Astounding Audience Magnets Just Half A Block From Barclay's Arena
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
O brave new world – Shakespeare is moving to Downtown Brooklyn.
A brand-new home for the Bard is set to open up the block from BAM, with the immortal playwright's fans counting the days until construction is completed.
The Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA), devoted for 30-plus years to producing Shakespeare and other classic drama in rented Manhattan theaters, hasn't quite finished building its glam glass-fronted Ashland Place facility.
The theater – named the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in honor of a $10 million gift from the arts-supporting London-based Polonsky Foundation – is the latest hot thing to happen in the BAM Cultural District.
It is one of several important developments planned – or almost done – in the mini-neighborhood bounded roughly by Flatbush Avenue, Fulton and South Oxford Streets and Hanson Place. Some 40 Brooklyn arts groups including the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) and the Mark Morris Dance Center are located there, and the city is spending $100 million to create new arts venues, public spaces and affordable housing. Almost 1,400 new apartments and 200 luxury hotel rooms are slated for construction.
We ferreted out some newsy updates about the Cultural District anchored by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which itself has a new theater devoted to emerging performance art:
* The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is announcing its choice of developer for the last city-owned site in the District soon.
* Ground-breaking has been pushed back about a month for a swanky hotel next door to Shakespeare's new home.
* A plan to build a smaller hotel across the street from BAM is kaput.
* Financing is expected to close in December for an apartment complex where half the units will be affordable housing.
Cultivating the Cultural District has been a joint effort of the city Economic Development Corp., the Departments of Cultural Affairs, City Planning and HPD and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.
“The Cultural District is certainly blossoming and that's a testament to what smart urban planning alongside public and private investment can accomplish,” said David Lombino, director of special projects at Two Trees Management Co.
“It doesn't often get mentioned alongside some of the other major development accomplishments of the Bloomberg years, like the East River waterfront, but it really should.
“If you go back 10 or 15 years, this was all really just a plan on paper for a number of underutilized sites. Today, some of the last pieces of this vision are filling in.”
Two Trees is a player in the Cultural District. It expects to break ground in first-quarter 2014 on a 32-story rental-apartment tower and cultural facility on a city site on Flatbush and Lafayette Avenues and Ashland Place.
More about that later. First, the play's the thing … or it will be on Oct. 19, when previews are scheduled to start for the opening play of TFANA's inaugural season. It's a production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream” directed by “Lion King” visionary Julie Taymor. A full-page ad for ticket sales in last weekend's New York Times arts listings proclaimed the date.
There could be some last-minute drama involved in getting the construction done – at least, that's how it looked through the partly open construction fence the other day. There was heavy construction machinery inside the building lobby. Outside on what will be an arts plaza, a bevy of workers equipped with wheelbarrows and a Bobcat bulldozer moved vast quantities of crushed rock across bare earth.
The city Buildings Department issued a temporary certificate of occupancy for the property on Aug. 19 – with 38 outstanding requirements to be taken care of before a final C. of O. can be granted.
Will this fabulous venue designed by acclaimed architect Hugh Hardy, with its Elizabethan courtyard-style theater and a trapped floor on the stage for gods and spirits to come out of, be ready in a little month, as Hamlet would say?
We called founding artistic director Jeffrey Horowitz for reassurance but didn't hear back.
However, a source who really knows his way around a construction site said it's often like this with big projects. They look like they can't possibly be done by deadline, then poof – All's Well That Ends Well.
The clock is ticking toward an Oct. 3 deadline at another venue at nearby 647 Fulton St., BRIC House. “FVGIT HORA” (i.e., “Time is fleeting”) as the inscription on its facade says.
A free opening-night concert by noted reggae artist Burning Spear and OneBeat, a collective of musicians from around the world, is scheduled that evening at the former Strand Theater. Its size has been doubled to 40,000 square feet to include performance and rehearsal space, an art gallery, a television studio, and a cafe. And UrbanGlass will have a workshop for artists who use glass as their medium.
In UrbanGlass's room, visible through ground-floor windows the other day, a wall was yet to be hung. In a BRIC room, stuff was piled all over the place and construction workers looked busy. There are 32 requirements noted on the temporary certificate of occupancy, which was issued Aug. 23.
But not to worry. “The building will be ready,” said BRIC spokeswoman Colleen Ross.
Until now, BRIC has presented its work in various locations around Brooklyn.
“To now have our programs under one roof is so significant for our organization in terms of strengthening our audiences' understanding of and access to the full complement of free and low-cost contemporary art, performing arts, media and education that we offer,” she said.
The new facility was designed by Thomas Leeser, the architect of the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens and London's 2012 Olympic Park. BRIC House will offer audiences in the Cultural District “distinctly diverse cultural programming that is reflective of Brooklyn” and give Brooklyn artists needed space to work, rehearse, perform and exhibit, Ross said. And the 3,000-square-foot gallery will be a “significant anchor for contemporary art” in the district.
THE GRANDE DAME WHO'S FOREVER YOUNG
Neighborhood anchor BAM is a century old – but fosters the innovative and cutting-edge. One indicator of its forward-looking vision is the annual Next Wave Festival, created 31 years ago, which has a long calendar of new and intriguing music, dance and theater.
This year's Next Wave has just launched with “Anna Nicole,” an opera about the late stripper/billionaire's widow Anna Nicole Smith.
In September 2012, the academy opened a new home for experimental art, BAM Fisher, built from the shell of a landmarked Salvation Army citadel at 321 Ashland Place.
The tickets are just $20 at the Hugh Hardy-designed theater, which has flexible seating with room for up to 250 spectators. The smallest set-up in its inaugural season was 60 rocking chairs for audiences of Samuel Beckett's radio play, “All That Fall.”
BAM Fisher drew a full house last Saturday for choreographer Ximena Garnica's and video artist Shige Moriya's mesmerizing dance composition “Becoming – Corpus.” Their dance group, Leimay, is based in Williamsburg.
The $20 ticket pricing suits the intimate-scale, emerging artists' works at BAM Fisher, which was “busy all the time” during its opening season, BAM President Karen Brooks Hopkins told Eye on Real Estate.
“We wanted to build a young audience for fresh art,” she said.
The influx of new apartment and hotel units in the Cultural District will be a boon to her institution, she predicted: “It is going to mean a lot of new donors and subscribers for BAM.”
The impact of the residential construction will be “pretty impressive” for neighborhood performance venues – “like Upper West Side density on Lincoln Center,” she said.
“I think for New York City and for Brooklyn and even the country, this is the Cultural District for the 21st Century,” Hopkins said.
The ethnically diverse district has venues of different sizes devoted to varied art genres, with affordable housing, small businesses and great architecture all in the mix, she said.
“It has developed organically, meaning it has taken a long time,” she said. “What we wind up with will feel very authentic.”
“I feel the existence of BAM and the other cultural institutions in this district really adds value for the developers building here – and I hope they will in turn support our cultural institutions.”
DEVELOPMENTS PROCEED ON CITY SITES
Dermot Co. is nearly done building a 327-unit apartment tower on a site it owns at 66 Rockwell Place. It will boost the amount of housing stock in the little neighborhood, which includes historic brick row houses on side streets and One Hanson Place, which is the condo conversion of the iconic clock-topped former Williamsburgh Savings Bank building.
And plans are proceeding for the development of more than 1,000 apartments on three city properties:
* The site whose developer HPD plans to announce soon is a parking lot at Ashland Place and Lafayette Avenue.
Agency staffers have reviewed and evaluated “a number of substantive proposals from experienced development teams,” a spokesman told Eye on Real Estate. A short list of four contenders includes Jonathan Rose Cos. and L+M Development Partners, a source said.
There is room for 100,000 square feet of development which may include residential, community and/or commercial space. At least 15,000 square feet must be cultural and arts space.
As the Brooklyn Eagle previously reported, HPD officials said at a Community Board 2 meeting last year that the site is big enough for an apartment building of less than 15 stories with about 100 units.
* The apartment complex for which financing is expected to close in December will be built by the Gotham Organization and DT Salazar.
“As with any closing there are a number of procedural requirements subject to completion but there is nothing out of the ordinary,” said the HPD spokesman. Construction is set to start shortly afterwards.
It will have 600 units, half of them for set aside for low-, moderate and middle-income residents, and will be constructed on a parking lot at Rockwell Place, Fulton Street and Ashland Place.
* During the summer, Two Trees took control of the site where it will build its apartment tower and arts facility, designed by high-profile architect Enrique Norten. The developer agreed in 2009 to acquire the site from the city Economic Development Corp.
Early site prep started the week of Sept. 2, said a worker as a noisy Bobcat tore up concrete ground-covering at the tip of the site. BAM had storage outbuildings there that were cleared away. The rest of the site is a parking lot, which continues to operate.
Twenty percent of the tower's 350 apartments will be for low-income residents, said Two Trees executive Lombino, adding that a “rough estimate” of the project's completion date is early 2016.
“We're in the process of seeking state tax-exempt bonds to cover the affordable rentals,” he said. “It takes some time.”
A 50,000-square-foot cultural facility will house a public library branch, BAM's Hamm Archives Center and 651 ARTS, a performing arts presenter that focuses on artists of the African Diaspora.
CULTURAL DISTRICT HOTELS: TO BE OR NOT TO BE
To be or not to be.
For an upscale 201-room boutique hotel on a privately owned site at 95 Rockwell Place, that's a yes, though ground-breaking has been pushed back about a month. For a 56-unit boutique property planned for a privately owned lot at 37 Lafayette Ave. across from BAM, that's a no.
The ground-breaking at 95 Rockwell is expected during the fourth quarter of this year on Thomas Leeser's 26-story design, project executive Greg Atkins told Eye on Real Estate. The purchase of air rights from neighboring Mark Morris Dance Center is expected to close in the next few weeks, he said.
Working with the innovative architect was a real trip: “The process was amazing; he just comes up with these ideas,” Atkins said. “It's fun – but expensive.”
The glass tower – designed to look like it has fractures in it that are filled with glowing light at night – will have exterior walls from the site's existing yellow-brick building incorporated into its base. It will have a “grand entrance” with a bar and restaurant facing the Ashland Place arts plaza in front of the Theatre for a New Audience, he said.
It will also have a rooftop bar and a banquet hall. The developers will look for an arts group or music venue to serve as a partner for performance space in the basement.
The site on which the project by Second Development Services and hotel operator VOS Hospitality will be built is leased for a 49 year-term from the Hertz family, online city records indicate.
The other site where a hotel was planned, a vacant lot at Lafayette Avenue and Saint Felix Street, is up for sale.
“The hotel design is null and void,” Angela Peterkin, a real estate broker marketing the property for owner Gabriela Tubella, told Eye on Real Estate.
It turned out that air rights purchased from a neighboring property could only be used for residential construction, Peterkin said. In 2006, a previous owner of 37 Lafayette paid next-door neighbors at 35 Lafayette $255,000 for 3,300 square feet of air rights, city records indicate.
Several offers have been made for the empty lot, Peterkin said. One offer is still pending.
“I see it as high-end commercial space on one or two levels and condos on top,” she said.