Saturday, January 22, 2011

Williamsburg: Far From Secret, Still a Success 

With its thriving art and music scene, Williamsburg is now regarded as a hub of all things hip. But two decades ago, it was a largely working-class stronghold bordered by the East River.

Then as now, there were large communities of Hasidic Jews and Latinos, as well as Poles, Italians and African-Americans. Today, Williamsburg also attracts a diverse mix of young singles and older professionals, drawn by the area's vibrant nightclubs, galleries, handmade-crafts boutiques and a collection of ethnic and upscale eateries near the L train stops.

Williamsburg's transformation dates back to the 1990s, when young artists and hipsters flooded into the area, drawn by its easy access to Manhattan and relatively low rents.

Since a 2005 rezoning, several luxury condominium towers have sprouted along the East River waterfront. As the waterfront towers fill, the immediate area is starting to attract more amenities, which have traditionally clustered around the L subway stations at Bedford Avenue, Lorimer Street, Graham Avenue and Grand Street. One of these new businesses is indieScreen, a movie theater that recently opened on Kent Avenue at South Second Street.

"There's a lot more foot traffic and a lot more activity," says David Von Spreckelsen, division president of Toll Brothers City Living, which developed two of the new waterfront towers, One and Two Northside Piers.

One Northside Piers, which opened in 2008, is now sold out; its sister project has so far sold about 130 of its 270 units, Mr. Von Spreckelsen says. The high-end buildings feature Manhattan views, a fitness center, heated pool and hot tub, children's playrooms and an outdoor deck.

Units in Two Northside Piers, which range from $399,990 for a studio to $2.3 million for a three-bedroom, are selling at discounts of 10% or less from their asking prices, Mr. Von Spreckelsen says, an improvement from some sales at the first tower that were more deeply discounted.

According to StreetEasy.com, the median sales price for houses, co-ops and condos in Williamsburg has risen 2.4% over the past three years, from $562,907 in the fourth quarter of 2007, to $576,329 in the most recent fourth quarter. By comparison, median prices rose nearly 30% in neighboring Greenpoint, and dropped 14% in the city overall over the same period.

Smaller developments are scattered throughout the neighborhood, previously comprised largely of low-rise buildings and wood-frame houses.

Among these new buildings is the Bedford, which includes nine one-bedroom and studio apartments with a shared roof deck a block from the Bedford Avenue L station. Asking prices start around $319,000 for a studio and $490,000 for a one-bedroom, according to StreetEasy.

Parks: McCarren Park, on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border, is a 35-acre expanse which includes baseball fields, playgrounds and tennis courts. Within the park, the city has completed about a third of a $50 million renovation of McCarren Pool. The Depression-era pool closed in 1984, though it had a second incarnation from 2005 to 2008 as a concert venue. The city expects the refurbished pool, recreation center and bathhouse to open next spring.

Plans for 28 acres of waterfront parkland were included in the 2005 rezoning, though most of that is still in the planning stages. The East River State Park, a seven-acre park along the waterfront, opened in 2007.


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