As Wiseman and Heckman gave me a tour of the building, which was nearly complete, it became immediately clear what they meant. Unlike most new apartments in the area, theirs were more reminiscent of the semi-legal artists’ lofts that have been all but eradicated by the influx of development: big, airy spaces designed to be shared by self-consciously creative types who don’t mind sleeping in cramped mezzanines. Rents in the building average $2,500 and are meant to be split two or three ways.
“Will I get rich off this building? Not at all,” Wiseman said as he showed me the apartment he’ll be renting to himself. “I’ll probably need a roommate to afford this.” Still, Wiseman explained that although he won’t see the immediate returns that condo developers aim for, he is expecting slow, consistent revenue from a product that can expand and contract as the market dictates. The building is poised to generate about $2 million a year in revenues, which, after the debt is serviced and operating expenses are paid, comes out to around half a million in cash. Most of that will go to paying off private investors, with Wiseman and his partner receiving a roughly 3 percent management fee. They hope to refinance down the line, which will free up cash for other projects.
On the Fourth of July, Wiseman threw a party for the future residents of 44 Berry on the building’s expansive roof deck. It was a decidedly different affair than the launch of the Steelworks Lofts back in October: keg beer instead of top-shelf liquor, twentysomethings decked out in thrift-store attire as opposed to thirtysomethings in designer clothing, and the general mood seemed less like a stylized appropriation of the neighborhood’s identity than something approximating the neighborhood itself. Less than a year ago, the notion of such a scrappy scene unfolding in a brand-new building would have been unthinkable. But in time, as more developers fail to find buyers and default on their loans, Williamsburg is likely to see more projects like 44 Berry begin to take shape: new endeavors that, somewhat ironically, will keep the neighborhood feeling much like its old self. As everyone gathered to watch the fireworks dazzle above the Manhattan skyline, it was easy to imagine a future in which even Williamsburg’s swankier buildings have become home to the very people they once threatened to displace.