Ny Daily News
It's rare when a developer has the guts to have an office in one of his apartment complexes as he finishes a building. So many things can go wrong. So many tenants can complain.
But Brooklyn's Mayer Schwartz is as rare a developer as you'll find in the five boroughs. He bucks convention, barters free rent for artistic services and cares about enriching the lives of his tenants.
He also hires them. And yes, you read right, Schwartz trades free rent to tenants who do artistic work that betters the building.
In Castle Braid, his latest and most innovative project, at 114 Troutman St., Schwartz created a living, breathing community of artists on a nondescript block in the middle of a changing neighborhood. Even on a cool, half-cloudy day, his multicolored building with an open lobby and a courtyard bustles with young people of various ethnic groups going from the gym to the boccie court to the lending library to the wood shop to the recording studio.
Yes, you read right again. Not only does Castle Braid have all those amenities, it boasts a computer lab, tuned piano, game room, yoga room, two Apple computers, a screening room and free video and camera equipment available to tenants.
Flyers for guitar lessons and in-house yoga classes are pinned to the walls.
The complex also has a social-networking Web site where tenants give away microwaves, cast films, plan Sunday breakfasts and seek set designers for a musical rendition of the movie "Jaws."
If that's not insane creativity, then we donít know what is. And it all happens in Bushwick, near a school, several bodegas, ironwork shops, cabinetmakers and a few empty lots. Halfway between the Morgan Ave. stop on the L and the Jefferson Ave. stop on the J, Castle Braid is a rental success story. Almost all 144 units rented in six months. There are seven left.
"This" may not even have a name. You could call it an artists' residence, but not everyone is in the arts. In some ways, it resembles an upscale dormitory where everyone seems to like each other. In other ways, it's a well-designed commune or informal summer camp for young adults.
"A residence should not just be a place where people come to sleep, it must be a place where people come to create," says Schwartz, whose first real-estate project was a building on the corner of Bedford Ave. and N. Fifth St. that he turned into a minimall with small boutiques. "The construction process is so gut-wrenching, but seeing it come to life with people who are creating together, thatís exciting. Obviously, there is a financial benefit involved. We want to rent our apartments but also keep people happy."
The film festival was the brainchild of Taylor Clark. Clark, 23, from Las Vegas, is the building's marketing and leasing director. He lives in the Opera House, a Bushwick loft building also developed by Schwartz. A skateboard kid, comedian and filmmaker working on a video with a jazz singer who lives in the building, Clark was a "manny," or male nanny, on the upper East Side when he met Schwartz. Heís now getting his real-estate license.
"This community has helped me knock on serious doors," says Clark, who runs a Tuesday night comedy show at Castle Braid. "I also started playing the piano since I moved here. These buildings encourage you to be creative."
Thanks to Durukan Design, headed by Funda Durukan, a Turkish designer and architect who has handled more than 70 projects in Brooklyn in the past five years, Castle Braid has a grand entryway with glass doors flanked by slate walls leading to a concrete staircase. The lobby plaza has a piano and will soon have coffee-shop tables. Granite, longleaf yellow pine, teak, porcelain and visible rebar highlight the materials used throughout the building. Both sides of the lobby are glass, giving the entryway constant light.
"I wanted an industrial feel but to bring the outside in," says Durukan. "I just used natural materials. This is a young building. Mayer wanted something different. You donít have to get arrogant with design when youíre working with a low budget."
In ways, this building is a smart answer to the recession. The materials are low-cost, and the apartments are simple spaces with plenty of light. Castle Braid was originally planned as upscale condominiums, but Schwartz and Durukan switched gears when the economy tanked. Rentals became a safe bet, and Schwartz recognized that artists could pay Bushwickís lower-than-average prices. Treeless streets give the neighborhood a concrete-jungle feel, which may be part of its charm.
"I like Bushwick because you can push the envelope here," says the developer. "It's farther out but much less expensive than Williamsburg. So what if it's 10 minutes longer on the train if you get to live in a community like this?"