Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue is one of the borough’s most essential thoroughfares, connecting Downtown Brooklyn and Bay Ridge, and like so many of New York’s classic streets, it has been undergoing a transformation for decades.
The most tumultuous stretch of the six-mile road spans the communities of Park Slope and Gowanus, stretching between Warren and 15th streets, an area rezoned by the city in 2003.
There, the transition in recent decades from a milieu entirely comprised of grungy delis, garage shops and gas stations to one with its share of high-end condos, stores and offices, has prettified things while driving up real estate prices and forcing out local businesses in favor of larger chains.
“As a person who lives in the area, it’s frustrating because I don’t have a say,” says S.J. Avery, co-chair of the civic organization Fourth on Fourth Avenue.
Yet Avery’s group, as well as other area leaders and some developers, are aiming to preserve the distinct character of the strip, while creating conditions to allow for a viable presence for small businesses.
Andrew Hoan, executive vice president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber and local civic organizations have pushed to designate some ground-floor space for local businesses and, as a result, there’s been a growth in the presence of local restaurants on the street, such as Hey Hey Canteen at 400 Fourth Ave.
On a civic level, Avery and her group have sponsored cleanups, worked to preserve and plant trees, and worked with the city to install new benches. They also fight to keep the neighborhood’s most cherished buildings from being sold and demolished to make way for new developments.
Their efforts extend out of the core stretch between Warren and 15th streets, too. For example, in 2013, FOFA successfully fought to preserve the Pacific Branch Brooklyn Public Library building at 25 Fourth Ave., which was built in 1904.
The biggest and most controversial aspect of the Fourth Avenue story, however, is tied back to the 2003 rezoning, an uptick in high-end construction amid the recovery from the recession in 2008, and what all that has meant for residential real estate in the area.
The median rental prices for Park Slope and Gowanus were $2,850 and $2,949.50, respectively, in 2015, according to listings site StreetEasy. In 2012, the rents were $2,660.50 in Park Slope and $2,400 in Gowanus.
“In terms of location and what the community has to offer, it’s incredible. But because of the development, it’s harder to [afford to] live here,” said Amanda Salchow, 36, an actress who has been a renter on Fourth Avenue with her husband for two years.
The 12-story Instrata condo at 150 4th Ave., which opened in 2010, is similar to much of the recently-constructed housing on Fourth Avenue. A two-bedroom rental there was listed for $4,900 a month, while a one-bedroom went for $3,700.
Some developers amid the rows and rows of sparkling new developments have made an effort to remain consistent with the look and feel of neighborhoods mostly defined by smaller, brick structures.
You wont get a discount at Baltic condos, run by JDS Development, where the most expensive listing is a $2.75 million, three-bedroom condo.
But, sales manager Jodi Stasse, points to the building’s brick facade and greenery out front to observe that an effort has been made to make the building a little more personal and to fit in with the surroundings.
“The one thing about Baltic, and what we are really trying to do there, is [it fits] in the neighborhood,” Stasse said.
There’s awareness of the strip’s importance to both Park Slope and Gowanus and their longtime residents, and an increased focus on finding a balance between the open-market forces of gentrification and the desire to make this street the best Fourth Avenue it can be.
But, Hoan said, theres a long way to go.
“It has to be an entire investment in that community to make it bright,” he said.
City officials couldn’t comment before press time.
Clarification: The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and local civic groups have pushed to designate some ground-floor space for local businesses along Fourth Avenue. The area has no official business improvement district. An earlier version of this story misstated the effort.