With reports Wednesday that Macy’s is considering a sale of its flagship location in Brooklyn, speculation begins about the fate of Fulton Mall’s largest and grandest building. According to Women’s Wear Daily, executives at the Cincinnati-based retail chain are said to be debating whether to renovate the venerable building at 422 Fulton Street or to sell the property and rebuild at a new location at 1-31 Hoyt Street, the current site of a Macy’s-owned parking garage.
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With the possibility of netting as much as $300 million dollars, this sale may proceed quickly, and it seems likely that whoever wins the bidding war will be tempted to raze the old building, whose origins date to 1893.
Long before the malling of Fulton Street in the mid-1970s, the Abraham & Strauss department store struck a commanding presence in Downtown Brooklyn. But the building, taken over by Macy’s in a 1994 acquisition and unlike the company’s landmark Herald Square structure, stands unprotected. The Brooklyn Heights Association, in tandem with the Municipal Arts Society, unsuccessfully sought landmark status for Macy’s in 2006. The Association is concerned about what a potential sale would mean for the massive edifice, which the New York Times has cited for its tapestry of architectural styles, an improbable mix of Romanesque, Renaissance and Art Deco.
BHB contacted local architect Mihai Radu, principal of Mihai Radu Architects, who observed that, given the building’s enormous lot size—almost 76,000 square feet—and zoning, which allows for residential or commercial uses, including a hotel, there are clear economic factors why demolishing Macy’s will be an attractive option to whoever purchases the property.
An important consideration in the building’s fate is its Floor Area Ratio or “FAR.” According to the website of the New York City Department of Planning, FAR is the “ratio of total building floor area to the area of its zoning lot.” Each zoning district has a FAR, which, when multiplied by the area of the zoning lot, produces the maximum amount of floor area available to be developed on the lot.
Macy’s Brooklyn, a 10-story building that contains approximately 841,000 square feet, has an FAR of 11 which will only allow for new construction to a maximum of 760,000 square feet, albeit without specific height restrictions.
According to Mr. Radu, who has worked on numerous buildings both internationally and in New York City, including the recent renovation of the United Nations Secretariat building, it’s likely a developer would negotiate with the City Planning department to incorporate a public amenity such as a plaza or atrium. Such a “concession” would be rewarded with a higher FAR and a maximum 912,000 square feet, or 70,000 more square feet than the existing building.
With residential prices at upwards of $1,000 per square foot, this option offers a tempting rationale for a developer-induced teardown of the structure.
Another possible factor influencing the sale is Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently announced plans to revitalize Downtown Brooklyn. According to numerous news reports, the city plans a series of investments and redevelopments to create new parks, stores and a sprawling greenway that will link a broad swath of the borough from the Brooklyn Bridge to BAM.
As the fate of Macy’s Brooklyn unwinds, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission is sure to be monitoring the situation.
Photo Courtesy Brooklyn Heights Association