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You Start with the Acronym:
David and Jed Walentas
The phrase "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass" didn't appear in the Times until the late 90s—a decade and a half after the downtown Manhattan real estate entrepreneur David Walentas had bought into the neighborhood on the advice of artists. Two Trees Management, the company he runs with his son Jed, has cannily granted generous lease terms to hip tenants—including, at one time, a fledgling listings guide called The L Magazine—filling its commercial loft spaces with publishers like Verso and lit mags like n+1, with new-media startups and savvy marketing firms, and fostering the district's big-league gallery scene. Last fall, Two Trees effectively took over the Dumbo Arts Festival from their tenants, the Dumbo Arts Center—expanding the fest exponentially from years past, to the accompaniment of grumbles from some first-wave gentrifiers and other cultural watchdogs.
But that is, in essence, what the Walentases have been doing all along. They've curated an entire, culturally central Brooklyn neighborhood essentially from scratch, and you can see why, as you sit outside at Pedro's, in the alternating shadow and glare of newly constructed high-rise condos; if you squint a little, the very buildings seem, like the rest of the neighborhood, to arc along the SoHo price curve. David Walentas, for his part, lives in the 15th-story penthouse of the Clock Tower building at One Main Street; his new upstairs neighbor, in a three-story condo with views through actual clock faces, moved in last year in a rumored rent-to-own contract after the unit went on the market with a borough-record $25 million asking price.
Most recently, Two Trees has been proceeding with a 17-story residential tower to be nestled into the crook of the Brooklyn Bridge. Objections from neighborhood residents will be compensated for by a new public middle school, which the Walentases will build and lease to the city for $1 a year—a public-interest component, emails published by the Brooklyn Paper in 2009 revealed, which was in the works even before the city announced the need for a new school in the area. But what's a little collusion between city agencies and developers, after the shiny new neighborhood they've given us?
The Forever Yards: Bruce Ratner
However many of Atlantic Yards' planned infrastructure-toppling residential towers ever go up over "blighted" Prospect Heights, given the current housing market (and however many pol-placating low-income units they ever include), the man still brought major league sports back to the BK, and the shockwaves—like Park Slope's panic over a stadium-crowd-catering hip-hop club—have already begun.
The Trump of South Brooklyn: Joe Sitt
Brooklyn-born Sitt's development firm Thor Equities made a nice profit on the land in Coney Island's amusement area it finally sold off to the city—not the first highly profitable sale it made down there, either—but that didn't take him out of the neighborhood: Thor still owns much of the surrounding land, on which stood the historic buildings that it's been tearing down all winter. And Sitt's presence in Brooklyn extends far beyond Coney: he also owns properties, and potential developments, in Brooklyn Heights, Red Hook, Bensonhurst and Downtown Brooklyn—where he has also turned a nice profit by selling off property.
Needs More Ugly:
Look out the window: if you're in Brooklyn, Long Island City or Downtown Manhattan, odds are any ugly condos or tumorous additions to older buildings you can see were designed by Robert Scarano, a Dumbo-based Brooklyn native whose scary-ugly condos are so ubiquitous that last year the city's Department of Buildings barred him from filing new construction plans. That hasn't kept his work from rising out of watery pits as construction on recession-halted projects has resumed. His firm's power derives from its success at bending and circumventing zoning laws. Scarano buildings you might know include most new behemoths on Fourth Avenue and the years-in-the-making "finger building" on North 7th Street in the heart of Williamsburg. The New Brooklyn condo style is largely this mini-Robert Moses's work.