The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Village Chocolate Factory Owners Want to Convert Space to Luxury Condos

 The city is reviewing an application that would turn the old Koppers Chocolate factory into luxury condos.
The city is reviewing an application that would turn the old Koppers Chocolate factory into luxury condos.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

WEST VILLAGE — The Koppers Chocolate factory owners want to convert their former factory to a luxury residential building, while tacking three extra floors on top of the existing building, DNAinfo New York has learned.

Koppers recently announced that it's relocating its factory from 39 Clarkson St. to Sunset Park, where various financial incentives from the city will have the family-owned business paying about $10 per square foot while nearly doubling their space.

Documents obtained by DNAinfo New York show Jeff Alexander, third-generation owner of the Koppers business, still owns the building and is working with Summit Equities, an investment firm that purports to “produce superior risk adjusted returns” on real estate dealings, to make it appealing to potential buyers or investors.

Summit is helping Alexander petition the city for a variance that will allow them to convert the manufacturing building — which they say was used for match production and seed processing before Koppers took it over in 1988 — to residential use, as well as to excavate the cellar to create a four-car parking garage.

They also want to remove part of the back of the building and "move" the square footage from there to the roof to add three floors to the six-story building, bringing the building's height from 85 feet to 110 feet.

The space created by shortening the building's back will be a backyard "to provide light and air" for the condo owners. And the top three floors would be set back 20 feet from the street line, granting the seventh floor tenant a private roof deck atop part of the sixth floor.

Plans submitted to the city show that the outdoor space isn't the only amenity owners could expect at 39 Clarkson:

► Every apartment will have in-unit laundry and at least one balcony, save for a small studio on the ground floor — though the 489-square-foot apartment will have a garden courtyard.

► Every bedroom in every unit has its own bathroom, with two walk-in closets included in the master bedroom.

► The second floor apartment is a five-bedroom duplex with the dining room, living room, kitchen, and a “media room” on the ground-floor level, along with a large private garden. The bedrooms are all on the second floor, as well as a balcony overlooking the private garden.

► The third- through sixth-floor units have four bedrooms.

► The seventh floor unit is a three-bedroom with no walk-in closets, but it has a roof terrace on one side and a balcony on the other. It does not appear to have a dining room, but does have a spacious kitchen and living room.

► The top unit spans the eighth and ninth floor, as well as a small penthouse on the roof that leads out to a private roof deck. The lower floor has one bedroom, an open kitchen and dining room, living room, “media room” with attached balcony, and office, and the second floor holds a "sitting room" and four more bedrooms, with a balcony off the master bedroom.

► The basement level will not only offer indoor parking for four cars (with a car elevator bringing them up to the ground level), but also bicycle parking for four bikes, storage for residents, the building's "mechanical room," a "media room," and a "play room."

But Alexander and Summit have to convince the city that they truly need to make the building residential, and build the additional floors, in order to turn even a marginal profit on the building.

In a letter to the Board of Standards and Appeals, which would approve or deny the variance to allow the residential conversion, lawyers for the owner argue that the 96-year-old building's layout makes modern manufacturing usage frustrating, if not impossible. They could turn the property into an office building without needing any city approval, but they insist that the building's layout also makes that option unpalatable, if not untenable.

“The building has many unique characteristics that would prevent it from earning a reasonable return from its traditional manufacturing and food production uses or as a conforming office use,” the lawyers write, pointing by way of explanation to the building's structural columns that are 16-feet apart, freight elevator in the middle of the building, and small, difficult-to-access loading docks.

And they insist much of the construction required to turn it into condos would be required in order to make it usable for retail and office use, such as updating the building's HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems, getting rid of the loading berths in the front of the building, lowering the ground floor, which is two feet above street level, creating a new lobby and entrance, replacing the old freight elevator and stairwell with new ones that are up to city code and ADA compliant.

They also presented a few commissioned financial reports using comparable condo sales in the area — which they say go for nearly $2,000 per square foot — to prove that condos, with the additional floors, are the only way they can turn a profit that would be even moderately appealing to investors.

The BSA has not yet set a date for a public review and hearing for the application, which was received by the agency in March, according to records.