Try to talk about Bushwick and its future to ten people, and you will get ten different opinions. The funny thing is that these ten different people will likely never talk to each other about it. While Bushwick is a favorite topic among artists who regularly hold panel discussions on creating a sustainable future of some sort for Bushwick, some of the important actors on the scene are rarely invited. After I realized that realtors speak a very different language and have different paradigms when it comes to Bushwick, I thought that a trip to midtown would be worthwhile. I talked to Eric Karmitz from Halstead Property, who is the salesperson for the 260 Meserole building that is currently for sale.
…which, by the way, is the building where The Wick and The Well are located.
260 Meserole was built in the 1860s and used to be a brewery. Nowadays, Danbro Studios, named after the owners Danbro brothers, is a home to a community of musicians, a number of creative professionals (i.e. The Sweatshop, The Bushwick Supply) and, most importantly, to The Wick and The Well. The Wick, which has been not opened to the public yet, promises to be the greatest beer hall in New York. The Well is an enormous concert venue that opened in July and has already brought some incredible names to our beloved neighborhood.
“The building is already making over one million dollars per year and will make for 7-8% return for its future owner,” Eric Karmitz told me. Eric further explained that there is still 20,000 square feet of vacancy space that would be suitable for a hostel or a boutique hotel.
Eric Karmitz can’t hide his excitement about working on a 260 Meserole sale as opposed to his regular Manhattan office buildings. 260 Meserole is the only Bushwick/East Williamsburg building that Halstead Property is working on. “I get to go down there in the middle of the day. It’s great!” Looking for a buyer of “the music warehouse” requires a completely different approach. Eric also came across the issue of how to explain Bushwick to potential buyers. “Hip is a word that our parents are likely to use…” In other words, Halstead is looking for a quirky buyer who gets Bushwick and who really loves music.
“The building will change the area,” Eric said proudly. The conversation got really interesting when Eric pronounced conclusions that the city drift panels in September danced around but no one dared to say aloud: “Williamsburg is the new Manhattan, and Bushwick will be the next Williamsburg in five years.” Eric also predicts growth in rent earnings for the property owners and arrival of well-known retail brands to the area.
I asked Eric if they ever thought that the increase in rents in the area might not be good for longtime residents. While it seems that this is not an issue Halstead regularly contemplates, Eric quickly responded that the area around 260 Meserole is not residential anyways. The area is zoned as M1 manufacturing district, which means that no residential use of the buildings is permitted. The manufacturing zone is also home to hundreds of artist studios in the area, which are likely to be responsible for making the area so desirable (sociologist Sharon Zukin explains why in her book Naked City). While the NYC Department of City Planning doesn’t seem to be planning to change the zoning to residential for the moment, if this happened it would indeed be a fundamental change to the area. Many of artist studios and other manufacturing spaces would likely be turned into condos, which are far more lucrative for the property owners.
I was interested if the company Eric works for has ever contemplated a financial support to the artists and/or the families in the neighborhood as a way to give back to the community; they would earn a substantial commission from the sale after all. Eric said that he doesn’t know of Halstead planning anything like this; in fact, he hasn’t even thought in these terms. However, Eric agreed that it is a point worthy of discussion for the industry. Although, it should be noted that Eric Karmitz is an employee who cannot guarantee a shift in corporate responsibility of the company he works for.
Whether you are an artist or a longtime resident in the neighborhood, the conclusion we should be making here is that the discussion about the sustainable development of Bushwick will only be productive if it includes all players of the game: brokers, property owners, city planners, urban policy creators, theorists, artists and longterm residents. Without the discussion across the spectrum of players, realtors are unlikely to learn about the needs of the existing community and how to handle its future responsibly.
Further Reading: Interview with the 56 Bogart Building owners.