The population and economy in Downtown Brooklyn is booming, and it isn’t just Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, saying it. Even New York’s comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is heralding the neighborhood, which until just recently was home to the borough’s government offices and not much else. In the past five years, the neighborhood has transformed, adding residential housing, new office buildings and retail. The population has grown to 15,000 people from just 400 in 2000, and businesses are also doing well. Private sector jobs and wages grew at a higher rate in greater downtown Brooklyn between 2003 and 2010 than anywhere else in New York City, according to a report released Thursday by the comptroller.
The “Greater Downtown Brooklyn” area includes Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, DUMBO and Vinegar Hill, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights. Two of these neighborhoods, DUMBO and the Navy Yard, are sites where the tech sector is flourishing. Connecting those two neighborhoods with downtown is a strategic step toward making sure the tech sector continues to thrive in the County of Kings.
Last week, State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Democrat who represents a portion of the area, announced that the MTA would be creating a brand new line in 2013 to support the “tech triangle.”
“Brooklyn’s tech industry is changing the face of New York — and now, we’ll have a bus route that will allow the booming Tech Triangle to continue to grow and innovate,” said Squadron in his announcement.
The exact route and schedule has yet to be determined, but will be the result of a collaborative process involving Squadron, the MTA and “stakeholders.”
One stakeholder is the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, an organization that was founded in 2006 to work with government, arts organizations, businesses and real estate interests to ensure that the neighborhood continued to develop. The partnership is one of three organizations that make up the Brooklyn Tech Triangle initiative. Earlier this month, the group released a Request for Proposals for the Brooklyn Tech Triangle Strategic Plan. A major component of the request asked consultant teams to devise a strategy for linking each neighborhood with public transportation.
At the presentation Thursday, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Tucker Reed said he was grateful the had MTA stepped in to solve the problem for them.
“One of the outcomes we were hoping for was to come up with the transit plan,” he said, adding that the framework of the RFP has not changed as a result of the new bus line.
Reed said the bus line would serve office workers and business owners who are bringing employment to the area.
And what about calling the area the “tech triangle?” Reed said it came up for the first time at a meeting with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, when he worked at Two Trees Management Company, a real estate development firm in Dumbo founded by David Walentas.
Workers in DUMBO saw the news positively.
“We have over 300 employees working here and the majority of them live in Brooklyn,” said Andrea Bredau, director of human resources at the global digital agency HUGE, which was founded in Brooklyn in 1999. “There’s limited transportation if you’re not on the F line. People have to get creative.”
Bredau said many employees rode their bikes to work, and some took the East River Ferry from Williamsburg, but on days with freezing weather, rain or snow, those weren’t viable options.“People will definitely take advantage of this,” she said, adding that the recently opened Ted & Honey Cafe in the Navy Yard was a draw to bring people from DUMBO.
Jake Dobkin, Publisher of the DUMBO-based news and culture website Gothamist said the bus would be a welcome amenity.
“It’s a great idea,” wrote Dobkin in an email. “There are so many times I want to grab a burger at Shake Shack, then stop by our office, then go pick up a towed car at the Navy Yard, and I think to myself, ‘If only there was a bus line that connected all of these things!’ “
In a phone interview, Squadron also said the bus service would serve residents in the area. But when we visited the area Thursday, residents of the Farragut Houses in DUMBO and the Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene, just a couple of blocks from the Navy Yard, didn’t see a need for added bus service.
Shirley Knight, Betty Clay and Eddie Harpe have each lived in the Ingersoll Houses for more than 30 years. They have seen the neighborhood change and the population grow. But they don’t see a need for more buses.
“That’s just lazy. You can walk from the F into DUMBO,” said Knight.
“We’ve already got the 57, the 69, the 62,” added Harpe.
Clay said she didn’t think the buses would even be able to make it into DUMBO.
“There used to be factories down there but now they’re lofts,” said Clay. “And those streets, they’re cobblestones and dead ends. I don’t know how the bus will get down there!”
But this being an “outer borough,” many people said they would not take the bus because they drive everywhere.
“It makes no difference to me. I drive everywhere,” said Janet Vega, who had just parked her car and was walking her groceries home. “And the bus is too expensive.”
According to Dobkin of Gothamist, the F train York Street station and the distant A/C High Street station aren’t convenient for all the workers in the area, especially if they live off other train lines.
“I think it could fill in some holes in the map for commuters who work in the Navy Yard and DUMBO, and live in other parts of Brooklyn that aren’t so close to the subway,” he said.
But the bus route will serve workers in the Navy Yard, as well as ensure the connectivity needed to sustain the growing tech communities in DUMBO and the Navy Yard, and to bolster the budding tech community downtown.
“The route is absolutely crucial to the success of our project.” said David Belt, Managing Principal at Macro Sea, the real estate development firm that gained attention in New York by transforming dumpsters into temporary pools. Macro Sea is now working on a project called New Lab, a co-design and manufacturing space that is a lead partner in the Green Manufacturing Center plan at the Navy Yard, supported by both the city and state government.
“The triangle is a real thing,” said Squadron. “If we want to attract the talent, transit services are a big part of that.”
Indeed, at the presentation Thursday, Marty Markowitz took the seriousness of the tech triangle one step further.
“Brooklyn’s emerging tech triangle is the next Silicon Valley.”