In Downtown Brooklyn, new commercial real estate is pushing out storied architectural history — and three 19th Century, cast-iron buildings along Fulton Street are the latest casualties in this turf war.
The buildings at 567-571 Fulton Street are awaiting demolition, according to permits filed earlier this year. So their elegant arches, ornate geometric details, and edifices, ranging in color from beige to auburn to terracotta, are on the chopping block.
Other mom-and-pop shops with long histories on and around the block are in danger, too, as Downtown Brooklyn continues to experience rapid change.
A development firm, RedSky Capital, acquired the parcels, which, aside from two holdouts, add up to the entire block. They used a $127 million loan from Apollo Commercial Real Estate, a multinational lender, to fund their efforts, according to a report in legal news service Law360. RedSky plans to construct Fulton Mall, a massive commercial skyscraper, in the lots’ place. Reached by phone, a company representative declined to disclose additional details, such as a timetable for construction or how tall the building will be, but the company has shared a preview of what it may look like on its website. The rendering shows a modern tower, replete with patches of greenery, stretching dozens of stories into the sky.
RedSky’s efforts to raze the entire block have been stalled, however, by Barberry Rose, a management company that refuses to sell its two parcels on the block: 559-563 Fulton Street. The parcel at 559 Fulton Street is unoccupied, while its neighbor at 563 Fulton Street is home to a Duane Reade drugstore. In July, the management company’s owner told the real estate site The Brownstoner that the buildings continue to generate worthwhile revenue, making it less tempting to sell. Barberry Rose Management did not return requests for comment.
Today, the cast-iron buildings at 567-571 Fulton Street — and others along the block — are trapped behind tarps, plywood boards, and a skeleton of scaffolding, much to the chagrin of local merchants.
Eli Solomon has owned Blue Angel Uniforms, an apparel store at 571 Fulton Street selling nurses’ scrubs and chefs’ jackets, for more than 15 years. Solomon told The Brooklyn Ink that the thicket of tarps and scaffolding outside the entrance to his ground-level shop has significantly cut into his bottom line. “My business is suffering tremendously because of it. People come in and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re closed?’” Solomon said. “I called 311 a bunch of times” to complain about the impact of the mess on his operations, Solomon said, but “nothing’s been done about it.”
Businesspeople in surrounding shops echoed Solomon’s complaints.
Leighton Rose has managed Cookie’s Department Store — a retailer across the street that sells kids’ clothing — for 35 years. He characterized the three demolition-ready buildings at 567-571 Fulton Street as an “eyesore.”
“They put the scaffolding up several months ago, and nothing is being done,” Rose said. “People don’t want to walk along this part of the block, because over there, it’s lonely and dark.” Rose estimated that his business has experienced a 20-30% slump in sales since preparations for the demolition began about ten months ago.
Simeon Bankoff, an architecture historian and executive director of the Historic Districts Council, says these development trends — cosmopolitan skyscrapers in favor of older, more modest buildings — aren’t aimed at improving locals’ lives, but instead at wooing outsiders, namely those from the island across the East River: Manhattan.
“It creates enormous upheaval for the people who are there,” Bankoff said. “It’s a gain for a bunch of new people who aren’t here now, and it’s a loss for the people who are.” It’s all part of the “broader plan to create an Anywhere’s-ville in Downtown Brooklyn,” Bankoff added.
But not all locals are lamenting the changes: Marilyn Pierce, a Brooklynite who sells homemade crafts in the area, told The Brooklyn Ink that she’s in favor of the transformation. “I think it’s a good thing that they want to change the buildings around,” Pierce said, noting that she expects the construction to fuel job growth. “I like everything they build out here,” she added. “I don’t judge it. I don’t disown it.”
For now, it’s unclear when 567-571 Fulton Street will finally be torn down, along with the rest of the block. But, signs of what the street’s future may hold are already visible. Down the road, mega-chains like Century21 and Target have set up shop at the gleaming City Point Mall, which opened in 2016. Brooklyn Point, a tower designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, is still being built; its indigo windows look like board game tiles stacked in an artistic herringbone configuration.
Historic buildings in Downtown Brooklyn have become an endangered species over recent years, while commercial and residential property premiums have only gone up. Last year, the Real Estate Board of New York found that commercial real estate along Fulton Street had topped out at more than $350 per square foot — more than double the cost of commercial space in nearby Cobble Hill, for example. What’s more, residential living costs in the area have skyrocketed 27% over the last decade, according to real estate site StreetEasy — making it harder for locals to live and work in the neighborhood.
Now, as older businesses struggle to find their footing amid the shifting landscape, the question remains: How will mom-and-pop shops survive?
For his part, Leighton Rose of Cookie’s Department store is pessimistic. When Fulton Mall finally opens, he wondered aloud about its future clientele.
“They’re probably not our customers,” he said.