Businesses flock to Downtown Brooklyn as growth shifts from Manhattan to outer boroughs

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a seismic shift in how businesses operate and where they are located with the larger adoption of remote and hybrid work. One of the biggest economic shifts that has developed is the new growth of business in the boroughs outside of Manhattan.

The decentralizing of Manhattan is a topic the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, has been following closely over the past two and a half years. The Partnership for New York City tells WCBS 880 that Brooklyn is now the fastest growing borough driven by new technology startups.

"People really want to be in the center of things, but they also want the amenities of living in Brooklyn, which means access to the great residential communities," said Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

Myer noted Downtown Brooklyn is booming because after enjoying the convenience of remote work, people prefer to work in the same neighborhoods where they live. That has lifted local businesses.

"It used to be dominated by the courts, the Board of Education and shopping on Fulton Street," she said. "And now, It's still shopping on Fulton Street, but it's also shopping at City Point, it's also a lot of residential and a lot of people are coming to Downtown Brooklyn to live because it's so easy to get around."

Architectural and design firm FXCollaborative is erecting mixed-use buildings throughout Downtown Brooklyn that serve businesses and residents. It decided to move its own headquarters from Manhattan to One Willoughby Square, a mixed-use building FXCollaborative designed on Duffield Street.

"We became one of the first tenants in the building and took three floors," said FXCollaborative senior partner Dan Kaplan. "So many of our architects and professional staff and overall staff live very close to Downtown Brooklyn."

The architect's philosophy for the post-pandemic city can be boiled down to what he calls a "15-minute community."

"That means anything that you care about whether it's working, living, playing, learning, culture, civic infrastructure, green space, recreation is all within 15 convenient minutes - healthcare - 15 convenient minutes from where you live," said Kaplan.

FXCollaborative has designed office spaces that are open and airy.

FXCollaborative is erecting mixed-use buildings throughout downtown Brooklyn that serve businesses and residents
FXCollaborative is erecting mixed-use buildings throughout downtown Brooklyn that serve businesses and residents. Photo credit FXCollaborative

"Everybody thirsts for and loves a connection to nature, to daylight, to greenery, to the changing of the sky, to the changing of the seasons, and this notion of a building that feels like it's connected to its greater environment is really what drives us and drives our design."

Despite the growth in downtown Brooklyn as employees seek a hybrid work utopia, both Kaplan and Myer believe its proximity to Manhattan via the subway is beneficial because the island is still the engine that drives New York's economy.

"The reports of the death of the office buildings are greatly exaggerated," said Kaplan.

The FXCollaborative senior partner noted on the Small Business Spotlight that satellite offices were not widely utilized as predicted after 9/11.

"What happened was that was great, except for people started saying, 'Well that's good, but I'm going to be in the center, right? I'm not going to be in one of those satellites.' So, there is this idea of enterprises needing to be close to each other and have an established culture, themselves."

"That's pretty obvious when people come here, they feel like it's urban and it's connected, but it's also different from Midtown Manhattan and Lower Manhattan. And I think that's really to our advantage," said Myer.

The fastest growing industries in the business district, according to the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership leader, are technology and media.

"We have companies like Gimlet Media, which are now part of the Spotify umbrella at 41 Flatbush," Myer said. "Podcasting and a lot of tech and media is really comfortable not being in the center of things and being in Brooklyn. And that's really been terrific to have companies with that kind of energy who are that forward thinking."

See more about the growth of downtown Brooklyn and the beautiful new mixed-use buildings on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

WCBS 880
Photo credit WCBS 880