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What Does the Next Wave of Development Mean for Bushwick Artists?

As the neighborhood’s commercial real estate turns over to lure tech companies, many artists will have to look further east for affordable studio space.

A building on Wyckoff Avenue advertising "over 9,000 square feet of awesome." (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
A building on Wyckoff Avenue advertising “over 9,000 square feet of awesome.” (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Bushwick Open Studios is now more than a decade old, but its continuity is more uncertain than ever.

As thousands of art lovers descend upon North Brooklyn this weekend for the city’s largest arts festival, a quieter, anxious conversation is whispered through the neighborhood’s studios, galleries, and commercial art spaces. Artists are chatting with one another about when their studio leases will expire, whose landlords are jacking up prices, and who wants to make deals with their tenants.

Residential rents have been largely stable along the L and J trains, but the area is undergoing rapid change along its commercial corridors. New hotels are sprouting up, developers are renovating warehouses and factory buildings for music venues and office spaces on Bushwick’s main drags, and restaurants and bars are spreading onto sleepy side streets.

Bushwick’s art scene is no longer its primary attraction — not when restaurants like Roberta’s and Bunker draw diners from Manhattan and beyond, while the Knockdown Center and House of Yes quickly build a global following.

Tensions have simmered for much of the past decade between Bushwick’s longtime Latino and African American residents and artists who moved into the area. But as more people discover the neighborhood’s charms, investors pour money into projects that increase property values and eventually force long-time residents and artists to leave for good.

Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick, with a tour group at right (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick, with a tour group at right (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The cycle of displacement has occurred in other New York neighborhoods populated by artists, but unlike Soho or Williamsburg, which saw explosive residential development, Bushwick’s latest gentrifiers could be tech companies.

Artists in Bushwick and East Williamsburg are largely concentrated in commercial studio buildings — many of which are former textile factories that have been subdivided and partitioned to create small individual studios. These buildings have kept their manufacturing zoning because they reside within one of the city’s Industrial Business Zones, which has allowed manufacturing companies to operate in Brooklyn at a relatively affordable cost.

Many unused properties in the area, which stretches from Grand Street and Bushwick Avenue to Myrtle Avenue and Cypress Avenue, have drawn interest from real estate investors.

“Those are very attractive properties,” Matt Cosentino, vice president of sales at TerraCRG, a commercial real estate firm, told Hyperallergic. “There are a bunch of hotels in East Williamsburg that are up or on the way up and there have been a number of office buildings being built.”

Bushwick remains one of the most sought after neighborhoods for development for all types of properties. Last year, there were 72 multifamily building sales in Bushwick for a total of $136.6 million (second highest among all neighborhoods in Brooklyn), 38 mixed-use building sales for a total of $74.4 million, 23 residential development sites for a total of $39.4 million, three retail building sites for a total of $14.6 million, and four industrial or office buildings at a total of $18.2 million, according to a TerraCRG 2016 market report.

One of Bushwick's sprawling studio buildings during Bushwick Open Studios 2015 (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)
One of Bushwick’s sprawling studio buildings during Bushwick Open Studios 2015 (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Cosentino said some investors are waiting for the MTA’s scheduled L-train shutdown in 2019, which could knock out transit to Manhattan for a year and a half, before buying any properties. But that hasn’t stopped developers from jumping into the market.

Three separate hotels at Stewart Avenue, White Street, and Seigel Street offering a total of 400 rooms are coming online in the coming months. The team behind Glasslands is hoping to open a 24,000-square-foot music venue in a former furniture warehouse at 599 Johnson Avenue by November. Remezcla, a culture website focused on “Latino Millennials,” moved into a renovated office complex at 215 Moore Street called the Bushwick Generator. And the former Schlitz Brewery at 95 Evergreen Avenue has been transformed to a five-story office complex.

Who is looking to move into those new offices? Bushwick’s developers want “TAMI” tenants, meaning those working in the technology, advertising, media, and information sectors, brokers say.

“It’s tech businesses and smaller start-up companies who employ younger employees who live in Bushwick and Williamsburg and have their nightlife there too,” said Jim McGuckin, senior associate at Marcus & Millichap, a commercial real estate brokerage. “To have an office located near where your employees live is extremely attractive. It’s a reason why someone would chose one company over another.”

The influx of gainfully employed young people could lure higher-end shops and restaurants to Bushwick streets.

Cosentino points to Artichoke Pizza, a Manhattan franchise that replaced Northeast Kingdom on Wyckoff Avenue, and Blink Fitness, which recently opened on Knickerbocker Avenue, as signs that the demand for retail in Bushwick is growing.

“A lot of big box retail will be coming in,” he said. “I expect to see an H&M type tenant and a higher end supermarket tenant like Trader Joe’s come in in the coming years.”

An outdoor art exhibition during a past edition of Bushwick Open Studios (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)
An outdoor art exhibition during a past edition of Bushwick Open Studios (photo by Jillian Steinhauer/Hyperallergic)

How does this affect the artists who live there? 

The commercial office and studio buildings aren’t likely to change hands anytime soon because they’re already fairly profitable, analysts say.

“The cash flow being generated from these buildings is so good and there’s a lot of management responsibilities,” said McGuckin. “And there’s usually a big spread between landlords’ expectations for what their building is worth and buyers’ expectations.”

But artists could get squeezed out as owners put more money into their spaces and in turn ask for higher rents. 

“While they may remain creative, art-type spaces, the rents are certainly reflecting an improvement for the neighborhood in general,” said Cosentino. “This space will always be in Bushwick, but it’s just a question of what the price point will be.”

Artists who work and live in loft spaces might be eligible for tenant protections under state law, such as significantly lower rent, although they would have had to apply for the program several months ago. Those in buildings that are not rent-stabilized are as vulnerable to market pressures as anyone else in the city.

Murals and warehouses in Bushwick (photo by Mr Seb/Flickr)
Murals and warehouses in Bushwick (photo by Mr Seb/Flickr)

Some artists have already made a move further east into Broadway Junction, Cypress Hills, and East New York. Developers are converting former factory buildings and warehouses in East New York’s industrial zone and marketing them to artists. And artists are looking at residential buildings with garages that they can turn into artist studios.

“Back in 2013, we sold a car garage on Harman Street to an artist who did electronic sculptures,” said Cosentino. “Even though it wasn’t a live-work loft space, the garage provided what he needed.”

Others who would like to stay have been getting involved in the Bushwick Community Plan, a committee that has been meeting for nearly a year and hashed out a block-by-block plan for how the neighborhood should be zoned in the future.

The group is expected to present some preliminary recommendations by the end of the year, although what should be done with industrial properties and arts spaces has been a challenge, members say.

“It remains to be seen whether the manufacturing blocks will be a part of the plan,” said Scott Short, chief operating officer of RiseBoro, formerly the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. “There’s not a lot of consensus for how we treat those and that will be one of the stickiest issues that we’re dealing with.”

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