Williamsburg's Finger Building, the albatross of N. 8th Street, recently wound up in the hands of developer GFI (of Ace Hotel and 470 Vanderbilt fame) after lengthy zoning battles, partner feuds and neighborhood protests stalled construction for years and booted the previous developer off the block. He has bigger things to worry about! Construction soon resumed on Williamsburg's most hated building, and aiming to reverse the bad juju at 144 N. 8th, GFI gave the building a new name, The Albero. But it will always be the Finger Building to us and many others, and knowing that he's basically walking into a minefield with this building, GFI principal Andrew Zobler gave us a call to brief us on the future plans for the site, hopefully inspiring some to let the controversial past slide.
Once and for all, the height. As Finger fans know, the building is grandfathered into old zoning and the Board of Standards & Appeals let the height (16 stories) stand. Only waterfront buildings (Northside Piers, Edge) can grow that high in Williamsburg nowadays, meaning this'll be the tallest thing around. Zobler confirmed reports that GFI will only take the building up to 14 stories. "We can't afford to just leave it at 10 stories, but we wanted a gesture that this is not business as usual," he says. "So even though we have the right to build 16 stories, we're electing not to do so."
Is two stories really that big a deal? Kinda! The building was initially designed by architect Robert Scarano with many of his trademark "mezzanines" that don't count as full floors. GFI is doing away with much of that madness, so while technically only two floors are being removed, the height will be under 200'. It could've been 260' as-of-right.
GFI wants to be buds, Williamsburg! The height thing "has been well received by the Community Board," Zobler tells us. GFI is holding ongoing meetings with local groups to discuss the project and smooth over hurt feelings lingering from the previous Finger administration. Says Zobler, "What they were doing was imprudent and not good business. We know not everyone's going to love it, but we don't want it to be uniformly disliked. This has been a challenge."
The number of units. 41.
The design is going to be Williamsburgish. What does that mean? "A bit bespoke, green. It'll be fitting for the neighborhood. The buildings on the waterfront don't feel like Williamsburg." Of course, the first 10 ugly stories are already built, but they're working on "softening it, finessing it." Hope they bought it dinner first.
There's an André Balazs connection! Zobler (and a bunch of GFI peeps, we think) used to work with the Balazsmaster, including on a little Soho project we like to call 40 Fucking Mercer. Will Williamsburg be getting a mini Standard? Eh, probably not, but while Zobler wouldn't reveal the designers who'll be working on the inside, he said they're bringing in some talent. Maybe Roman & Williams, the Ace Hotel designers whose shabby-chic hipster look seems to fit Williamsburg like an extra snug pair of APC jeans?
There's going to be a big-ass garden. On the enormous deck out on the second floor. Perhaps creating unrealistic expectations, Zobler refers to it as "High Line-esque." Courageous!
It's worth the risk. Maybe! Because this is a big mofo, and because zoning prevents any similar buildings in the area, Zobler says the views are fairly epic from up top. Plus, the "heart of Williamsburg" location attracted GFI to the project despite the general doom-and-gloom surrounding the Williamsburg condo market.
Sales and marketing will kick off in early 2010. And spring 2010 is when they're hoping to be done building the thing.
Can we see these bespoke, green, Williamsburg-befitting designs? No. No we cannot. Not yet, anyway.
· Finger Building coverage [Curbed]