Commercial Klutch: January Edition

Our masked correspondent has decided to remove his mask. Chris Havens, director of commercial real estate at, has been informing us about Brooklyn’s commercial market and will continue to write the monthly column.

This month he takes a look at Brooklyn Bridge Park commercial space – what’s happening and what works.

Now that the Request for Proposal process for the Empire Stores warehouse on Water Street is well underway, a renewed focus on retail in the park is overdue. The Empire could bring over 100,000 SF of retail to the northern end of the park, counting the ground floor, the roof and potential second floor space. What will work best there? A large restaurant-catering-event space on the roof? Multiple restaurants on the ground? Chelsea Market? Chain retail?

Looking at the park’s experiences thus far yields some lessons and concerns. Use restrictions on One Brooklyn Bridge Park have made leasing there slow, as has the long, market-related apartment sales period. Restrictions are a drag on the market. The location — facing outward towards harbor with limited foot traffic — hasn’t helped either. Two good local services, one for pets and a wine store, are in place. Two 4,500 square foot restaurant corners are available as is a huge supermarket space of 35,000 square feet. The restaurant spaces are big for even central DUMBO, where owners have struggled to fill large spaces productively. Restaurant operators have expressed concerns about conducting business in a seasonal location where an upscale operation is expected to be consistent with a first rate building and park. And how about services for children?

The most successful tenants are those with Brooklyn foodie cred, I am told. The park is an outstanding platform for these businesses. I suspect the waterfront is not the best place for new ideas as a significant number of summer visitors (90,000 a weekend last year) are tourists. Given the seasonal nature of the location, well-known, creative, high-quality ‘quick food’ may be best. Fortunately, the wine bar is coming back. Don’t expect high end dining out on the piers for these reasons.

Of course, the new hotel with retail on Furman, the Empire Stores retail, entertainment and office space as well as St. Ann’s Warehouse in the historic Tobacco Warehouse will bring tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of year-round visitors, changing the current dynamic in the park. Yet it remains to be seen what mix of retail will work in the stores. A flexible ground-floor concept may be at once the most creative and the safest choice.

4 Comment

  • I have often wondered what the issue was with the retail space at One Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s a shame some of the space can’t be subdivided because that area screams out for a coffee and desserts place.

  • I agree with duckwalk. I run behind One Brooklyn Bridge Park every week right past a large group of retail storefronts that have always been vacant. The only business there is the wine store pictured in the article.

    It would be a great place for a sports store, coffee house, or any kind of restaurant. I’m sure the residents would love to have a small grocery store or deli there as well. I don’t see why the owners can’t discount the rent just to get anything in there; with pier 5 open that place is going to be hopping come springtime.

  • What if there is another large hurricane this year? Why is no one talking about the threat of development on the water? It would have to be elevated commercial space…

  • I live across from the Empire Stores and I see it’s development as opportunity to bring long term value to neighborhood. Old Fulton St is tourist central and it would be a shame to see the Empire Stores suffer that same fate. Turns out tourists love great non-touristy establishments just as much as residents do. Not to mention that Dumbo and Vinegar Hill development is booming. The influx of permanent residents over the next 5 years will surely support great bars and restaurants but we have to build them. Even Manhattanites would venture over the bridge if we gave them a reason to. The Empire Stores is such a huge swath of prime real estate and we have the opportunity to decide what the future of the neighborhood will be.

    1 Brooklyn Bridge Park still feels like an island. Im not surprised retail hasn’t had great success over there. It feels stranded and cold. The Empire Store location obviously doesn’t have that problem. Seems like retail would need frontage on both sides of the property (Water St and Park side). Or I could even imagine small spaces on the park side for tourist/park friendly retail and larger spaces on Water St side that are more neighborhood oriented.

    Looking forward to hearing the proposals.