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August 31, 2012 7:50 pm
Sunset Park, Brooklyn is the kind of semi-mythic New York neighbourhood immortalised by authors such as Paul Auster but little known beyond the city’s borders. Traditionally working-class, resolutely multi-ethnic and family-friendly, this compact enclave is anchored by its namesake 24-acre park, which served as the title for Auster’s recession-themed 2010 novel.
The second-highest location in Brooklyn, Sunset Park – once fertile farmland for 16th-century Dutch settlers – today includes grassy fields, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and prime Manhattan views. “I love that I can see the city every time I look out of my daughters’ windows,” says magazine editor Paula Szuchman, who lives in a three-floor limestone home purchased with her husband in 2011.
Set well beyond Brooklyn Heights’ million-dollar brownstones and Williamsburg’s gritty lofts, Sunset Park is ringed on the east by Brooklyn’s Chinatown and on the west by “Little Latin America”. Taco stands and tropical fruit juice vendors line Fifth Avenue, Sunset Park’s de facto high street, while the D express Subway line places the neighbourhood just a few stations from the Financial District and Lower Manhattan.
On the shores of Upper New York Bay, meanwhile, newly converted studio space in the century-old Bush and Brooklyn Army Terminals is helping to transform Sunset Park into a hub of artists and creative entrepreneurs. And with the late-summer opening of the music-themed Hotel BPM, Sunset Park becomes the latest Brooklyn district to cash in on New York City’s record number of tourists.
Where the artists go, far-sighted homeowners traditionally follow, and Sunset Park is no exception. Middle-class professionals, many with young children, are putting down roots in Sunset Park’s imposing brownstones, handful of new-build condominiums or numerous pre-war co-ops, including the historic Finnish Cooperatives, the nation’s first co-operative housing scheme that opened in 1916.
Beyond the impressive provenance, however, Sunset Park’s chief lure is its affordability, with quality housing often half the price of neighbouring Brooklyn communities such as Park Slope or American Bay Ridge.
One-bedroom apartments, for example, can cost less than $200,000; two-bedrooms under $300,000 and three-bedrooms $350,000-$400,000, says Peter Bracichowicz, a senior associate broker at Corcoran Group, who has lived in Sunset Park for more than 13 years. As for classic New York townhouses, “you can still buy a brownstone in Sunset Park for between $600,000 and $800,000,” says Brooklyn-based broker Julie R Thum of RE/MAX Metro. “That same home could cost as much as $2m over in Park Slope.”
RE/MAX Metro has a nine-bedroom, red-brick home for $1.02m along with a six-bedroom house for $499,000. Corcoran has a six-bedroom red-brick house one block from the park for $799,000. Although townhouse-style homes are typically Sunset Park’s most desirable listings they can also be among the area’s most affordable.
“Many are configured as two-family residences, which allowed us to have a tenant on the ground floor,” says Szuchman, who worked with Brooklyn-based Braude Pankiewicz Architects to renovate her townhouse.
Also popular are apartments in the Finnish co-op buildings, which are spacious and well maintained despite their relatively modest price tags. Bracichowicz has a two-bedroom co-op for $289,000 and a three-bedroom unit for $319,000. “There are about 30 of these buildings in Sunset Park,” says Bracichowicz. “They’ve managed to retain a strong sense of community.”
A similar sense of community is also developing among Sunset Park’s more recent arrivals. Much of the momentum is centred around the park itself, an urban melting pot that Szuchman (whose home directly faces the park) describes as “filling each morning with Chinese men practising Tai-Chi, Mexican families out for a stroll, ‘hipsters’ walking their dogs, and Hasidic Jews running laps”.
Neglected for decades, the park is undergoing renovation spearheaded by the non-profit Sunset Park Revitalization and Improvement Group (SPRIG). Many of the group’s members are Sunset Park newcomers and young parents eager to establish local ties while creating a secure environment for their children. “The Park has amazing bones, yet so little was being done,” says Johanna Bjorken, a sporting goods merchandising director and SPRIG-member who bought a two-family home with her husband and brother-in-law in 2004.
The rest of Sunset Park remains a work in progress. The new Hotel BPM, for instance, includes an after-hours lounge, but upscale dining, higher-end shopping and cultural activities are rare. “It can be a hike to reach Brooklyn’s more yuppie-styled amenities,” says Bjorken, who has a young son, and cites occasional noise and trash as local drawbacks.
Like the rest of New York City, Sunset Park has benefited from Giuliani- and Bloomberg-era safety improvements. Violent crime has decreased by more than 41 per cent over the past decade, according to The New York Police Department. Thum, who has lived in neighbouring Bay Ridge for 31 years, says there are some Sunset Park streets she might avoid during certain hours. Bjorken, however, is more pragmatic. “It’s New York, and it doesn’t feel much different than most other city neighbourhoods.”
● Affordable, well-preserved townhouses and co-operative apartments
● Truly multi-cultural environment with family-friendly amenities
● The eponymous park benefits from comprehensive upgrades
● Manhattan is 30 minutes away by Subway
● Lacks upscale restaurants
● Crime, while lower than in decades past, is on the rise
What you can buy for ...
$150,000: A one-bedroom, 500 sq ft co-op
$1m: A nine-bedroom, six-bathroom, 2,700 sq ft renovated townhouse
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