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Wall Street Journal / Biz - Money

Landlords Try to Lure Away Williamsburg Renters, as Subway Shutdown Looms

Landlords across the New York metropolitan area are trying to woo residents of Williamsburg, one of the city’s hippest neighborhoods, who soon will find themselves without a crucial subway line for at least a year.

By

Josh Barbanel

Landlords across the New York metropolitan area are trying to woo Williamsburg residents, who soon will find themselves without a crucial subway line for at least a year.

People searching online for rentals in the trendy Brooklyn neighborhood can now find paid links to new buildings like the Offerman House in downtown Brooklyn, with loft-like apartments in a former 19th-century department store, or the 53-story Journal Squared tower in Jersey City.

The Instagram hashtag #Williamsburg appears with images of 33 Bond Street, a new 25-story building with a private garden and co-working spaces in downtown Brooklyn.

At 461 Dean Street, a 33-story building next to the Barclays Center, marketers in downtown Brooklyn are targeting Williamsburg residents with social media posts saying it has “11 subway lines at your doorstep” and is “convenient to Williamsburg.” Some are looking to step up advertising on subway entrances and on the streets.

They are making a pitch to the increasingly affluent Williamsburg renters who are facing a temporary shutdown of the L train, now scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019. The shutdown of the L train’s tunnel to Manhattan, set to last 15 months, could snarl commuting in many parts of Williamsburg.

The apartment building 461 Dean Street, next to the Barclays Center, is one of the spots being marketed to Williamsburg residents.Photo: Mark Kauzlarich for The Wall Street Journal

Though the shutdown is still 18 months away, marketers said developers are beginning to ramp up, and will do more over the next year as leases expire and renters decide whether to renew or move.

“As articles of the impending shutdown appeared, we started advertising and targeting people in the neighborhood along the L line in buildings similar to ours,” said Matthew Berenson, a vice president at the Gotham Organization, which is renting out the Ashland, a new 53-story building in Fort Greene on the edge of downtown Brooklyn.

Downtown is served by many subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road, and the Journal Squared project in Journal Square is next to a PATH station with an 11-minute ride to the financial district and a 22-minute ride to Herald Square.

The campaigns have some skeptics, who view Williamsburg, with its collection of restaurants, bars, galleries, music venues and murals as fundamentally different from the other neighborhoods. Andrew Barrocas, chief executive of MNS, a Brooklyn-based brokerage that represents Level, a new waterfront rental in Williamsburg, said the advertising “confuses people.”

“You get very little crossover between Williamsburg and downtown Brooklyn,” he said.

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But developers and advertisers say their carefully targeted search and social media marketing at Williamsburg has measurable results, with up to 8% of people online clicking through to learn more about the building.

The Ashland and 461 Dean Street reported that a total of 19 apartments were rented to people since the summer who gave their last address in Williamsburg. At Journal Squared, 20% of the renters hail from Brooklyn, with the largest group coming from Williamsburg, followed by Park Slope, said Jason Segal, director of residential leasing at the project’s developer, KRE Group.

Aaron Green, a hip-hop music producer known professionally as “Mr. Green” moved to a studio on the 28th floor of 461 Dean Street in June after living in Williamsburg for about six years.

He said the L train shutdown was a factor, but he might have stuck it out if he already had “his dream apartment.”

“I wasn’t sure the most convenient train into the city was going to be running,” he said. “I felt like Williamsburg, I had been there and done that.”

Part of the appeal of Williamsburg is its proximity to Manhattan, often one or two stops away on the L train, making other transit-centric communities plausible alternatives, developers said.

During the subway shutdown, special buses will be available in Williamsburg, and some residents might have to include a short taxi or Uber ride each day to another subway line.

Brian Upbin, head of Asset Management for Two Trees Management Co., said the company has signage near the Bedford Avenue L train stop, but doesn’t specifically mention the impending shutdown.

It is now leasing 300 Ashland, a tower across from the Brooklyn Academy of Music in downtown Brooklyn, as well as 325 Kent, a new building in southern Williamsburg, served by other subway lines as well as the L train.

At 300 Ashland, “we do not have a reliance on a single subway line,” he said. “Transit is often a topic of conversation.”

Ross Anderson, the founder and chief executive of nylmedia, an advertising company that works with 461 Dean Street, said street advertising rates in Williamsburg have been rising, along with the cost per click for highly targeted paid search ads.

“What we have seen over the past several months is increased demand for advertising,” he said.

But Williamsburg landlords are not standing still either. Ilana Schwartz, the chief executive of OMG, an online marketing agency, said Williamsburg landlords are stepping up social media campaigns to keep tenants, and reduce their worries over an L-train shutdown.

“The renewals are doing well,” she said. “People are happy there, there are still a lot of options for transportation. It is still a cool place.”

Write to Josh Barbanel at josh.barbanel@wsj.com

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