Spend any time watching television in New York over the last twenty years, you were bound to have been entranced by a particular commercial touting the majesty of “Grand Prospect Hall.” Cheesier than cheesy, the commercial promises that the venue will make your dreams come true!! While I always used to find it funny, for its seemingly unaware over-the-top factor, the Hall’s owners are looking to make one of their business dreams come true and there is nothing funny about their expansion plans.
Housed on Prospect Avenue, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, in the South Slope, Grand Prospect Hall is a four story building whose interior, according to the venue’s website, will take you back to the Gilded Age of the 1890s. Sweet – give me a minute and I’ll get my muckraker ensemble! Earlier this month, Brownstoner reported that
the building was constructed in 1892, and rebuilt in 1901-02 after a fire. The blog explains that as Brooklyn declined in the middle of the 20th Century and the Prospect Expressway sliced Prospect Avenue, the site struggled. In the early 1980s, current owners Michael and Alice Halkias purchased the property and went about restoring the venue. According to Brownstoner, Mr. and Mrs. Halkias “never met gilding and ostentation that they didn’t like.” Until now, their ostentation was either inside their building or in a thirty-second commercial. But if the Halkias’ get their way, that will change in a way that would blight the neighborhood.
The owners want to build a 11-story, 150 room hotel, the renderings of which can be found here, next to the hall in residential Park Slope. Along with the hotel, the project would include a 400-spot parking garage. The neighborhood is zoned for buildings six stories and lower. To get around this regulation, the Halkias’ will need to acquire a zoning variance from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals.
This development should not go forward. An 11-story hotel, smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood, situated on a one-way street is a bad idea for four reasons.
First, the positive impact that a 400-spot parking garage will have is overstated. The president of the 5th Avenue Business Improvement District, Irene Lo Re said the neighborhood can’t turn its back on the impact of a 400-spot garage. There is no doubt there is a parking shortage in the area. However, those spots would most likely go to hotel guests and people attending events at Grand Prospect Hall. In an interview with the Daily News, the owners said they currently have no trouble booking hundreds of events a year. These new parking spots will do nothing to alleviate a legitimate issue in the neighborhood.
Second, it is going to create a traffic nightmare. In a part of Brooklyn where the major traffic arteries are already packed, this project would substantially increase traffic on a primarily residential street. Prospect Avenue, by this point is a one-way
block as the Expressway moves northward towards its convergence with the Gowanus Expressway. It is important for businesses to be able to expand, but this growth cannot occur at the expense of its neighbors. This increase in car traffic doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of limos and livery town cars that will be idling outside the new hotel at all hours.
Third, the building would be too large for the area. Prospect Avenue is home to three-story residential homes. One of the first articles describing Grand Prospect Hall’s proposal mentioned the new hotels along Third and Fourth Avenues in Gowanus. The big difference is that those are thoroughfares situated in formerly industrial stretches that are transitioning towards more a mixed-used future. It is there, on those avenues, where 11 story structures make more sense. Not on a side street. It will be an eyesore in a part of Park Slope where the low-rise buildings dominate the housing stock.
Fourth, the Halkiases have been disingenuous and antagonistic in the way in which they’ve gone about looking for local support for the project. On one hand, in a flier distributed throughout the neighborhood, the Halkiases said they need the mega-project to compete with other banquet halls in the region. However, the couple told the Daily News they recently hosted a Nigerian prince’s wedding and a 750-person black-tie event for a German insurance company. While the owners say they are struggling to compete, their cheese-tastic commercial, which was homemade, has given them so much visibility that, in reality they are doing just fine.
The lies in the flyer aren’t even the worst part of the handout. The pamphlet went on to state that if they can’t get the project built, “the alternate course would be to cater to a low end clientele with limited budgets, limited options, but with large numbers. The need for profitability will override any consideration of lifestyle, even if it may be undesirable — only profitability and group size will matter.”
The tenor and threatening tone of the flyer shows the Halkiases true colors. This is no way to treat neighbors who have legitimate concerns over the nature of the project. The Brooklyn Paper described the flyer as a “bizarre gambit.” Threatening to bring undesirables? Who does this guy think he is? What decade is this guy from? I know, the Gilded Era. And what is so wrong about people with limited budgets? Most of the people I’ve known who have gotten married have had very limited budgets.
Finally, if the Halkiases are so worried about staying competitive against their rivals, they could have chosen a public review process that would have required Grand Prospect Hall’s owners to prove “economic hardship.” Instead, they’ve chosen a public review process to be overseen by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Would you be surprised that, since 2000 the Halkiases have contributed $9,850 to Markowitz. While Markowitz’s tenure as borough president has been synonymous with unbridled real estate development with little consideration for the consequences, Grand Prospect Hall’s neighborhoods can take solace in the fact the funding for the project hasn’t been announced and the zoning variance hasn’t been approved. Lets hope neither come through.