What Will Williamsburg Look Like In 2020?
Williamsburg is facing one of the more pivotal moments in its recent meteoric rise. And brokers and developers Bisnow spoke with are concerned.
The neighborhood will be faced with a ton of new supply (about 4,000 more residential units and hundreds of thousands of new square feet of office), coupled with the transportation challenges of an L train shutdown, which the MTA recently announced will begin in 2019 and could last two to five years.
Douglaston Development principal Jeff Levine (above) tells us the L train has been pivotal to Williamsburg’s success, so there’s obviously some concern.
But once the L train is back up and running after repairs it’ll be much better equipped to handle all the foot traffic generated by the projects currently in the pipeline, which bodes well for the neighborhood’s long-term future.
"I think the shutdown could be positive, because when it reopens it’ll be better suited to serving Williamsburg’s growing population," Jeff says.
Douglaston currently has a big project in the pipeline on the Williamsburg waterfront, 2 North 6th Place, which will add roughly 560 apartments to the neighborhood when it delivers in about a year.
Jeff says Douglaston’s not worried about the L train shutdown, as the developer plans to offer a free shuttle service to the nearby Marcy JMZ stop to residents.
Williamsburg’s retail, which is largely dependent on night and weekend traffic from Manhattan, might not be so lucky, he says.
“Retail is the only sector I can see being significantly impacted by this in the short term,” he says.
David Maundrell III (above), a residential broker who founded the Brooklyn-focused aptsandlofts before selling to CitiHabitats, and currently serves as their EVP of new development for Brooklyn and Queens, says he’s similarly upbeat about the L train shutdown’s short-term impact.
“At the end of the day, the neighborhood isn’t going to become barren,” he says. “People aren’t just going to pack up and leave,” although rents could take a hit.
He also notes that most of the 4,000-odd residential units currently in the pipeline are along Williamsburg’s waterfront, meaning they’ll have an extra draw that could well allow renters and condo buyers to overlook a year or two of slight travel difficulties.
“There’s not very much of this type of waterfront-living spaces available in New York, and I think people realize that,” he says.
If residential might escape unscathed except for a temporary drop in rents, and retail might take a somewhat more significant hit, what about office? Could big office projects like the 400k SF Brooklyn Generator at 25 Kent Ave—not to mention the slew of office space coming online in nearby Morgantown in the next year or two—suffer if their tenants’ employees aren’t able to make it to work?
“Especially for the projects in Morgantown, I’d say there’s some exposure for those folks,” David says, noting that those projects, in Williamsburg’s eastern reaches, won’t be able to substitute shuttles or different train lines as easily.
Ben Waller (above), a managing director at ABS Partners who heads up the brokerage outfit’s Brooklyn office—and is marketing several office projects in the area—says he hasn’t seen much concern thus far.
“I’ve got tens of thousands of square feet in some stage of negotiation currently, and no one’s changed their plans based on” the L train shutdown, he says.
Space in the Morgantown projects, in particular, Ben says, “is being leased as soon as it’s getting built.”
Ben and the others all agreed that the L train shutdown is likely to hasten Williamsburg’s trend towards becoming more of a self-contained live/work/play community. That’s because, for one thing, all of the new office supply is likely to be very attractive to firms with lots of employees who already live in Williamsburg, and vice versa.
“I think Williamsburg is absolutely headed in that direction,” Ben says. “Nobody wants to waste their lives commuting, if they can help it.”
Looking further out, the period during the L train shutdown could be one of Williamsburg’s last great growth spurts, followed by the delivery of the massive 11-acre Domino Sugar Factory project roughly five years later.
Once the mega-projects on the waterfront deliver, he says, “the majority of the land in Williamsburg, really, has been acquired at that point.”
Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see exactly happens when the L train shutdown finally comes.
“The only reason Williamsburg exists is the L train,” David says. “So while I’m optimistic, at the end of the day it’s still a bit of a crapshoot.”