the area, it would be a striking aesthetic shift. So, what does Sunset Park think about that? The answer seems to depend on who you ask.
It’s not a small question for the neighborhood. The Eighth Avenue Center, which would be at the east corner of Eighth Avenue and 62nd Street, would include an 11-story hotel, a shopping mall, 250 residential apartments, a health care center, a library and a private pre-school.
The center needed special permission from the city to begin construction, because the land had been zoned for manufacturing use. Currently, the area has been re-zoned as C4-2, Regional Commercial Center. The 160,700-square-foot space, now used as a parking lot, is one of the largest C4-2 zones in New York City.
John Fontillas, an urban planning expert who serves as the chair of Community Board 7 Land Use and Landmarks, describes the Eighth Avenue Center as “dropping in from outer space.” He said he wishes developments in the heart of Sunset Park Chinese community would respect the area’s unique cultural roots. The two proposed buildings both features curved glass surfaces, giant LED screens near the entrances, and open rooftop spaces. Fontillas said that he and others worry that the design has no connection to the existing streetscape and community atmosphere.
In The Brooklyn Ink’s own brief survey, however, local residents seemed to value the convenience of new shopping and services higher than keeping the streetscape. Ali Jiang, a 35-year-old street vendor who lives a few blocks from the site, says she’d like to have a western style shopping mall in her neighborhood. She and her mother have to travel for 40 minutes to Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn if they want to shop for fashion brands, she said. Elders and kids, she points out, won’t need to travel so far if these brands come to her area. Jiang also didn’t seem concerned about the aesthetic aspect of the design. “Glass buildings always look new,” she said, “and newer buildings are always beautiful.”
Of course, the development of a new regional commercial center would have a significant impact on the local real estate market. Numbers of academic studies show that from a real estate perspective, some of that impact is beneficial. According to a study in Southwestern Economic Review, “positive effects associated with commercial development for most surrounding neighborhoods outweigh any negative effects. The build of upscale amenities will increase the aid the increase of residential values in the long run.” And according to another study from Georgia State University, “Retail development is the most likely to be considered a neighborhood amenity and an important aspect of community revitalization.”
But Fontillas worries that the Eighth Ave Center will increase the pace of gentrification in this neighborhood, and force thousands of tenants to move to more affordable locations.
Penny Lin, a newspaper distributor in her early fifties who rents near the site, says she isn’t worried about the potential rent increase. “A country will keep developing to be more flourishing, so it’s not practical to worry about such change,” she says. “I’ll just move to a cheaper place if my current residence becomes unaffordable.”
Although residential property owners appear to be net gainers when prices go up, Justin Chen, a young homeowner, said he isn’t happy about his home becoming more valuable. With higher values come higher taxes, he points out. Chen says the property tax of his house has doubled over the past five years already, and if the value of his house keeps increasing, he’ll have more tax liability. “We’re not going to sell the house. Why would we want to pay more tax every year?” he asks.
Although the development of Eighth Avenue Center will undoubtedly impact Sunset Park residents’ life, the Sunset Park Community Board technically does not have jurisdiction. Fontillas explains that even though the site is within the Sunset Park neighborhood, Community Board 10, which represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Fort Hamilton, has the jurisdiction because of where the boundary lines between the two districts fall. The border between Community Board 7, which represents Sunset Park, and CB 10 runs along the L.I.R.R./MTA railroad, and the railroad curves to put roughly seven blocks of Sunset Park into CB10’s jurisdiction, and the Eighth Avenue Center happens to occupy two of these seven blocks. Even though community board 10 has agreed to collaborate on the project with its neighboring communities, CB 7 says it hasn’t received updates for nearly two years. CB7 is asking CB10 for more information and trying to have Sunset Park residents’ voice heard.
In any event, it appears that nothing about the project will happen rapidly. The project has struggled to move forward for years, making adjustments and reconfiguring plans.
On October 26th, the Borough Commissioner issued a stop work order for the project because the owner withdraws the application for a work permit. The owner and developers are developing new plans.