hot seat christopher allen edit

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview people involved in real estate, architecture, development and design. Introducing Christopher Allen, Founder and Artistic Director of UnionDocs, a nonprofit center for documentary film based in Williamsburg. We talked with Allen about UnionDocs’ ongoing collaborative project Living Los Sures, which chronicles the culture, history and stories of Williamsburg’s Southside. You can check out a video installation with some of the project’s short films at the Ildiko Butler Gallery at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. They’ll also screen some of their short films on September 19 at 7 pm, during the Southside Connex street festival in Havermeyer Park.

Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how did you end up there?

Christopher Allen: We live in Clinton Hill. We moved there last year after living in Williamsburg since 2002. We found a place that we liked, and rent was going up in our building and it didn’t feel like it was a good deal anymore.

BS: Can you talk about the beginnings of “Living Los Sures”?

CA: We’ve been involved in a restoration project with the New York Public Library to restore and rerelease a film from 1984 called Los Sures by Diego Echeverria. That film we’ve been working with for four years — it’s inspired about 30 documentary projects made by people in our studio. Over 50 people have been involved in creating short documentaries about the neighborhood today over the last four years. We’re also doing a participatory platform where we’ve split the film from 1984 into different shots and we’re splicing in longtime residents of the neighborhood talking about places in the film.

So the project is three parts: the participatory website, called Los Sures Shot by Shot. There are 30 short documentaries, produced by our collaborative fellows. One of the characters from the original documentary, we’re updating her story as she sells her apartment and leaves the neighborhood. It’s an interactive documentary called 89 steps. She’s considering leaving the city and moving out — and the film follows her as she goes through that process, and we learn a little bit of history about the building she’s lived in for 40 years.

That’ll be launched at the New York Film Festival September 27.

After the jump, Christopher talks about gentrification on the Southside, Sternberg Park and how rezoning has shaped the neighborhood.


carlo scissura hot seat 2

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview people involved in real estate, architecture, development and design. In honor of the Brooklyn Building Awards, we talked with Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, which is hosting the awards at the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tonight.

Brownstoner: Where do you live, and how did you end up there?

Carlo Scissura: I currently live in Bensonhurst, the neighborhood I grew up in! I just bought a house in Dyker Heights and will be moving there in the fall. I chose Dyker because it is close to where I grew up, it’s a great community, lots of mom and pop businesses, open space, and close to transportation. It’s a classic New York City neighborhood, with a mix of old and new. (more…)

ofer cohen terracrg hot seat

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview people involved in real estate, architecture, development and design. Introducing Ofer Cohen, founder and president of TerraCRG, a commercial brokerage devoted to Brooklyn properties. 

Brownstoner: Can you talk about how you first started TerraCRG?

Ofer Cohen: Melissa DiBella and I started the company in January of 2008, and little did we know this would be the greatest recession since the Depression six or seven months later. But really I felt the need to start a company that would focus only on commercial transactions and only on Brooklyn.

A few months after we started, the recession hit, Leman Brothers crashed, and we had to really make what we could out of that period — which for us, was concentration on distressed assets and stalled development sites. When the market started to recover, we were already well positioned to take advantage of that recovery. Early in the recession, we realized the biggest stress was in development. Banks stopped funding construction loans, and a lot of developers couldn’t finish their projects or couldn’t start. It was how we cut our teeth in this development market. We were fortunate to develop a lot of great relationships with banks and developers, and really learn the Brooklyn market from that. Since coming out of the recession, we’ve sold over 1,600,000 buildable square feet in Brooklyn. And we believe it was a result of our experience during the recession.


Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview people involved in real estate, architecture, development and design. Introducing Jamie Courville and Chris Reynolds, a filmmaking team working on a documentary about the rapid changes in Gowanus. Their film, Gowanus Current, will chronicle the development of the neighborhood over the course of this year and incorporate the voices of people who live and work there. They’ve set up a phone line where anyone can call and record their thoughts about what’s happening in Gowanus. You can listen to some of the calls here.

Brownstoner: Where do you live, and how did you end up there?

Jamie: We live in Gowanus. We’ve lived in different neighborhoods and had some bad luck with apartments. We lived in one place we fixed up a lot, and we had one rental that kept flooding with raw sewage. We lived in another place where the landlord thought he was a master fixer-upper: he wanted to tear a hole in the wall to build a deck, and we decided not to live with an open wall. And now we’ve lived here five years. We’re on 3rd Avenue toward the dead end of the canal. During Sandy, the water was pretty deep on Nevins one block down, but because of the slope we didn’t have any flooding. We’re not in Zone A.

BS: What first drew you to Gowanus, and why did you decide to start filming Gowanus Current?

Jamie: I didn’t know much about this neighborhood before, but I’ve grown to very much love it.

Chris: [We decided to start filming] because it was changing really quickly. A lot of large scale moving in and lots of longtime residents and business moving out. We’re both professional filmmakers and media producers, so it seemed only natural to do that about what we were seeing in our own neighborhood.

After the jump, Jamie and Chris talk about the future of Gowanus, the proposed Historic District, Whole Foods and the demolition of the Burns Brothers coal silos…



Welcome to the Hot Seat, in which we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, architecture, development and the like. Introducing Justin La Mort, the Chair of Events and a Steering Committee Member at the North Brooklyn Boat Club. The club enables and advocates for human-powered boating on the waterways bordering Greenpoint and Williamsburg. To wrap up its season, the group is holding a benefit concert next week, promised to be “the best Superfund dance party of the season.”

Brownstoner: Where do you live, and how did you end up there?
Justin La Mort: I started out in a warehouse loft off the Williamsburg waterfront but once the condos went up so did the rent. Next I ended up being one of the first tenants in a Bushwick development on the site of the ribbon factory in a “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” then finished the North Brooklyn trifecta with a great old house in Greenpoint near McCarren Park. As of two weeks ago I’ve moved to Windsor Terrace so my girlfriend and I could shorten our commutes to South Brooklyn and enjoy all the green scenery without abandoning our love affair with the G train.

BS: How did the North Brooklyn Boat Club come to be? How did you get involved?
JLM: The North Brooklyn Boat Club (NBBC) was the brain child of local filmmaker Dewey Thompson, Christine Holowacz of the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning (GWAPP), and too many other great people to name here. North Brooklyn is in dire need of more open space and our city with hundreds of miles of shoreline only has a handful of access points into the water. NBBC was this DIY movement to open up not just the waterfront to the people but the waterways themselves. The idea quickly spread and with an outpouring of community support NBBC was awarded money from an environmental legal settlement that will one day fund the Greenpoint Boathouse.

After the jump, Justin explains why the NBBC picked Newtown Creek for its headquarters, what’s in the future for the club, and his favorite spots on the water… (more…)


Welcome to The Hot Seat, in which we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, architecture, and the like. Introducing David Colley and Elizabeth Keegin Colley, the authors of recently released “Prospect Park: Olmsted and Vaux’s Brooklyn Masterpiece.” The book is a detailed, visual look at the history of Brooklyn’s best park. (Check out a trailer for the book here.) The authors will speak about the book Saturday, September 21 at 2 pm at the Dweck Center of the Brooklyn Public Library as part of a Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend event. Park landscape architect Christian Zimmerman will lead a park tour after the presentations.

Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how did you end up there?
David Colley and Elizabeth Keegin Colley: While working on the book we were staying in a beautifully located apartment near the library, the Brooklyn Museum and the Botanic Garden. It was a wonderful neighborhood and convenient to Prospect Park so that Mary Liz [Elizabeth Keegin Colley, the book’s photographer] could be out at all times of day and night and in all seasons capturing the moods of the park.

BS: What first drew you to Prospect Park, and why did you decide to write the book?
DC + EKC: With backgrounds in city planning, park boards and a shade tree commission, we have always loved parks. When traveling, we go to museums, take long walks, but spend inordinate amounts of time in public parks. When we heard the Prospect Park Alliance was looking for proposals for a history we responded immediately as a writer/photographer team. We have often worked together but this was a terrific opportunity and the first time we both started with just the germ of an idea and continued to publication. It has enriched our lives tremendously.

After the jump, the many joys of photographing Prospect Park, what the park was like in the ’70s and ’80s, and some little-known facts about Olmsted and Vaux’s masterpiece. (more…)

Welcome to The Hot Seat, where we interview folks in real estate, architecture, development and the like. Introducing Amy Nicholson, the director of Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride. The documentary focuses on the fight between Zipper operator Eddie Miranda, Coney Island real estate developers, and the City of New York. The film begins its theatrical run today, August 9, at the IFC Center. UPDATE: The IFC has extended Zipper with an additional week on a matinee schedule – 2:15 pm daily starting Friday, August 16th and going through next Thursday, August 22nd.

Brownstoner: Where do you live, and how did you end up there?
Amy Nicholson: I live on West 12th Street in the Village. I got here by way of Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago, New York (Soho), Minneapolis, and San Francisco again before I got back here. Once I figured out that this was place I really wanted to live, I hunkered in on West 12th Street. I will leave when I am an old lady.

BS: What first drew you to Coney Island and how did you decide to start filming there?
AN: Well, I grew up in Baltimore and spent my summers at the county and state fairs and also going to local carnivals. There was always a Zipper. It was a mean ride and it was my favorite. I also lived in Ocean City, M.D., during the summers as a teenager and the same beach/carnival culture combination exists there as it does in Coney Island. So the Zipper represents my entire childhood – before computers and iPads there were black light posters, Wacky Packages and rides like the Zipper. When I read in the Daily News back in 2006 that the Zipper was leaving Coney Island, my heart sank. I had to do something.

After the jump, Amy discusses the controversy over Joe Sitt, her thoughts on the redevelopment of Coney, and her favorite moment shooting the film. (more…)

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview folks involved in real estate, architecture, development and the like. Introducing Ellen Honigstock, one of the founders of Solarize Brooklyn. Solarize Brooklyn is a nonprofit focused on bringing solar power into Kensington, Windsor Terrace, Flatbush and surrounding neighborhoods.
Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how did you end up there?
Ellen Honigstock: I live with my family on the border of Kensington and Windsor Terrace. I met my husband in July of 2000 on the day after he closed on his Ocean Parkway apartment, and after we got married, I moved in. One day when my now 9-year-old was a baby, we were out walking him around the neighborhood on the other side of the highway and we passed a great but fairly run-down house for sale next to a beautiful community garden on East 4th Street. We weren’t even looking to move at the time but we loved the location and as an architect, the multitude of problems the house had didn’t scare us.

BS: Can you talk about the beginnings of Solarize Brooklyn and how you got involved?
EH: On New Year’s Day, we decided this was going to be the year to add solar to our home! We had already weatherized our house and we wanted to take advantage of the incentives around solar before they started to disappear. I asked a neighbor to see if she wanted me to get her a price quote also and when she responded with an enthusiastic “yes,” I thought that perhaps more of our neighbors would be interested too so I posted the question to our local listserve and got 37 responses. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I responded with a request to help put together a community purchasing program and very quickly, several knowledgeable and enthusiastic neighbors stepped up. We then met with Max Joel from Solar One, a nonprofit green energy, arts and education center, who quickly became our Trusted Advisor and helped us put together a request for proposal for solar PV (electric) and solar thermal (hot water) systems. Since then we have selected the providers and put together several educational sessions to tell community members about the program. We will have at least three more sessions before June 30, the close of the joining date. You can see locations and details here.

After the jump, how to get involved with the program, why Brooklyn is a good place for these initiatives, and what’s in the future for Solarize Brooklyn… (more…)

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, architecture, development, and the like. Introducing Corrin Arasa, the founder and creative director at Patina Vintage Rentals, a furniture rental showroom and studio in Bushwick.

Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how’d you end up there?
Corrin Arasa: The Patina studio is in Bushwick. I live in Forest Hills and have for ten years. We moved there because it’s a great place to raise a family and it’s one of the prettiest spots in the city. Plus it’s only 10 minutes away from Bushwick — which is great.

BS: Can you talk about the beginnings of the company, and how you got into vintage furniture?
CA: I’ve always been into vintage furniture and décor. I’ve always loved finding hidden treasures at flea markets and estate sales. My mom used to drag us to yard sales all of the time growing up, so I guess the thrill of the hunt is long ingrained. I started an event-marketing agency ten years ago. Many of my clients needed something different from anything that was offered for events, so I started pulling from my own collection and scouting and creating custom pieces for them. As my inventory and sources grew, so did my company. Now I have an inventory of hundreds of pieces which led to the launch of Patina Rentals last summer.

After the jump, Corrin talks about finding a 5,000-square-foot space in Bushwick, what’s happening with Brooklyn design, and the craziest event she provided furniture for… (more…)

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, architecture, development and the like. Introducing Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, the Director of the Brownsville Partnership. The Brownsville Partnership is a part of Community Solutions, a national not-for-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen communities to end homelessness.
Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how did you end up there?
Rasmia Kirmani-Frye: I live in Fort Greene. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for about 20 years, and have lived all over. I started in Windsor Terrace, and then Sunset Park, Fort Greene, Crown Heights, and back to Fort Greene. I ended up in Fort Greene the first time when I came back from my PhD fieldwork on the West Coast and needed a roommate and somewhere to live – I totally lucked out on both! When my husband and I got married we needed to find a place and ended up two blocks away from where I was living the first time in Fort Greene – we love it. And I should add, my husband grew up in Bed-Stuy, on Putnam and Throop.

BS: Can you talk about the beginnings of the Brownsville Partnership, and how you became involved?
RKF: The Brownsville Partnership – an initiative of Community Solutions, a New York-based national not for profit – was launched in 2008 by Rosanne Haggerty. She and a team started working in Brownsville in 2005 doing community organizing. Rosanne met Brownsville’s unofficial “mayor” Greg “Jocko” Jackson – lifelong resident and agent of hope in Brownsville – and the Brownsville Partnership was born with Greg as the founding director. He passed away last May, but it’s his legacy of hope-in-action that we are carrying out [that] lives on. Prior to working at the BP, I was a community organizer in Brooklyn, and then consulted with community-based organizations in Brooklyn for the past 15 years. I became involved in January 2008. My long-time mentor, and founding president of the Times Square BID, Gretchen Dykstra, was working with Rosanne to conceptualize the work in Brownsville and, knowing that I have a long term love of Brownsville, she suggested I talk to Rosanne. I did and I met Greg, and I was totally inspired by both of them, and that was it. Love.

After the jump, how rapid gentrification in Brooklyn is changing Brownsville, hopes for the community in ten years, and Ras’s favorite spot in the neighborhood… (more…)

Welcome to the Hot Seat, in which we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, development, architecture and the like. Introducing Linnaea Tillett, an environmental psychologist and lighting designer. She is the principal of Tillett Lighting, lighting consultants for waterfront landscapes, infrastructure, parks, public art and private interiors. In Brooklyn, she designed lighting for the Brooklyn Navy Yard Visitor and Exhibit Center and the Brooklyn Public Library Leon Levy Information Commons, among other spaces.

Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how’d you end up there?
Linnaea Tillett: I live in Brooklyn Heights. I moved temporarily to Dumbo (from Manhattan) to work on an art/wayfinding project under the Brooklyn Bridge called “This Way.” Most days and nights I would roam around Brooklyn Heights while I was waiting for this or that piece of work to be done on the site. One night I wandered up Columbia Heights and thought to myself, “I could live here!” So when “This Way” had opened and I had a choice to go back to Manhattan or live nearer my office in Williamsburg, I completely denied how awkward the commute to work would be, and found an apartment to fall in love with.

BS: How did you get into lighting design, and what does your firm currently do now?
Coming from a family of designers (textiles, clothing, tableware — actually every single thing in the house I grew up with), I was used to looking at the world and wondering what I was supposed to design. One summer, my sister-in-law, a costume designer, asked me to help her out on a theatre production. Nobody was available to work on the lighting, so they gave me a script, a mass of tangled dusty cables, a pile of rusted light fixtures and some bits of cracked colored gel. I read the script, made some choices, and hung the lights with bits of color in front of them. When I turned on the lights, I was stunned that a bunch of wires and rusted tin cans organized along the emotional lines of a script could have such an expressive force. And I was hooked. Not on theatre, but on light as a creative tool.

Now I own Tillett Lighting Design. We light infrastructure, landscape, public art and interiors. Each is a one-of-a-kind project that requires attention and sensitivity to the emotional dynamics of the space.

After the jump, details and photographs of Linnaea’s projects in Brooklyn, her advice in lighting a small apartment, and her favorite interior and exterior spaces in New York City. (more…)

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, architecture, development and the like. Introducing Jennifer Johnsen, the new executive director of sales for real estate firm MNS. Jennifer oversees the sales and rental divisions at MNS and will open a new office for MNS in Williamsburg this spring.

Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how’d you end up there?
Jennifer Johnsen: I currently live in Williamsburg. It was a day trip that turned into a new home. My kids and I went over from the city one weekend to check out the Smorgasburg and fell in love with the neighborhood. Two weeks later we leased an apartment and made the move.

BS: You’re opening up an MNS office in Williamsburg this spring, the second for the firm in the neighborhood. Why did it feel important to be in this particular neighborhood?
JJ: The Williamsburg/Greenpoint neighborhood is the hottest submarket in Brooklyn. MNS has had incredible success with our new development projects along the waterfront and surrounding neighborhood; we have a great presence in this area combined with a large group of very loyal and important clients. We do a lot of resale business in Williamsburg and have outgrown our space on Bedford Avenue.

After the jump, Jennifer discusses the market boom in Williamsburg, how to balance gentrification in a growing neighborhood, and the projects MNS is tackling in Brooklyn now… (more…)