With its brick-lined streets and low-slung postindustrial buildings, the waterfront neighborhood of Dumbo - wedged between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges - has been the backdrop for such films as Scent of a Woman and Vanilla Sky and home to Laura Linney and Busta Rhymes. Much of Dumbo's allure (the acronym stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) has been its relatively slow pace, at least by New York standards, of gentrification - led by Two Trees developer Jed Walentas, who first bought there in the 1980s. But a recent blockbuster deal that involves the unlikely pairing of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the son-in-law of Donald Trump is set to unlock a massive makeover of the 48-acre district.
In August, an investor group led by Ivanka Trump's husband, Jared Kushner, closed on the $340 million purchase of 739,000 square feet of interconnected buildings known as the Watchtower, which for half a century served as the headquarters of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The sale is part of a decadelong effort by the group to shed its sprawling local real estate holdings (worth more than $1 billion) as it consolidates to a centralized campus in upstate Warwick.
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The sale of the Watchtower, with its iconic rooftop signage, has grabbed headlines. But a separate parcel included in the Kushner deal at nearby 85 Jay St. is equally tantalizing. Now a parking lot, it has 1 million square feet of development opportunities, which pencils out to more than 800 residential units. A 2,900-square-foot condo in Dumbo can go for as much as $6 million, so it's rich territory - that is, if Brooklyn development isn't stymied by a looming rental glut, with more than 7,000 units scheduled to hit the market in the next few years. The church "took better care of their buildings than anyone in the world," says Citi Habitats' Christopher Havens, so Kushner's group's investment could rapidly accelerate Dumbo's luxury turnaround.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.