542 St. Mark’s Avenue
Like the weather on a recent Thursday, the building at 542 St. Mark’s Avenue in Crown Heights couldn’t decide whether to be one thing or another.
"Hello Living’s Newest Condominium Building opens on May 7 with Japanese Art Exhibition," read an email I received from developer Triumph Property Group’s publicist. Not too long ago, another email had arrived, touting an art walk through a nearby property, where "emerging art meets visionary real estate."
Upon arrival, guests were greeted by a sign proclaiming ‘Open House’ and each person got a brochure. The smell of desperation was potent. Japanese girls in kimonos poured sake into plastic cups, while drummers and dancers set up in the building’s courtyard.
"As you can see, we left the space very raw, with polished concrete floors," said Fouad, a representative from Triumph. An elevator up to the 7th floor proved this to be true when the entrance to an apartment landed me in the bathroom.
The 36 apartments, rectangular mini-duplexes ranging from $335,000 to $550,000, are called "intimate condominium lofts," "inspired by the warehouses on St. Mark’s" by the slick brochure. The building facade is basic, if not bland compared to some of its "luxury" neighbors, but the building offers home buyers the option to turn their lights on and off with their iPhone. Or something like that.
The "art exhibition" consisted of a few 11×14 prints of Japanese manga figures, hung sporadically through the apartments. Model apartments were furnished by a big box furniture store in Red Hook.
If you’ve been to the border of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights recently, you’ve probably noticed a lot of new apartments, but not necessarily a lot of new owners. If you’ve seen brochures for some of them, you might have noticed a typo here and there, usually proclaiming a closer proximity to neighborhood amenities than they might actually exist. Minutes to Prospect Park and the Q train!
The brochure for 542 St. Mark’s Avenue claims that this building, near the corner of Franklin Avenue, is in Prospect Heights. This must be the newly extended broker border. The 36 apartments sit adjacent to the elevated S line that connects three major train lines from Prospect Park to Fulton Street via Franklin Avenue, and is generally considered part of Crown Heights.
Like the building – named Ishi, and part of the Hello Living community – the branding of the neighborhood remains a crucial fluff point for sellers trying to unload the abundance of condos that now sit empty along Pacific, Dean, and Bergen Streets and St. Mark’s Avenue from Washington to Franklin Avenues. Some have been completed, and sit empty with forlorn open house signs that diligently advertise at dusk on Thursday evenings and on bright weekend afternoons. Others remain skeletons, awaiting renewed financing for completion.
All of the new buildings have at least one thing in common: their fortress-like atmosphere. Many, like Ishi, offer community rooms, pools, fitness centers and rooftop decks, to keep residents from having to leave much, adding to the colony-like feeling when contrasted with its century old brownstone neighbors. The stoop, long a community gathering place, is inherently open to the public. Ishi’s courtyard allows luxury owners to interact with the community within, not the community without.
"Classic 19th century townhouses on tree-lined street coexist beautifully with luxury condos and industrial lofts," proclaimed the Ishi pamphlet in bold. On industrial Pacific Street, between Washington and Grand Avenues, sits another Triumph building, noticable by it’s outdoor balconies and fortress-like stairway. Cars can be parked beneath the building, and drive right out the front door.
Overlooking the Japanese dancers from a second floor balcony, bankers and lawyers awaited the questions of potential buyers over sushi, but it seemed most of the revelers were more interested in poking around the new building than buying into it, with or without the "Japanese Art Exibition."