New-York News

Developers take a big swing in Red Hook, where others have whiffed


Red Hook, a shipping hub on New York Bay, has seen big dreams dashed like waves upon rocks. Many promised redevelopments of industrial sites have never come to pass despite obvious potential and considerable hype.

A new developer hopes to break the streak. Eschewing the mixed-use approach that has characterized previous proposals, the team of Bungalow Projects and Bain Capital Real Estate is planning to create a single-purpose project for the historically commercial neighborhood: a 225,000-square-foot, 4-soundstage film studio on a site that once repaired cars.

“It will be a total game-changer,” said Newmark broker David Behin, a 20-year Brooklyn real estate veteran who found the site, at 145 Wolcott St., for the developers. “Red Hook is turning into a nice place to live and play and work.”

Offering a blank slate-esque one-and-a-half acres of vacant land across a nearly full-block site, Wolcott has appeal on a practical level. But it’s also located in a place that could translate into savings for filmmakers. Indeed, if a show is shot within eight miles of Columbus Circle (considered the city’s geographic center), producers can save on transportation and overtime costs for actors and crews.

Not served by any subway lines, out-of-the-way Red Hook has sometimes suffered for being hard to get to, though city ferries have serviced the neighborhood since 2017. Still, Hollywood workers are prone to get around the city by car. Bungalow and Bain, which will employ just 10 full-time workers at the Wolcott site, may be betting that the hundreds of others hired for productions will be unfazed by a little extra driving.

To be sure, the site has seen grand plans before. Previous owner W-G Capital Advisors, which bought the parcel in 2019 for $21.5 million, envisioned a multipronged project with offices, restaurants and apartments, including affordable housing. But W-G’s vision collided with local opposition over the developer’s approach to rezoning the property, which supposedly limited community input. The idea of building homes on streets that have been known to flood was also a point of contention.

But by offering an industrial-only use at Wolcott, Bungalow and Bain may be able to swim where the previous landlord sank.

In any event, the developers appear to be moving on multiple fronts. In December they closed on a similarly industrial site on Moore Street in Bushwick for $26.7 million, a location where they are planning another movie studio, this one measuring 330,000 square feet with six soundstages.

145 Wolcott St.

Auto-repair shop Perfect Bodies occupied this nearly full-block site for years. Yards filled with cars surrounded a gray corrugated-metal garage. But in 2019, owner Gregory Iovine sold the property to Washington, D.C.-based W-G Capital Advisors, an investment firm headed by John Gerber, for $21.5 million. Soon after, Gerber and partners, including former Department of City Planning official Alexandros Washburn, unveiled the kind of ambitious mixed-use redevelopment that Red Hook’s half-empty blocks have often attracted in recent years, though usually with limited success. W-G’s offering was a 300,000-square-foot development featuring a 14-story tower, 210 apartments, office space, restaurants and shops, as well as light-manufacturing facilities. But opponents led by Council Member Carlos Menchaca criticized W-G for seeking a rezoning by variance and not through the more transparent land use review process. And despite demolishing the site’s garage in 2023, W-G ultimately unloaded No. 145 in April to Bungalow Projects and Bain Capital Real Estate for $35.1 million, records show. The team is planning a 225,000-square-foot film studio with four 18,000-square-foot soundstages. A project spokesman declined to share the development cost but said that construction will begin in the first quarter of 2025 and end in early 2027.

202 Conover St.

Change turns heads in this aged and sleepy area. Arresting architecture may help too, like with this site’s new 4,200-square-foot nonprofit arts space, whose façade features a four-story glass wall ribbed with wooden fins. Along another wall are seven white angular sections that invoke sails, a seeming tribute to the time a few centuries ago when tall-masted schooners tied up nearby. Dr. Michel Cohen, the founder of the popular child-focused Tribeca Pediatrics chain, developed No. 202 after purchasing its formerly weedy 25-by-100-foot lot in 2017 for about $1 million, according to the city register. Known for his design-minded offices, Cohen’s choice for an architect for No. 202 was Thomas Barry, who also styled Tribeca Pediatrics’ Bushwick and East New York offices. The building is eventually supposed to host concerts, films and parties, though permits indicate its interior is still incomplete.

199 Conover St.

Up until a few years ago, residential condos were a rare sight in Red Hook. An early stab at a 70-unit conversion at 160 Imlay St., a concrete warehouse once used by mail-order powerhouse Montgomery Ward, was stalled for years before recently resuming sales. But perhaps as home-buyers become less concerned with proximity to their offices, a handful of projects have entered the market, including the Conover, a 3-story, 22-unit offering at this address. With one- to three-bedroom units, the project, from developer RedHoek+, won approval for its offering plan in 2022, and had sold and closed 15 of its units between spring 2022 and May 2, according to the city register. A spokeswoman for the project said a handful of other units are in contract as well. Among them is No. PH3A, a three-bedroom that went for $2.6 million, or about $1,600 per square foot, which appears to be a local sales record. A $38 million total haul is expected, as per the offering plan. Shell company Red Hook Building Co. assembled the nine lots that make up the site, which had a mix of boarded-up buildings and windswept lots, and sold them to RedHoek+, whose principal is Lee Cohen, for $8.1 million in 2019, records show. A.G. Ship Maintenance Corp., a cargo-handling firm, was a long-ago owner of the property.

160 Dikeman St.

The 4-story, 11,000-square-foot office building on this site, which opened in 2020, appears to have been built on spec, which might have seemed like a decent bet in pre-Covid times but is perhaps harder to fathom in the current remote-work era. The building, which has 13-foot ceilings with exposed ductwork for an industrial look, is completely empty, according to the commercial real estate database CoStar and the building’s own website. In fact, interested tenants can lease the entire structure, whose roof deck has Manhattan views. In 2023 Douglas Elliman was marketing floors for $35 per square foot annually, which is cheap relative to Manhattan, where $75 is the norm. In 2016 developer Ulgar Aydin of KSK Construction Corp. purchased No. 160, which formerly had a small parking lot, for $1.8 million, according to the city register. The FBI is currently investigating whether KSK illegally funneled Turkish contributions into Mayor Eric Adams’ 2021 campaign. No. 160’s seller was local landlord Red Hook Building Co., an investing arm of New Jersey-based firm Guido Enterprises. The neighborhood’s largest private owner of real estate, though, is the O’Connell Organization, a business founded in 1967 by former narcotics detective Gregory O’Connell.

117 Ferris St.

This nondescript complex has a colorful occupant, Dell’s Maraschino Cherries, which churns out multiple millions of pounds of its neon-red, Shirley Temple-garnishing signature product a year. Founded in 1948 in a Carroll Gardens storefront by Italian immigrant Ralph Mondella, Dell’s relocated to Red Hook in the 1970s after it outgrew its space and became a quirky local presence. Local bees reportedly have a scarlet hue as does their honey. Ralph’s grandson Arthur Mondella, who took over the company after a stint on Wall Street, had a secret side hustle in recent years: an illegal marijuana farm hidden in No. 117’s basement. When authorities raided the space in 2015, they found 100 plants and 100 pounds of pot, according to news reports. After police arrived, Mondella locked himself in a bathroom and fatally shot himself. Mondella’s daughters Dana Bentz and Dominique Mondella run Dell’s today. In 1994, the company bought No. 117 for $265,000, which would be about $500,000 today after adjusting for inflation. The city puts the low-slung property’s market value at $2.1 million, which means it could trade for about $4 million.

43 Ferris St.

Former factory sites in the city often have quite different uses these days, although some holdouts remain, like this well-kept three-story brick structure with paned windows on a block-long site. It appears to have had a nearly continuous line of manufacturing tenants since its 1899 opening. Designed by William Tubby, an architect put to frequent use by Brooklyn’s well-known Pratt family, the multi-building complex was first home to Witteman Brothers, which made bottles, corks, caps and labels for the beer and soda industry. Le Comte & Co., which made tin cans, moved in afterwards, and the company’s sign still endures in faded letters on No. 43’s façade. Segal Lock, which made the vertically-aligned deadbolts that are still ubiquitous in New York apartments, came next, according to a history of the property. Likewise, the site’s owner for the past couple decades has been E.R. Butler Co., which produces period door knobs, chandeliers and candlesticks. Butler, which has showrooms in SoHo, Boston and Italy, purchased the five-building complex in 1998 for $1.5 million, records show, and paid off its $2.8 million note on the property, held by JPMorgan Chase & Co., last year. The restored building has joined “the creative foment that characterizes this diverse section of Brooklyn,” Butler’s site says.

44 Ferris St.

A decade ago, California developer Estate Four had planned to turn this large parcel and five other adjacent sites into a 12-acre, 1.2 million-square-foot mixed-use office and retail complex called the Red Hook Innovation District. But for unknown reasons, Estate Four bailed a few years later before selling the entire site to UPS in 2018 for a hefty $303 million; the package delivery service vowed to build a six-story distribution center there. UPS did later raze the Lidgerwood Building, a prewar structure at Ferris and Coffey streets that once churned out heavy machinery, including log skidders, coffee hullers and digging equipment for the Panama Canal, according to the blog Brownstoner. Also demolished was a brick structure at the end of Wolcott Street that housed a New York Daily News printing plant in the 1950s and later a Snapple warehouse. But no new buildings have risen on the desolate tracts yet.


C. J. Hughes , 2024-05-08 16:03:03

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