73-Story Tower Would Be Brooklyn’s Tallest by Far

Scrutiny is about to begin of a proposal for the tallest tower in Brooklyn, one that would be impossible to ignore.

Two developers have submitted plans in recent weeks for a 1,066-foot building in Downtown Brooklyn, which would be almost twice as high as anything surrounding it. The complex, at 9 DeKalb Avenue, would also bring the current surge in supertall towers across the East River from Manhattan.

The 73-story structure, to be built by JDS Development Group and the Chetrit Group, would be more than double the height of the 512-foot Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, which was once the tallest in the borough.

The plans were drawn up by SHoP Architects, whose portfolio includes another of the most recognizable new buildings in Brooklyn, Barclays Center.

For this project, the architects say they drew inspiration from the limestone-columned Brooklyn Dime Savings Bank, which sits next door to the site of the tower and would be incorporated into the property. The bronzed ribbons running up the tower’s glassy sides draw on details of the bank, and its hexagonal shape echoes the bank’s footprint.

Part of the tower would rest on a rear portion of the bank, which the developer hopes to demolish; this could become a sticking point, since the bank is a New York City landmark.

The bigger issue for many would seem to be the height, even in a neighborhood and city marked by tall towers.

“Yes, the city planned this for a new Brooklyn,” Gina Pollara, the newly appointed president of the Municipal Art Society, said. “But does the public really understand what the cumulative effect of all these towers will be on the public realm?”

In 2014, JDS and Chetrit spent $46 million on the 340 Flatbush Avenue Extension, a five-story midcentury building that covers about a third of the triangular site and would be demolished to accommodate most of the tower. In December, the developers acquired the bank building, until last year a branch of JPMorgan Chase, for $90 million. They plan to use its soaring Beaux-Arts spaces for shops as well as incorporating roughly 300,000 square feet of air rights that would make the tower’s spire possible.

A 1,066-foot tower can be built along Flatbush Avenue without any special approvals from the city, but since the exterior and interior of the bank building — opened in 1908 and expanded in 1932 — are protected, alterations to the bank must be approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. A hearing before the commission is scheduled for March 15.
A rendering of the 73-story tower planned for Downtown Brooklyn. SHoP Architects
The members of the land-use committee for Brooklyn Community Board 2 were impressed at a meeting on Wednesday night, though the board will play only an advisory role. “It’s a beautiful project and a great opportunity to save the bank,” Hazra Ali said.

Tiny Ibelli called it “the best proposal to compliment the area since the RKO Albee,” referring to a famed movie house that once stood across the street, and was demolished in 1978. The committee approved the plan, 11 to 0.

Unlike the Manhattan towers rising more than 1,000 feet, the Brooklyn structure, with nearly 500 units, is planned as a rental apartment building, according to a person familiar with the plans who was not authorized to discuss them publicly. The developers also applied for the 421-a program, which provides tax breaks for including subsidized apartments in luxury buildings, before it expired last year, and would set aside at least 20 percent of the units as affordable housing.

Such an investment shows the continued strength of the Brooklyn real estate market, where prices in some neighborhoods have already surpassed those in Manhattan.

The proposed tower would be near one of the borough’s most important intersections, the corner of Flatbush Avenue Extension and the Fulton Street Mall, and would rise beside one of Brooklyn’s unofficial landmarks, Junior’s Restaurant. For a time, the 1950s diner known for its cheesecake was up for sale in the hopes of facilitating a similar tower project, though the owners eventually decided not to sell, or even to give up their air rights.

The developers already have considerable experience with tall towers. JDS is constructing a 1,428-foot condominium at 111 West 57th Street, that rises from the former Steinway Building. Until last year, the Chetrit Group, based in Brooklyn, was the owner of Willis Tower in Chicago, the second-tallest building in North America, behind 1 World Trade Center.

“We’re really excited to give Brooklyn a building that isn’t bashful, that isn’t shy,” Michael Stern, the founder and managing partner of JDS, said in a statement. “We want this project to encapsulate everything that is great about Brooklyn’s past and everything that is great about Brooklyn’s future.”

Since the neighborhood was rezoned in 2004, Downtown Brooklyn has seen a swell of activity. There have been 6,758 apartments built since then, with 5,254 under construction and an additional 7,790 in the planning stages, according to the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a local business group.

“Brooklyn has redefined itself, in terms of the kinds of housing it can support,” Jonathan Miller, the president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel, said. “This project, I’d almost think of it as a part of downtown Manhattan.”

Mr. Miller cautioned that with so many units on the horizon, and demand for luxury rentals softening, the tower could be difficult to fill. According to his firm, rents for the most expensive apartments in Brooklyn fell 6 percent in January from a year earlier, to $5,163 per month.

Among Brooklyn boosters, the feeling is that such a tower is overdue.

“Honestly, the first time I got a glimpse of these plans, I got a little emotional,” said Tucker Reed, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “It’s just a marker of how far Brooklyn has come.”

By Matt A.V. Chain, The New York Times

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