A new skyline is rising in New York City, and — wait for it! — it’s in Mott Haven, the Bronx.
Once a low-profile neighborhood dominated by shops that fix flat tires, Mott Haven has sprouted a dozen residential towers, all of them rentals, with market-rate and affordable apartments in the mix.
Most of the development has occurred in Mott Haven’s southwestern corner, by the Harlem River and the bridges that lead to Manhattan, and more than 5,000 apartments spread across about 20 development projects have either recently opened, are under construction or will break ground soon, based on data from city records, developers and real estate brokerages.
While the city grappled with the pandemic over the last year and a half, it appears that Mott Haven was also focused on growth. And while this level of attention from the real estate industry to one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods may be surprising to some, it has been years in the making.
Starting in the late 1990s, city planners prodded developers to replace warehouses and auto-body shops not just with tall apartment buildings, but also with parks and riverfront walks, made possible by a series of rezoning plans under Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani, Michael R. Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio.
The developments currently planned in Mott Haven typically offer both market-rate and affordable units, often in a 70 percent to 30 percent ratio, although all-affordable high-rises are also being built. Construction on these projects could continue over the next couple of years.
“Change was inevitable, but it was happening so slowly,” said David Simone, the president of Concourse Realty Partners, who has been working in the area for almost 20 years. “But now it’s all happening quickly, and on a really large scale.”
Mr. Simone, who this month signed a contract to sell a BP gas station on the Grand Concourse that he had been marketing as a potential apartment building or school site (last list price: $23.5 million), added that the wave of development in the neighborhood — once the site of foundries that forged iron stoves and, later, factories that built pianos — has not caused much in the way of direct displacement of residents. “These are mostly all industrial sites where nobody lived,” he said.
Several of the developments belong to some of the biggest builders in New York, including Brookfield Properties, whose $950 million, river-hugging mega-development, Bankside, will open its first units by the end of the year.
While many of Mott Haven’s projects are works in progress, several have already opened, including the Arches, a two-towered rental building at 224-228 East 135th Street, with 430 apartments, from studios to two-bedrooms, whose first residents arrived in October 2020. (A small, 29-room hotel will also open on site this year.)
The 301 market-rate units in the building, which was 65 percent leased this month after about a year, start at $2,850 a month for one-bedrooms and $3,213 a month for two-bedrooms, although a couple of months of free rent are possible as bonuses, said Cheskel Schwimmer, a principal of Chess Builders, the developer of the complex.
The Arches also has 129 below-market-rate units, which, under city rules, are distributed by lottery to local residents and renters from elsewhere in the city.
“We execute when we believe the market is there,” said Mr. Schwimmer, who developed apartments more than a decade ago in Long Island City. “We feel the Bronx has potential.”
The “coming soon” category for Mott Haven is extensive. Bankside, Brookfield’s project, is the largest and most visible, because the 4.3-acre site flanking the Third Avenue Bridge will deliver 1,379 apartments across seven buildings. Its towers, which range from 17 to 25 stories tall, appear as a glittering thicket on the Harlem River.
Bankside’s first phase, with 320 market-rate and 138 affordable units across three towers north of the bridge, will begin leasing in December, said a Brookfield spokeswoman, who added that rents have not yet been set. The entire project, which includes a four-tower section south of the bridge and a riverfront promenade, is expected to be completed by 2023.
Next to Bankside, RXR Realty and Somerset Partners are constructing a 27-story, 200-unit tower at 2413 Third Avenue, a site that just a few months ago contained a warehouse with a boxing gym. (The gym moved to nearby Lincoln Avenue earlier this year.) The building had its official groundbreaking in mid-October.
Also this fall, JCS Realty is opening 276 Grand Concourse, a 12-story, 215-unit rental building with studios to three-bedrooms, 30 percent listed at below-market rents, said the developer, Jacob Schwimmer, the principal of JCS (and a son of Cheskel Schwimmer). The building offers a gym, co-working space and roof deck.
JCS, which this year built 101 Bruckner Boulevard, a 55-unit rental near the Willis Avenue Bridge, is now planning 40 Bruckner Boulevard, a 200-unit building on an industrial site where scrap rubber was once stored.
But while the neighborhood’s scrap-rubber days may be ending, its residents remain among the poorest in the city.
In 2019, about 37 percent of the community board district that includes Mott Haven was considered to be living in poverty, which is the equivalent of an income of about $22,000 or less for a family of three, according to the Furman Center, a housing-research group at New York University.
That rate made Mott Haven the second poorest neighborhood in New York City, tied with nearby Hunts Point. In a tie for first place were two other Bronx neighborhoods, Morrisania and Belmont, which had poverty rates of 40 percent, according to Furman.
In 2019, the median rent in the Mott Haven area was $1,000 a month, according to the most recent census data available.
Developers say they are aware of fears that the development could change the neighborhood for the worse.
“New development should be more than just constructing a building and leasing it up as quickly as possible,” said Scott Rechler, RXR’s chief executive, in a statement. “Whether it’s our development in Mott Haven or in other parts of the New York region, we believe that true corporate citizenship means doing our part to help build a stronger communities.”
Some residents of Mott Haven agree.
“It isn’t like we don’t want to see progress in our neighborhood. We do want to see progress,” said Princella Jamerson, a 37-year resident and the president of the tenant association at Mill Brook Houses, one of three public housing developments in Mott Haven. “But make it so that people who want to stay in these communities can get a piece of the pie.”
There is also the fear that rising prices of housing — and also staples like groceries — will force out longtime residents.
“Gentrification is definitely a concern,” said Nöelle Santos, 34, the Bronx-born owner of the Lit. Bar, a two-year-old bookstore on Alexander Avenue. “Are the people whom I set out to serve still going to be here at the end of my lease?”
Some of the buildings currently going up in the neighborhood are marketed as entirely affordable, including a new 26-story tower with 277 rent-reduced units at 425 Grand Concourse, on the site of a 19th-century school building at East 144th Street, from a team led by Trinity Financial.
The building, which will include community college classrooms, a health clinic and a grocery store, will be available to those making from 30 percent to no more than 100 percent of the median income for the New York City region. (A family of three with an annual income of $32,220 would reach the 30 percent level.)
Smaller projects are being built as well, like 261 Walton Avenue, a 190-unit all-affordable undertaking from JCAL Development Group, with rents targeted at those making 27 percent to 77 percent of the regional median income. The firm got its start in the neighborhood in 2014, with 55 Bruckner Boulevard, a four-story, four-unit market-rate project whose small size was typical of earlier redevelopment projects.
“The scale of what’s going on right now is impressive,” said Joshua Weissman, the president of JCAL.
There seems little doubt that the South Bronx, once scorned and avoided, is on the cusp of new era.
“It’s a community that looks you in the eye, and says hello and wants to know where you’re from,” said Kathryn Creech, who moved there from the Upper East Side in 2017 to open Mottley Kitchen, a cafe on East 140th Street that added rooftop yoga during the pandemic. “There’s just something a little different here.”
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