This Massive Development Site Will Utterly Transform Dumbo

Photo by Barbara Eldredge

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Right now, it’s just a parking lot. But when 85 Jay Street went on the market two weeks ago, every developer in the city took notice.

Residential development at the site — which takes up an entire block — could increase Dumbo’s current population by 44 percent. And condos there could sell for more than those at the nearby Pierhouse — where apartments start at $2,850,000.

When we talk about 85 Jay Street, we’re talking about a big building. And even bigger money.

First, a little background on 85 Jay Street.

A decade ago, the Jehovah’s Witnesses planned to put four buildings on the lot. The towers ranged in height from nine to 20 stories tall. The plan even got a controversial upzoning from the City Council. But the mega-complex was never built. It remained a parking lot ringed with barbed wire.

But that 2004 upzoning means the lot comes with nearly 1 million buildable square feet.

A building at 85 Jay can be bigger than the Barclays Center arena.

On the ground, the 85 Jay Street site is almost as large as two and a half football fields. It’s one of the largest blocks in the neighborhood, bigger even than Empire Stores.

But the real numbers are in building up. Empire Stores will be only six stories tall. The development at 85 Jay Street could rise as high as 20 stories — creating a helluva lot of square footage.

To compare, the arena at the Barclay’s Center is a mere 675,000 square feet. The 76-story Frank Gehry-designed luxury tower at 8 Spruce Street in Manhattan is a better comparison — it’s 1 million square feet.

Closer to 85 Jay, Jared Kushner’s five-building Dumbo Heights complex — which he and partners bought from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a record-setting $375,000,000 — is just a little bigger at 1.2 million square feet.

Brooklyn Heights Development Watchtower Jehova's Witness Sites

Photo via Watchtower

Did we mention this is all in Brooklyn’s priciest neighborhood?

The property at 85 Jay Street is more valuable and could sell for more than the Dumbo Heights buildings, developers and real estate industry insiders told Brownstoner. For one thing, it’s directly across the street from Dumbo’s only subway station. It’s also outside the landmarked district.

But most important, 85 Jay is a blank canvas than can be built to any specification — including condos.

“Dumbo is perhaps the best market in Brooklyn, if not in the entire city,” Slate Property Group’s David Schwartz told Brownstoner. “It’s an amazing site, there’s no question about it.”

The luxury condo market still garners the highest returns for developers. But every developer we spoke with said the site’s massive size means no one will have to pick between residential, retail, and office space — it can easily accommodate multiple uses in multiple buildings.

Interestingly, the Witnesses have already refused an offer of $400,000,000 for the site, according to the Brooklyn Eagle. Though that was several years ago.

Residential development 85 Jay Street could dramatically increase Dumbo’s current population.

When Brownstoner asked Alloy Development’s AJ Pires about the potential impact on Dumbo’s population, he estimated that if the entire site became residential, “you’re probably talking about 700 to 1,000 apartments, so maybe 1,200 to 1,600 new residents.”

According to 2010 census data, Dumbo has about 3,600 residents. So a mainly residential development at 85 Jay could bump up the number of people living in the neighborhood by more than a third.

Brooklyn Heights Development Watchtower Jehova's Witness Sites

Workers paint the metal fence surrounding the 85 Jay Street parking lot. Photo by Barbara Eldredge

“85 Jay is the hole in the doughnut for Dumbo,” said Dumbo Improvement District Director Alexandria Sica. “It’s been this incredible missed opportunity for the neighborhood — right at the F train, along a great shopping strip.”

More than one developer has its eye on the site, but it’s likely to sell to a really big, international firm because of the costs and complexity involved. Similarly, only major architecture and urban design firms have the experience needed to build a building this big and — most likely — controversial.

You can be sure that this development’s going to stay in the spotlight.

Related Stories
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