Gentrification is alive and well in Sunset Park. In 2009, the real estate firm Industry City began welcoming artists and non-profits into Sunset Park, but now it appears that their motives have changed. The company recently began telling tenants in some of its artist studios that rent will increase to nearly double the current rate. This week, the development company changed its mind, but not for the better. In lieu of a rent increase, tenants have been notified they will need to relocate, some as soon as April 30, 2013.
When asked for comment from Industry City, the development company assured us that while they continue to value their artist tenants, they have been forced to vacate for a more profitable client. From a statement emailed to us by Bruce Federman, Director of Real Estate at Industry City:
We are currently working to relocate a handful of artist tenants who have raw space in Building 9 of Industry City, and whose leases are set to expire soon, to more finished space within Industry City that can accommodate the growth of their businesses and work…A current Industry City industrial manufacturing tenant is planning to expand into this space, creating more local jobs and industrial growth within Brooklyn.
The soon-to-be exiled include many artists, who don’t seem to fit within the company’s bigger picture. Industry City has been leasing artist studios in Sunset Park since 2009, but these leases might not fit within the company’s 10-year plan to transform the industrial neighborhood into a “destination where 21st century businesses can prosper”. Industry City controls enough property in Sunset Park (17 buildings and 6.5 million square feet of commercial space) to make such long-term plans.
Just a few days after tenants told us about the spiking rents, we were alerted that that the situation had quickly soured. The rent hike was no longer on the table, and tenants have been told to vacate by the end of the month. They can, however, move into one of Industry City’s other properties. From an email:
“Industry City at Bush Terminal notified its tenants at 55 33rd street that we must vacate the building by April 30, 2013. They say they will hire movers to move us to another space in Industry City that is comparable, for the length of our leases. However these movers have not been identified. And they are giving those willing to sign an extended lease in the new space (at 50% increase), priority on choosing ‘comparable’ spaces. Those of not willing have no idea what space we will be moved into, but its certain not the best ones available…We are being forced to ‘move up’ to more expensive spaces. Those of us who have had leak damage in the older spaces have never been compensated.”
This tenant, like others we spoke with, did not want to publicly speak out against Industry City; they’re currently in negotiations to extend their lease.
Noah Landfeld, a Hunter alumnus who leases a studio in the 33rd street building isn’t moving anytime soon, but that’s only because Industry City hasn’t told him “when”. Unlike residents on the 5th floor, who must vacate the premises by April 30th, Landfeld will be staying for a little while longer.
“Us on the third floor have a bit more time, but it sounds like eventually we will all have to leave as well,” Landfeld told us. “It’s unnerving, but at least I don’t have to think about the 30th of this month.” He’s been in consistent contact with Industry City since December, when his lease expired.
“Industry City said that they’d draw one up, but they haven’t yet,” he admitted. “The only problem for me is that I have no security. It’s worth it to just pay my rent.”
So far, tenants in Industry City’s other properties have yet to see any major changes, although they remain dubious about any long-term future with their landlord.
The 36th street building and its tenants remain, for the most part, in the dark about what’s happening to their neighbors.
“I know they’re building out more spaces,” one artist in the 36th street building told us. She wished to remain anonymous for this article. Her suspicions were aroused when she told Industry City that she wanted to sign a multi-year contract, but was dissuaded against that. Instead, she renews her lease yearly at a 4% increase with each signing.
When asked about whether she’s noticed any differences since she moved her studio into the building years ago, some obvious differences could be identified. Lately, she’s noticed that other artists have started to pay more.
“They’ve changed a lot since I moved in. Now it’s more commercial,” she mentioned. “It’s like they don’t care who moves in.”
“Industry City told me it’s going to be the next Chelsea Piers,” Ginger Shulick, Executive Director of Art Connects New York told me over the phone. “I don’t see it happening for twenty years,” she added. Shulick moved her offices to Sunset Park’s 36th street building from Soho in September 2012.
Shulick signed a two-year lease with Industry City because she lives nearby and the rents were cheaper than in Manhattan. Hearing about the proposed rent increase in neighboring buildings, Shulick was nonplussed as to why that would happen across the street and not within her building. The two are fairly similar, but the 36th street building does have a coffee shop and event space.
Additional reporting by Paddy Johnson
[April 11, 2013: Since the original essay was published, changes have been made to protect the anonymity of tenants.]