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An empty sight in Brooklyn Heights

Denizens of Brooklyn Heights are itching for a new tenant to fill this empty retail building at 112 Montague St./Eagle photo 

Former Starbucks Landlord Says Barista Chain Sought New, Smaller Store Footprint

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

We see it glowing on our night walks through Brooklyn Heights.

The lights are on, but nobody's home at 112 Montague St., where Starbucks said sayonara 13 months ago and there's nary a new tenant in sight.

First-floor windows that stretch almost the entire length of the two-story retail building's 25-foot frontage are papered with “Building For Lease” signs declaring Greg Bartlett of Massey Knakal Realty Services is the exclusive agent.

Between the signs there's space to peer in and see overhead fixtures illuminating the vacant space, with its tile floors and green-painted walls left over from the java joint's long stay there.

We've seen passersby peek in, checking for any indications the space is being prepped for a newcomer.

For those who want this gap in the landmarked street's retail corridor to get filled already, we're sorry to report there is no prep work to be seen. Nor are there any applications for construction permits to be found on the city Buildings Department website.

If there's been progress in finding a new tenant, surely the leasing agent will share an encouraging word with us, we thought. How hard can it be to reach a guy be whose phone number is plastered all over the most conspicuous store site in Brooklyn Heights?

We played by the rules and reached out to the firm's media contact. But Bartlett and colleague Stephen Palmese, who was also working on the listing, proved elusive.

Patience not being our strong suit, we tracked down the landlord, whose home base is in Manhattan.

Nathan Royce Silverstein sounds like he's in no hurry to land a tenant for his building – which we know from Massey Knakal's website has a 2,500-square-foot ground floor and 2,000-square-foot second floor.

“I am really holding out for the right tenant,” Silverstein told Eye on Real Estate.

“I don't want a 'paper corporation' or LLC who could go out of business at any time. I want a national tenant or one with a very good credit rating.”

At first after Starbucks decided to clear out, Silverstein posted his name on the property and people called him directly.

“I had so much interest in the building – but I didn't get interest from what I wanted,” he said.

“So many restaurants called me. I know restaurants come and go,” he said. “Some do well and some don't.”

Silverstein also got numerous inquiries from nail salons about renting space on the second floor.

He prefers to rent the building to one tenant, “someone with good financial backing,” he said, but would consider leasing the first and second floors separately to two different takers if both were very strong.

Because 112 Montague has sat empty for so long, there's speculation it will be sold and a new building constructed to match the height of the five-story brownstone next door to it.

The owners of the Remsen Street homes behind the building would fight tooth and nail against new construction at the site, one of them told Eye on Real Estate.

“It's not a good idea to build there,” Zack Kaplan said. “It would eliminate the light and air at my house and others on either side of it.”

Property owners on the Remsen block between Henry and Hicks Streets are a determined bunch, he hinted by pointing out their success in getting a Citi Bike parking location moved. They would put a stop to any plan for a taller building at 112 Montague, he assured The Eye.

“It will not happen,” Kaplan said. “It will be fought in the court and the city for so many years.

“The cost to defend a suit would make it economically not feasible for the developer.”

But Silverstein said he is not planning to part with the property, which Patricia Holding Corp., a company co-founded by his late father, New York City banking attorney Max Silverstein, has owned since its 1936 inception.

“When I had my sign on the building, people kept calling and asking, 'Do you want to sell?' The answer was no,” he said.

“The answer is still no.”

The landlord wouldn't tell us the asking rent for the building, which city records indicate was constructed in 1935. But he said blog postings reporting Starbucks left 112 Montague because he tried to double the coffee chain's rent to $40,000 per month were incorrect.

“I was asking for a small rent increase,” he said.

So what happened?

“Their design for their [store] footprint changed,” he said. “Now Starbucks wants 1,600-to-1,800-square-foot spaces.”

The real estate broker who reps Starbucks in New York City did not return our call for comment about the reasons for the coffee chain's May 2012 move out of the building.

Silverstein also shot down bloggers' reports that a leaking roof helped precipitate Starbucks's departure to 134 Montague St.

And another thing: Massey Knakal's exclusive assignment as 112 Montague's leasing agent has expired. “I let them leave their sign up on the building,” Silverstein said.

We never got to talk to Bartlett and Palmese. Their spokeswoman sent word that the firm cannot comment on 112 Montague.

Silverstein told us he practiced law for some years but then got caught up in “business interests” such as his property holdings.

The most high-profile attorney in his family was his mother, the late Elizabeth Blume-Silverstein, a pioneer among women lawyers. She was a member of the first graduating class in 1911 of New Jersey Law School, which later became Rutgers University in Newark. Just 18 years old, she had to clerk for 2½ years until she was old enough to sit for the bar exam.

She went on to become the first woman to practice law in Essex County, N.J., and the first woman lawyer in New Jersey to represent a defendant in a homicide case, which she won. Blume-Silverstein practiced law into her 80s and handled more than 5,000 cases.

Her son took a moment to tell us about the virtues of the retail building where Sleepy's was a second-floor tenant a few years back.  

He had 112 Montague rebuilt 17 years ago with steel beams, and spacious windows on the second floor to match the width of the first-floor storefront.     

“I made sure [the design] corrects everything that is wrong with second floors on Montague Street,” he said. “Mine has windows across the entire second level. You have wonderful visibility.”

He also had a four-foot-wide staircase installed so shoppers can get upstairs and downstairs easily.

He pointed out that his building is on the same block as the Bossert Hotel, which is getting a glam makeover into a luxury inn.

“Montague has always been a nice street. Now with the Bossert Hotel reopening, it will be even better,” Silverstein said. “It enhances the whole area, and this block particularly.”

Broker Faith Hope Consolo said there's no shortage of national tenants that would be a good fit for his 4,500-square-foot building – such as preppy clothiers Jos. A. Bank and Talbots, whose reps are scoping out potential store sites in Downtown Brooklyn.

“He'll get a good tenant – and the rent checks will come like clockwork,” the Douglas Elliman retail group chairman predicted.

Until that happens, 112 Montague's neighbors continue to chafe under the long wait for a tenant to fill the gap on their street that Starbucks left behind.

“It's a nice building – it's bad for us that it's empty,” said Anna Lin, a cashier and waitress at Tenda, the Asian bistro at 118 Montague St.

“When Starbucks was there, more people walked by,” she said. “That brought us business.”

What does Silverstein have to say to Heights folks who criticize him for keeping his building empty?

“They should recommend me the right tenant – a tenant who's financially stable and hopefully is an asset to the neighborhood,” was his rejoinder.

“I can afford to hold out,” he said.    

The lights are on, but nobody's home at the storefront Starbucks vacated 13 months ago./Photo by Lore Croghan

Despite the signs in the windows, Massey Knakal Realty Services is no longer the exclusive leasing agent for 112 Montague St./Eagle photo

July 3, 2013 - 8:30am


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