Dean Street in Crown Heights: Not Your Banker’s Gentrification

893-897 Dean Street in Crown Heights (Image: Google Street View)

893-897 Dean Street in Crown Heights (Image: Google Street View)

Dean Street in Crown Heights is turning out to be a veritable fertile crescent of post-industrial art/beer/food/live/work spaces, foremost among them 1000 Dean, the 150,000-square-foot former Studebaker Service Station reopened in April as an enormous beer garden, food court, office building, and events space.

On the same block, between Franklin and Classon Avenues, a proposal to convert a warehouse at 964 Dean into a thirteen-unit residential building was voted down by Brooklyn Community Board 8 last March, and last month a permit application was filed to build an eight-story, 119-unit residential building at 1036 and 1046 Dean, at the corner of Franklin Avenue, where a shuttered brick industrial building now stands. Meanwhile, just one block west, things are moving forward at Global Square, the planned multi-use arts space and concert venue at 893 and 897 Dean, on the site of a former parking garage. (No sign of 895 Dean; possibly it was priced out.)

At 7,000 square feet, 893-897 Dean is nowhere near on the same scale as 1000 Dean, but it shares a similar zeal. Set to open with a soft launch in December 2014 and a full launch in March 2015, Global Square—formatted as g [ ]—is described by owner Charles McMickens as “dedicated to presenting bold and inspiring works from Brooklyn-based artists and beyond. From creation to performance, g [ ] is a home for diverse and emerging artists whose work ignites conversation, achieves aesthetic innovation, and embodies creative excellence across all media, disciplines, and cultures.”

As for the physical venue, the collective aims to create a “multi-use complex they hope will include a bar, restaurant, performance stages, rehearsal spaces, showers for musicians to use after shows and a large outdoor area,” DNAinfo reported in March, and will host music, dance, theater, and film.

Easy as it is to be cynical about the run-on hopes of the as-yet-unborn Global Square, an essential difference between 893-897 Dean and 1000 Dean is that the former is being steered primarily by managing director Charles McMickens, with support from artistic director Hassan Christopher, while the latter, though a project of Jonathan Butler, founder of Brownstoner and the Brooklyn Flea, was purchased for $11 million in a joint venture by Brownstoner, BFC Partners, and the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group.

Mere mention of “Goldman Sachs” is enough to send a cold shiver down the spine of most Brooklynites, and the presence of the bank’s not-so-invisible hand behind 1000 Dean—beer garden (almost) notwithstanding—is disquieting, particularly in an area that has already seen a shocking amount of change in recent years.

By contrast, Global Square has taken care to hear the needs, interests, and concerns of the community as they move forward, going so far as to offer biweekly tours of the space every other Saturday. Tours are followed by what seems like office hours, at a bar around the corner, where tour-takers are encouraged to engage in discussion about the project with the artists themselves.

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Global Square and 1000 Dean, given the divergent goals of the two projects. But where 1000 Dean proclaims the wealth and worth of what its “hub of entrepreneurial activity” will bring to the neighborhood, all the while touting its proximity to Park Slope, Fort Greene, and Prospect Heights, Global Square seeks to bring what Crown Heights residents want.

But then maybe these are the rationalizations of an unwilling gentrifier. Maybe Global Square’s redevelopment-with-a-heart-of-gold is only a paving stone on the road to total gentrifallout. Maybe making distinctions between “good” changes and “bad” changes to any neighborhood is splitting hairs—or, rather, hair transplants.

The very least that can be said for Global Square’s focus on creating community, rather than supplanting it, is that it may be bulwark, however small, against what often feels like a foregone conclusion in newly-hot segments of Brooklyn—neighborhood change for the wrong reasons, in the wrong ways, at the hands of the wrong people.

With a few warehouses left on Dean Street, it remains to be seen how they may eventually be filled—by artists with office hours, or by Goldman Sachs?

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misrepresented the relationship between Global Square managing director, owner, and sole proprietor Charles McMickens and the individuals he has hired, some of whom are artists. Global Square is not an artist collective. It is set to launch in December, not September, of this year. In addition, Global Square was mistakenly referred to as “Global Space.”

Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman

One Comment

  • So…1000 Dean’s businesses are not open. They weren’t in April, either. No beer garden. No food court.

    Maybe it’s worth editing this post a bit to reflect that?