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Plan to Triple Williamsburg Office Space Would Transform Business Scene

By Meredith Hoffman | March 6, 2013 7:13am | Updated on March 6, 2013 11:29am

WILLIAMSBURG — A plan to triple the neighborhood's meager office space offerings could serve as a blessing or a curse to North Brooklyn's commercial development, locals said.

A proposal by Two Trees Management Company for 631,000 square feet of offices on the Williamsburg waterfront would draw an unprecedented slice of high-end companies to the neighborhood, realtors and officials explained, while also serving lucrative start-ups in Brooklyn.

"You might see high-end companies opening up offices there and businesses coming from Manhattan since it's right across the bridge," said Citi Habitats real estate agent Vik Kukar of the former Domino Sugar Factory site.

As part of Two Trees' $1 billion proposal, which also includes residential development and public open space on Kent Avenue, the company would charge $25 per square foot to rent office space, a company representative said. The new proposal will begin the public hearing process this spring.

Kukar, who said the price was less than typical Manhattan commercial rents, noted that "you'd probably see more business coming from outside the neighborhood" to rent space.

The office space proposed in Two Trees' new plan for the former Domino Sugar Factory and its adjoining lot would certainly draw outsiders, but it would also provide a resource for which Williamsburg is starved, Williamsburg Assemblyman Joseph Lentol said.

"I think you're going to find new businesses who come in to stay. Who wouldn't want a spanking-new space?" Lentol said. "Right now our businesses have no place to go. We have high-tech, architectural companies, software people and the music industry, and all those people have no place to go so they leave Brooklyn."

But to many North Brooklyn entrepreneurs, the massive development plan appears more like a money-making play than a service for the neighborhood.

"I think they're going to create a need, I don't think they're creating anything that already needs to be done," said Felipe Lavalle, founder of the small bike tour company Get Up and Ride, who said Two Trees' rent was "super expensive" for a start-up business. "I feel like people here would rather use coworking spaces where they don't have to pay crazy amounts of money."

Andy Smith, creative director of popular coworking space the Yard near McCarren Park, said a traditional office space model could potentially damage the creative "vibe" of local businesses.

"Do we need office space in Williamsburg? Perhaps, yes...but it's hard to tell if we build it and then people come or if there's already a demand here," Smith said. "It's all about the environment and the vibe. I just hope the businesses think about the effects they're having on the neighborhood."

Smith said the Yard focuses on hosting art shows, seminars and other events that create a relationship with the community. He worried companies might parachute into the neighborhood for offices under Two Trees' development plan.

But Smith also said Williamsburg's current residential-only model was creating a "commuters' town." 

"Right now I see thousands of people on the L train going to work, and then I try to go out on the weekends here, and I look around and it feels like Disney World," he said. "I just worry that everything is happening too fast."

Williamsburg City Councilman Stephen Levin said there was "definitely a need" for office space in North Brooklyn, and longtime community member Bill Harvey said he hoped the commercial growth would provide a needed balance to a mainly residential area.

"We have the most innovative creative people on the planet in North Brooklyn," Harvey said. "Yet the way developments have been rolling out have been hundreds and hundreds of blocks of residential only, which is a commuter model. That doesn't add value locally or to the city." 

A spokeswoman from Two Trees pledged that the developer would follow a similar model as their DUMBO buildings, which she said have brought in "small, creative companies." She would not comment on whether there would be specific requirements for businesses moving into the Williamsburg space.

"We're committed to making this the best place possible, a place we'd want to live, work and play, and to achieve that we need the energy from these companies every day," the spokeswoman said. "We will not lease the office space in huge chunks, but rather target the smaller companies that are growing in Williamsburg and need places to go."