After years of false starts, the busy thoroughfare known for its gas stations and carwashes is seeing a construction frenzy of mid-rise apartment buildings.
Development along Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, like this project at the corner of 16th Street in South Park Slope, is shifting into high gear, with more than two dozen condos and rentals recently opened, underway or planned.Credit…Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times
Can a parade of new mid-rise apartment buildings turn an ugly duckling of a street into a swan?
For the better part of two decades, city officials and business owners have been trying, with modest success, to revamp Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, the seven-mile thoroughfare that stretches from Park Slope to Bay Ridge and is often criticized for being ungainly, overly busy and even dangerous.
Now a spate of rentals and condos, together with improvements like bike lanes and zoning changes that allow taller buildings, finally have real estate professionals optimistic about the long-awaited makeover.
“This will someday be like Park Avenue,” said David Ennis, the chief executive of the Daten Group, the developer behind 575 Fourth Avenue, a 70-unit condo in South Park Slope that began sales this month. Hedging a bit, Mr. Ennis added, “We at least think Fourth Avenue will be completely different.”
Strung between two borough icons — the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower — and barreling through Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and Park Slope, Fourth Avenue is dotted with businesses that cater to drivers. Indeed, banks, restaurants and garages, and even a dry cleaners at 18th Street, offer off-street parking for cars, suggesting the street may have a ways to go before being known as a place to live or stroll.
But there’s little doubt that development is shifting into high gear.
More than two dozen condos and rentals have recently opened, are underway or are planned, according to Halstead Property Development Marketing. Most are concentrated along Fourth Avenue’s northern half, like Mr. Ennis’s condo, a charcoal-toned, 11-story structure at Prospect Avenue that took the place of an auto-body shop, next to the Prospect Expressway.
With a mix of one- to four-bedroom units, plus a pair of townhouses, 575 Fourth offers amenities like a roughly 9,000-square-foot courtyard with lawns, benches and pergola-shaded grills. Truck noise won’t interfere with a barbecue, Mr. Ennis promised: “It’s secluded.”
Apartments at the building, which is slated to open this fall, range from about $1 million to $2.5 million, or an average of $1,100 a square foot.
Farther north, a different auto-body shop and car-detailing business near President Street is being replaced by Parlour, a dun-brick condo with arched windows at 243 Fourth Avenue. Developed by Brodmore Management, the 12-story building, which began selling in March, is offering 19 two- to five-bedroom units starting at $1.7 million.
Perhaps no developer has taken more interest in the corridor than Adam America Real Estate, which has undertaken more than a half-dozen projects since 595 Baltic Street, a rental, opened in 2017. Other rental buildings include No. 470, which is open, and Nos. 535 and 555, which will welcome tenants later this year.
Also among Adam America’s latest projects is Arbor Eighteen, a condo at 185 18th Street being codeveloped with CGI Strategies in the Greenwood Heights neighborhood. The building has 73 units, which sell for about $1,200 a square foot, or starting at $565,000 for a studio. It came to market in January and is set to open by the end of the year, said Omri Sachs, an Adam America co-founder.
There, too, developers are offering owners a way to tune out traffic, courtesy of a tucked-away courtyard that’s lush with bamboo and ferns. But if that doesn’t do the trick, they say residents can leave the tree-challenged block and head to nearby Prospect Park (which is nearly a mile away).
A rendering of Parlour, a condo at 243 Fourth Avenue that is offering 19 two- to five-bedroom units starting at $1.7 million.Credit…Binyan Studios
A few blocks closer is Green-Wood Cemetery, the sprawling historical landmark that is a bullet point in Arbor Eighteen’s marketing campaign. “It’s a place where people can go with their strollers,” Mr. Sachs said. The building’s location, Mr. Sachs added, is also ideal for Manhattan commuters. An R subway station that also offers occasional D, N and W service is a block away; the financial district can be reached in about 25 minutes.
For years, Fourth Avenue served almost like an electric fence, especially for those coming from points east, corralling people into Park Slope, residents say.
“It was a psychological barrier, 100 percent. Fourth was never your destination,” said Carly Robins, who last year traded a two-bedroom condo in Boerum Hill, where she had lived for 12 years, for a three-bedroom condo on Fourth Avenue, in the Park Slope section. The apartment, at 613 Baltic, a 43-unit building from JDS Development Group, cost $2 million, said Ms. Robins, who works as a voice-over actress.
Since the condo kicked off sales in 2015, it has struggled to find takers for its one- to three-bedrooms, which currently average $1,500 a square foot. The least expensive two-bedroom in early April was $1.48 million. Brown Harris Stevens took over marketing last October at the building, which has nine units left.
Across Brooklyn, the average sales price for new condos in the first quarter of 2019 was $1.06 million, down about 20 percent from the same period last year, according to Douglas Elliman Real Estate. But Tim Simmons, the Brown Harris Stevens associate broker in charge of sales at 613 Baltic, said that a sluggish luxury market, and not the shortcomings of the street, is the reason.
“I never had the same prejudice against Fourth Avenue that people who lived in Brooklyn do,” said Mr. Simmons, who relocated to the area in 2017 after 15 years in Manhattan.
In fact, Fourth Avenue reminds him of Tenth Avenue in West Chelsea, before the creation of the High Line — a conveyance for vehicles without much in the way of foot traffic. Fourth Avenue will change “fundamentally in the next five or 10 years,” he said.
There’s been no shortage of plans to spur investment. In 2003, city officials rezoned a 17-block chunk in Park Slope to encourage apartment buildings with as many as 12 stories, significantly higher than the five-story walk-ups that had dominated the street. In 2005, a nine-block segment in Greenwood Heights got similar treatment. Ditto for Sunset Park and its length of Fourth Avenue, in 2009.
But government intervention has its limits. Despite the zoning changes, the street still lacks the classic Brooklyn streetscape of boutiques and independent restaurants. A more familiar sight might be a place to order cheap cheeseburgers from a drive-through window, especially as you head south.
Recognizing that development wasn’t solving all of the avenue’s problems, city officials amended much of Fourth Avenue’s zoning in 2011. Today, from 24th Street north to Atlantic Avenue, the city requires that stores take up at least half of the ground floor in new buildings, to avoid extra-large apartment lobbies or other sidewalk-deadening uses.
Rezoned areas could also get rezoned again. A plan is afoot to change the look and use of the Gowanus neighborhood, which extends west of Fourth Avenue. Under the current proposal, blocks from 15th Street to Pacific Street would be changed to allow for buildings of up to 17 stories, from the current 12 stories. The city is expected to launch the official review process next winter.
“If the rezoning happens, it will be like a development frenzy,” Mr. Sachs said.
At the same time, this wide street with skinny median strips is the continuing target of a comprehensive, if slow-moving, makeover.
About a decade ago, the Bay Ridge section of Fourth Avenue was deemed one of the most dangerous streets for pedestrians in the region. But after improvements were made in 2014, including extended curbs and extra crosswalks, the accident rate fell. Similarly, reducing the number of driving lanes in Park Slope made the street safer there, too.
In addition, the Department of Transportation has promised to add bike lanes, install sculptures, elevate median strips and plant trees in the medians, according to plans.
When more apartments do come, they’re likely to be condos. Rentals, which make their money over time and not in one fell swoop, are usually only possible when land costs are low, developers say. And Fourth Avenue is now a hot submarket, said Miki Naftali, the chief executive officer of the Naftali Group, which in 2013 built Landmark Park Slope, one of the first major Fourth Avenue projects.
Located at 267 Sixth Street, at the site of a former gas station that required a special cleanup, the glassy 104-unit rental offers studios to two-bedrooms. One-bedrooms this month started at about $3,000. In Brooklyn, one-bedrooms averaged $2,900 last month, according to Elliman. “Everything is very positive over there,” Mr. Naftali said.
The surge in luxury housing, and its upward pressure on rents, is squeezing out longtime residents, said Trevorn Frederick, the owner of New Prospective Realty, a two-year-old firm with an office on Fourth Avenue near 21st Street. Already, Park Slopers are being displaced to Sunset Park, said Ms. Frederick, who has worked in the area for years. “Sometimes people’s incomes just do not support what’s in the market,” she said.
And while she likes that there are fewer carwashes around, Ms. Frederick does not want Fourth Avenue to completely give up its automotive ways. “Those parking spaces are really nice,” she said, “when I bring my laundry to the laundromat.”
For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.