Eye On Real Estate: A BID With Sabor Latino
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Fifth Avenue Brooklyn – it's a tale of three Business Improvement Districts.
The retail corridor snakes like a spine through brownstoners' bailiwick Park Slope, through immigrant magnet Sunset Park, through middle-class and increasingly Middle Eastern Bay Ridge.
Each neighborhood has a BID of its own to represent merchants and landlords – and a personality of its own that draws shoppers forth onto Fifth....
This week, Eye on Real Estate takes a look at the Sunset Park Fifth Avenue BID – where shops and restaurants with sabor latino offer an enticing lineup of goodies.
Finds include lime-green cowboy boots at Zapateria Mexico, levanta cola (butt-boosting) blue jeans at Colombia Style and finely dressed dolls representing the Christ Child and His choirs of angels at El Comal toy store.
There are Dominican style breakfasts being served, like mangu (boiled green plantains) with fried cheese, eggs and sausage at International Restaurant. Salvadoran restaurant Usuluteco dishes up crave-worthy pupusas (corn-meal pockets stuffed with savory pork and cheese) and fried yuca (cassava).
The avenue boasts its share of terrific tacos – and the best Cuban coffee this side of Havana (see related story). A mammoth model shark atop El Tesoro Ecuatoriano Restaurant's awning provides a visual thrill for “Sharknado” fans.
“Fifth Avenue is our Main Street in Sunset Park,” said Renee Giordano, executive director of the BID. The area is a two-mile stretch of Fifth from 38th to 64th streets with some 500 businesses – and for added charm, there's the hilly park that shares the neighborhood's name, where visitors get jaw-dropping views of Manhattan skyscrapers.
“There's a handful of businesses that have been able to stick it out through the bad times,” she said.
“But there's a lot of turnover.”
Numerous properties changed hands for high prices a few years ago, which touched off rent increases. The big-bucks leases drove some long-time biz owners into retirement.
She understands the position the new landlords are in: “They have to pay their mortgages,” she said. “But tenants can only pay so much.”
A former Fifth Avenue merchant who closed his clothing shop three months ago is less philosophical.
“The landlords are greedy – they want more and more,” he griped.
Some who've stayed put are pretty glum.
“It's been slow, because of the economy,” said Javier Santiago, manager of Unicorn Bicycle and Skateboard at 4925 Fifth Ave.
How does his shop, which has been in business since 1989, survive?
“We've got our steady customers who know we don't gyp them with the price,” he said.
Even with the grousing and the departures from the area, most of the storefronts are occupied. The BID's vacancy rate is only around 5%, Giordano said.
Usually, vacant spaces in the area get rented in four to five months, said Steve Stern, an agent at NY Standard Realty.
The storefront at 4413 Fifth Ave., which he was marketing, took longer to fill because it's long and narrow. It sat empty for a year or so after the tenant, Krysstal Nail Salon, closed down. Now landlord Haydee Vargas has lined up a new tenant for it, Stern said. The asking rent was $3,700 per month for the 725-square-foot space – $61 per square foot per year – which is about average for the area, he said.
Rents are highest in the heart of the district, from 48th to 55th streets, Giordano said. And corner spots command the biggest sums – $15,000 per month for a 2,000-square-foot location, which is an annual rent of $90 per square foot.
Vacant corner locations include 4724 Fifth Ave., where footwear store Toda Moda Shoe closed, and the former site of Game Stop, 5302 Fifth Ave. – a building that belongs to Manhattan real estate investor Lou Ades, city records indicate.
Delgado Travel is trying to find a subtenant for its former 900-square-foot storefront at 4401 Fifth Ave. The asking rent is $6,650 per month, or $89 per square foot per year. The lease ends in April 2015.
“It's a little bit of trouble because the lease is short-term – and the rent is expensive,” said Yesi Benalcazar, a secretary at the travel agency, who is fielding calls from prospects. Delgado is asking the same amount of rent it owes for the space.
The agency has moved across the street to 4410 Fifth Ave. – a building it bought for $1.185 million in 2011, city records indicate.
There's a smattering of upstairs commercial space being marketed in the BID area. Maria Rosa Pimentel, the owner of 5615 Fifth Ave., has second-floor office space to fill. The asking rent is $1,200 per month for the three-room space, she said.
The hot housing market in Sunset Park has brought new residents to the neighborhood – now the trick is to get them to shop on Fifth Avenue instead of neighborhoods where they work. Improving the BID's shopping environment could help win them over.
Giordano will talk soon with newly sworn-in City Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenwood Heights) about getting started this year on a long postponed, already funded program to install new street amenities. They will include trees, benches, a clock and classic street signs, “the kind I grew up with,” she said. She will also reach out to the city Department of Transportation about moving forward with the program.
She'll also speak to Menchaca about the BID's project to install free WiFi for the entire area, which the Brooklyn Eagle reported on last spring.
A lot of the equipment has been installed – but she needs his help in getting city permission to put repeaters on lampposts. Without them, the WiFi service is spotty.
City permission is also needed to put two or three repeaters on buildings inside the park to create free WiFi access there.
The BID will help area businesses that are short on social-media basics to set up websites and Facebook fan pages. And a shopping app for the district is in the works, she said.