Getting the Memo: Office Space Comes to Crown Heights

1000 Dean Street

1000 Dean Street in 2010. The building had almost 30 building code violations from 1981 to 2012. Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Butler.

By Patrick Gillespie

Beat-up brick marked the façade on one side of the building, old dirty windows the other. Papers and furniture sat inside, collecting dust. The exterior had rusty smudges. Until this year, no one had worked at 1000 Dean Street or 899 Bergen Street for more than thirty years. Five hundred people arrived at their new offices in April, and many more are coming to eat there this spring.

1000 Dean Street and 899 Bergen Street — two adjacent properties, built in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in 1965 — were originally one property, a Studebaker service station. They were renovated over the past two years into office and commercial spaces. Several small businesses moved into 1000 Dean, the office space, last month, and a high-end food market is arriving at 899 Bergen in May.

1000 Dean Street in May 2014. Several small businesses moved there in April.

1000 Dean Street in May 2014. Several small businesses moved there in April.

Between 1981 and 2012, the property was owned by a series of individuals and storage companies that did not take care of the building, property records show.

In 1999, then-owner Leon Heiman was fined $800 for allowing the roof to fall apart, and for having missing bricks at the building’s entrance. In 2010, Heiman’s successor Kevin Gilgan received a $500 fine for broken windows, oil spills and unreadable fuses.

Multiple times the buildings’ owner–whether an individual or storage company–was cited for failure to maintain its exterior. 1000 Dean Street alone has had 29 building code violations since 1981, according to property records.

The area around the building, a few blocks from the infamous race riots of 1991, has seen major residential revitalization in the past decade, but this building marks its first renovated office space, filling a need community leaders say the neighborhood lacked.

“It hadn’t been utilized in years,” said Atim Oton, chair of the economic development committee of Community District 8 in Crown Heights. “It’s helping to rebrand Crown Heights.”

Jonathan Butler, BFC Partners and Goldman Sachs came together to purchase both properties — 150,000 square feet altogether — for $11 million in 2012. Butler is the founder of the popular Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg markets. He gained local fame when he started, a Brooklyn real-estate blog, nearly a decade ago.

“I’ve always loved old buildings, and so the idea of bringing one back to life was interesting both architecturally and from an economic development standpoint,” said Butler. “It struck me as a no-brainer that it would be a good place to locate a kind of commercial-office hub.”

Butler wrote about the building on his blog in 2010, and wondered at the time if anyone was pursuing the property.

“Ah, if we only had the $5 million or so that will be required for a downpayment!” he wrote in 2010.

Two years and no takers later, Butler and his partners bought the old Studebaker service station.

899 Bergen Street

899 Bergen Street in 2010. Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Butler

Unlike the neighborhood’s recent transformation, which Butler credits to local merchants group the Crow Hill Community Association, the property’s rebirth has roots in Manhattan. In addition to the cost of purchasing the property, the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group put $25 million into the renovation. Selldorf Architects, a firm that mostly does Manhattan real estate, jumped on board to redesign the building. Butler lives in Brooklyn, but grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

“It was a different kind of project than we typically do, so we were interested in exploring that up-and-coming neighborhood,” said Sara Lopergolo, the Selldorf architect who redesigned the property, about her first impressions of the building. “The repurposing of a building is, to me, very interesting.”

Lopergolo wanted to keep the building’s columns, high ceilings and skylights. But beside those, the entire building was gutted. New elevators, insulation, plumbing, electric systems and windows were installed. Two light wells were carved into the building’s middle so daylight could reach the inside easily.

899 Bergen Street

899 Bergen Street in May 2014. A food market will open up there at the end of the month.

Butler says the building’s cohort of small businesses will spur more economic investment in the neighborhood, citing more than six properties that have started construction projects since he came in.

There are two new apartment buildings as of this year on the same block as 899 Bergen Street. Six blocks from the 899 Bergen, a refurbished subway entrance re-opened in April, and right next to it a nearly finished residential and commercial property. Another new apartment building under construction at 655 Franklin Ave., two blocks away.

Whether Butler’s building sparked these other developments is unclear, but Franklin Avenue has experienced significant streetscape changes in the past few years.

Community leaders hold high hopes for both buildings. They didn’t consider the building “abandoned” before but said that it’s now being put to better use.

“It will help revive that particular location,” said Oton, the community board member.

Oton, 45, said she expects 600 to 1,000 people to visit Berg’n — the food market — daily, on top of the 500 employees who began working next door earlier this month.

Nagi Nahshal, the manager of the Bergen Express Deli, a half-block from the food market, said both buildings are making the area safer. Up until last year, the block was crime-ridden even during daylight hours, he said.

Oton acknowledges that there are some community concerns about the influx of traffic, trash and noise that the building may generate. But the benefits of business development — and potential employment for locals in the neighborhood — outweigh the costs, she said.

“We see the upside,” said Oton. “It’s a win-win for the community.”

1000 Dean Street

The renovation team restored the original Studebaker sign at the top of the building.

Deserted NYC is a product of the NYCity News Service at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.