The Hunt: Rolling the Dice on Development in Dumbo

The Hunt

Rolling the Dice on Development in Dumbo

A Brooklyn couple moves into their ideal ‘glass box in the sky,’ but with construction looming next door, their views may already be imperiled.

Ian Cummins, left, and Michael Kravit in their new apartment in Dumbo, Brooklyn.CreditCreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times

In 2003, fresh out of school with an art degree, Michael Kravit moved to an artist’s loft in Dumbo, a sixth-floor walk-up. “I find a lot of artistic inspiration in Dumbo,” he said. “It is super-gritty, and I love that.”

His apartment included a “kibathroom,” a closet-style enclosure that was part kitchen and part shower/toilet. He didn’t mind the noise of the elevated subways roaring over the Manhattan Bridge, but overnight visitors couldn’t sleep.

At the time, Mr. Kravit was the art director of The L Magazine. He later moved to Washington, D.C., where he was the creative director of the organic-beverage company Honest Tea. That’s where he met Ian Cummins, who soon headed to business school at New York University. Mr. Kravit followed two years later, and the couple settled in Dumbo in 2015, renting a one-bedroom for around $3,800 a month in the towering J Condominium, which opened in 2006.

The couple’s two-bedroom apartment has close to 1,200 square feet. They converted one of the bedrooms into an office. CreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times

They saved diligently to buy a place of their own. Mr. Kravit, 37, now works from home as a creative consultant for natural food and beverage brands. Mr. Cummins, 31, is a business strategy consultant for Deloitte, and works from home on occasion, although he has an office in Midtown.

The couple’s 800-square-foot apartment felt cramped, especially when Mr. Kravit spread out in the living room with products and samples. Reinforced windows dulled the noise from outside — and they faced away from the Manhattan Bridge — but voices carried inside the unit, apparently through a ventilation duct between the bedroom and living room, causing distraction when they had phone calls at the same time, even if they were in different rooms.

They hoped to find a condominium in Dumbo or nearby, preferably a large one-bedroom or a two-bedroom, so they could have an office. They also wanted a second bathroom and a view befitting a tower that overlooked two bridges and the East River.

“We wanted to capture the Dumbo zeitgeist,” Mr. Cummins said, referring to the postindustrial area that essentially offers two options: old factory or new tower. “We wanted something that really meshed with the neighborhood.”

Their price range was up to $1.6 million. Some two-bedrooms they saw were too big, and some one-bedrooms were too small; converted factories and office buildings offered plenty of interior space, but too many windowless rooms.

Through a friend in the mortgage field, they met Noemi Bitterman, a licensed sales agent at Warburg Realty, who began showing them homes. “They saw properties every single weekend,” she said. “They were on a mission.”

“We saw the diversity of things you can get in different neighborhoods all close together,” Mr. Cummins said. “It is astonishing.”


The views from a two-bedroom in Kirkman Lofts, a converted soap factory in Vinegar Hill, were mainly into other people’s windows.CreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times

They had high hopes for Kirkman Lofts in Vinegar Hill, Dumbo’s eastern neighbor. The brick building, circa 1915, was originally a soap factory. A two-bedroom there with more than 1,000 square feet was listed for $1.5 million, with monthly charges of a little under $1,100.

“The pictures online made it seem drenched in sunlight,” Mr. Kravit said. But the view turned out to be primarily of other people’s windows. “It felt fishbowl-ish,” he said.

The building was also across from Con Edison’s Hudson Avenue Generating Station, and at night, flashes of light punctuated the darkness (most likely from security guards, a Con Ed spokesman said).

“Vinegar Hill retains a feeling of no man’s land while being developed with luxury apartments,” Mr. Cummins said. “It is a little bit spooky at night.”

That apartment later sold for the asking price.

At the border of Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill, they saw a two-bedroom in a converted furniture warehouse built around 1905. It had more than 1,000 square feet and a lively street view. The asking price was $1.295 million, with monthly charges of around $1,400.

“It was a unique space carved into an old-school commercial building, and I thought it was charming,” Mr. Kravit said.


Mr. Kravit liked a two-bedroom in a converted furniture warehouse near the border of Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill; Mr. Cummins objected to the lack of a second bathroom and the odd layout.CreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times

Mr. Cummins, however, objected to the lack of a second bathroom and the odd layout, with a long hallway and a second bedroom that seemed hacked out of the living room. The couple passed, and it later sold for $1.28 million.

At Beacon Tower, a circa-2005 building directly across the Manhattan Bridge from J Condominium, a two-bedroom with close to 1,200 square feet was on a sufficiently high floor. It was what they wanted most of all — “a glass box in the sky,” Mr. Kravit said — with the view they craved: bridge and city, weather and horizon.

“It has an unbelievable view you couldn’t get in any of the other apartments they saw,” Ms. Bitterman said. The asking price was $1.55 million, with monthly charges of nearly $1,000.

The catch: The adjacent site, occupied by a low-slung building with a tennis court on the roof, had recently been sold and development was pending.

As the couple researched the development plans, they continued hunting. A two-bedroom with two exposures and similarly stunning views came on the market at J Condominium, “to give us more options and make us more unsure what to do,” Mr. Kravit said. But at $1.8 million, with monthly charges of almost $1,000, it was out of their reach.

In the meantime, Mr. Kravit had created computer models based on the potential height of the future building next to Beacon Tower, and discovered that it might obstruct one window in the corner bedroom of the available unit — “the window with the money view,” he said.

Nevertheless, the couple decided to submit an offer at the asking price.


Their new home, on a high floor in Beacon Tower, offers the views they craved. But development looms nearby.CreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times

“There were three interested parties,” Ms. Bitterman said. “Two of us put in an offer.”

Theirs was the one accepted, and they moved in late last summer. As for the looming obstruction, “we are mentally prepared for the worst-case scenario,” Mr. Kravit said. “It is a risk we are actively taking.”

Currently, the only permits filed with the city are for demolition, which has already begun. It’s a common sight in a rapidly evolving neighborhood.

The Dumbo grit that Mr. Kravit loves is still there, and as development continues, the area “just gets better,” he said. “We needed more stores here, more people and convenience.”

Their work-at-home situation has improved. The reinforced windows dull the rumble of passing trains, and they can easily make phone calls without background chatter.

“When we’re both at home, one works in the bedroom and one in the office,” Mr. Kravit said. “We are like a couple of worker bees.”


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Published at Thu, 13 Dec 2018 10:00:15 +0000