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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + FAQ (pinned post)

Coming to 535 Carlton (maybe): another large location of Mekelburg's (with a late closing time many neighbors oppose)

It's not certain--no lease has been signed--but the major retail tenant at 535 Carlton, at the corner of Dean Street and Carlton Avenue, could be another branch of Mekelburg's. It opened in Clinton Hill in 2014 as a "cozy," much-praised "Fine Foods & Craft Beer" store/cafe, and in May was announced as the anchor tenant for 325 Kent, the first building in the Domino Sugar complex in Williamsburg.

That much larger outlet, at 4,000 square feet, should open in 2018, while the 535 Carlton location--also significantly larger than the Clinton Hill space--wouldn't open until 2019, at the earliest, according to statements made at a recent public meeting.
Mekelburg's would occupy frontage along Carlton Avenue (left) and Dean Street (right), up to the parking garage
No other retail tenants have surfaced for the four Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park buildings to open: 461 Dean, 550 Vanderbilt, and 38 Sixth. That may reflect lingering construction in those buildings and the longer-term commitment of a retail lease, which can be contingent on a custom buildout, as well as the high rents sought.

(Also, the Barclays Center retail frontage has struggled, with Flatbush Avenue space used as a temporary place to sell 550 Vanderbilt condos and other space contracted with PIX/11.)

The liquor license process & the landlord's goals

Looking north up Carlton Avenue
Last Monday, applicant Alicia Mekelburg appeared before the liquor license committee of Brooklyn Community Board 8 and, though she faced some pushback from neighbors concerned about late hours, got an endorsement for most of what she sought.

It may be that achieving a liquor license--the issue goes to the full Community Board Thursday Dec. 14 for another advisory vote, and later to the State Liquor Authority (SLA), which need not heed that vote--is a prerequisite for a lease with landlord Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP).

GFCP is seeking record rents for the neighborhood at retail spaces, the Times's Ronda Kaysen reported last year. The landlord also prefers locally-owned businesses, so a morning-coffee-through-late-night food-and-drink purveyor like Mekelburg's might be among the relatively few tenants that can pay more than $100 per square foot.

Coffee, if not beer, has been central to the developer's conception of retail. MaryAnne Gilmartin, CEO of Forest City New York, in a July 2016 interview said, "The luxury definition in Brooklyn is not high-rise glass and steel towers, it's contextual [AYR: really?], it's beautiful, it's more organic and it's knowing your barista down in the lobby of the building, the person that makes your coffee."

Looking south along Carlton Avenue toward Dean Street
The 535 Carlton space, wrapping around the southwest corner of the building, would accommodate up to 149 people, including the marketplace.

At midnight, that marketplace, with entry on Carlton Avenue, would be cordoned off, leaving [updated and clarified] space for the same number of people, but 54 seats, to eat and drink. Entry would be on Dean Street, just west of the parking garage. The space would be soundproofed.

The debate over late-night hours

Mekelburg's, in its application, sought a 2 am closing time on weekdays/Sunday, and 4 am on Friday and Saturday. It would open at 8 am on weekdays and 10 am on Saturday and Sunday.

A letter from the Dean Street Block Association and the Carlton Avenue Association expressed appreciation for signing an independent business geared to the immediate area, but cited concern about the late night bar operation "directly under and near so many residential neighbors in the immediate vicinity."

A petition with more than 150 signatures, including residents of apartments at 535 Carlton, supported closing hours at 11 pm on weekdays and midnight on Friday and Saturday, noting that those conformed to nearby businesses serving alcohol, including James restaurant two blocks down Carlton Avenue and Four & Twenty Blackbirds around the block on Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. Both are anomalous retail food-and-beverage purveyors on their blocks.

While the committee initially rejected the requested hours and asked Mekelburg to agree to earlier hours, such as 1 am and 2 am, I was told, ultimately she only agreed to a 3 am closure.

It should be noted that the ability to stay open late does not guarantee that a business keeps those hours: the Barclays Center has late night liquor license capacity in clubs that is rarely used, and some bars on more commercial Vanderbilt Avenue, I'm told, do not use their full hours.

That said, Carlton Avenue at Dean Street is a residential corner, with neither street a commercial corridor. There's a smattering of retail/commercial space on mixed-use Dean down the block, only a fraction of which is open after dark; Mekelburg's in late-night hours apparently seeks to reach service industry workers after their shifts.

The committee's rationale

I queried the committee. "This applicant is not subject to any 500 foot rule"--if three establishments with liquor licenses are nearby, there can be curbs--"and thus stands to benefit as a '1st actor' since NYS laws allow for 4 am service," said James Dean Ellis, co-chair of the committee. "It was also thought by many of the committee that the use of this space as a marketplace in addition to having an on-premise hospitality outlet would be more desirable than other potential options... that could potentially utilize more square footage for nightlife. The proprietor has a positive track record in the community of their other location and claims to be providing local jobs with higher wages and insurance benefits." (In other words, the increased hours support better treatment of workers.)

The committee did request that licensed security personnel--not part of the license application--be retained. It's unclear whether Mekelburg's agrees with that request. (I didn't attend the meeting but spoke with and emailed with various people. Mekelburg declined comment.)

"Our support letter (if approved by the Full Board) would be submitted to SLA and await the applicant's formal filing," Ellis said, noting that Mekelburg's is aiming at an early 2019 opening. The board can agree to accept, reject, or modify the committee's recommendation.

Mekelburg's had a petition with 32 names in support of its operation and hours--four of whom also signed the neighborhood petition, which reflects either error or confusion.  "The people I spoke to who signed the petition thought they were supporting the business," reported Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association, "or just didn’t give it much thought because they didn’t know the reason they were signing the petition. Only a few residents we reached with our group’s outreach were comfortable with the hours being pursued.”

A future sidewalk cafe?

Neighbors also warned about a future sidewalk cafe outside Mekelburg's, and asked that any decision be delayed. "Sidewalk caf├ęs can have meaningful impact for residences, most particularly for those families with children and bedrooms facing the street," the block associations said in a letter.

"Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is far from complete, and currently there are already fewer pathways for pedestrians in the immediate area than before the project was started," the letter stated.  "And the public has sacrificed both public space and through-ways to construction for a far longer period than was anticipated."

Given plans for buildings along Dean Street--two construction sites remain between 535 Carlton and the condo building 550 Vanderbilt, and unbuilt construction sites remain over the Vanderbilt Yard--535 Carlton Avenue will be near future construction sites and, presumably, constrained public space.

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