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Bushwick Keeps Its Edge Despite Development Influx

The Manhattan skyline as seen from Bushwick

The edginess that once drew East Village hipsters into Williamsburg has given way to young professionals, million-dollar condos and a luxury hotel. The neighborhood’s transformation from artist community into a playground for Class-A development follows a similar pattern as other hot submarkets across the city. 

But amid new residential and commercial projects, one Brooklyn neighborhood remains a stronghold for those looking to experience NYC’s former grit: Bushwick. 

Like Williamsburg, Bushwick has an industrial past. Former farmland yielded to glass and chemical factories in the 1860s, and a concentration of breweries in the 1890s earned the neighborhood the title of Beer Capital of the Northeast. In post-World War II New York, the neighborhood declined. The beer companies moved out, the housing stock fell into disrepair, graffiti covered industrial spaces and the middle class fled. 

Perception of the neighborhood changed after the city enacted the Bushwick Initiative in the mid-2000s, a two-year plan spearheaded by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The Bushwick Initiative aimed to preserve the housing stock and increase economic opportunities. The HPD’s plan and a popularization of street art also made the neighborhood more attractive to creative professionals seeking lower rents.

The influx of new residents pushed median rents up 44% from 1990 to 2014. 

A large inventory of two- and three-family homes in Bushwick encourages the short-term, shared living popular among students and artists. The constant changeover in tenants allowed landlords to steadily raise rents. Median rent in Bushwick is $2,150, and the median sales price is $870K. Co-op prices increased by 3% in Q2 versus Q2 2016. 

A mural in Bushwick

Developers have opened the door for a broader demographic with multifamily projects. The former Rheingold Brewery site will produce between 800 and 900 rental units, 20% of which will be designated as affordable housing. The apartment complex will be built around interconnected courtyards and an 18K SF public park. Rather than build an isolated luxury tower, the emphasis on outdoor space encourages community activity. 

Other projects take advantage of pre-existing buildings. Cayuga Capital converted Bushwick’s historic St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church into a 99-unit apartment building. The building offers a mix of affordable housing, starting at $822 for a studio, and market-rate housing, starting at a $2,500 studio. 

Bushwick’s nightlife and art scene have helped preserve its cool factor. Brooklyn Mirage, an outdoor concert venue on Stewart Avenue, appeals to local Bohemians with events like “2 More Days of 1969,” a nod to Woodstock. M2 Brooklyn Asylum on Flushing Avenue provides locals with a constant flow of electronic dance music, and bars like June on St. Nicholas Avenue serve as neighborhood watering holes. 

The neighborhood’s artist population has continued to grow, from 150 people in 2000 to 1,824 in 2015. Bushwick Open Studios, an annual event where local artists open their workspaces to the public, highlights creators across more than two dozen exhibition spaces in the area. Many galleries have been converted from other uses. Storefront Bushwick is an art gallery occupying a former tax accounting office. 

Bushwick’s art scene does not stop with studios and galleries. Former industrial walls have become canvases for local, national and international street artists to display their work. At the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and Troutman Street, passersby can take in numerous murals. The Bushwick Collective also hosts an outdoor gallery in the area, which spans over 10 blocks around the L train stop at Jefferson Avenue.

The organization brings together property owners and street artists, bringing color and vibrancy to formerly gray, industrial properties. Bushwick's murals are no secret, and they are constantly changing. New artwork grows the collection and the foot traffic. 

Flushing Avenue in Bushwick

Retail development has also increased in Bushwick. In 2016, the three ZIP codes representing Bushwick contained 92 chain stores, an 8.2% increase from 2015. Despite the opening of a Dunkin' Donuts along Flushing and Knickerbocker avenues and the $5.4M renovation of a Shoppers World into a mini-mall, small businesses, art galleries and specialty dining still maintain a strong presence. 

Investors in the area have the best of both worlds: room to grow and a thriving community, GFI Realty Services Research Analyst Justin Fitzsimmons said. Multifamily projects crop up next to colorful street art, and former industrial warehouses are repurposed into mixed-use hubs. 

“Through this decade of a residential development boom in Brooklyn, Bushwick is still attracting and holding on to a crowd that residents want as their neighbors, current retailers want as their customers and both residential and commercial developers, driven by buzz, are working to cater to,” Fitzsimmons said. 

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