Sound the trumpets– or the alarms– Bushwick’s first boutique hotel has opened its doors on 9 Beaver Street, blocks from the JM Flushing stop. BKLYN House (who needs that extraneous “ROO”?), the first hotel from developer Moris Yero Shalmi, sits in the shadow of NYCHA’s Bushwick Houses. It looks a bit like an alien spaceship dropped on a block consisting of quiet one-story warehouses, a public school, and a bodega.
But if the developer’s gamble plays out, it may just be a harbinger of the next phase of Bushwick’s evolution. The color-blocked eight-story hotel considers itself “Bushwick inspired,” with murals of Brooklyn neighborhoods painted in the hallways (by mainly non-Bushwick artists), Brooklyn Lager in the fridge, and artwork for sale curated by two-year-old IMAGE Gallery, through Renaissance Collective. The hotel’s website promotes (new) local stars, like Roberta’s, Momo Sushi Shack, Dear Bushwick and the ubiquitous vintage shops and galleries that have contributed to giving the nabe that fresh glow of desirability.
The place is a budget affair probably catering to people who are on the cusp of choosing to stay in an Airbnb (the price fluctuates– currently it’s as low as $79 per night, but can cost more than double that in the spring). It’s a step above the nearby Sumner Hotel in terms of style-effort, and has pretty sweet amenities: high-speed internet, flat-screen TVs, a 24-hour business center, passes to local gyms, parking, and a hot continental breakfast are all included.
The 113 rooms come in two types– one queen bed or two, decorated with an identical “raw industrial feel,” like knotted pine headboards, cut steel furniture, and nautical-esque lighting fixtures, all custom-made by Canadian company METCA Construction Inc. “It’s very Brooklyn-like to have these pieces,” the guide giving me the tour observed. Indeed.
“‘Inspired’ by the neighborhood means we want to be integrated,” said Anthony Luciano, the hotel’s general manager. “We don’t want to stand out as a hotel, we want to stand out as part of the community. So as [Bushwick] grows, we want to grow with it.”
And the direction that the neighborhood is growing, in his estimate, is towards Williamsburg. “The neighborhood is up and coming and it’s actually doing a pretty good job. We are looking forward to being a second destination, like how Williamsburg has evolved,” he said. “Having a hotel open up, it’s giving a direction to the rest of the people who want to invest.”
While the term “Bushwick inspired” may be a well-placed signpost to European travelers searching for some version of the “true” unvarnished New York, it’s practically designed to sound crass to some neighborhood long-timers who attribute increased displacement in Bushwick to the boom of new developments hawking marketing-speak versions of Brooklyn “authenticity.”
Will Giron, a tenant advocate at Fifth Avenue Committee, spent much of his childhood in the area and also works as a programming coordinator for Mayday Space, a social justice organization in Bushwick. He has watched the recent pace of change in the neighborhood with increasing frustration and takes issue with the language used to promote BKLYN House, as well as “the perception that Bushwick is like some gentrifier’s paradise.”
“Honestly, I think that this hotel is a perfect example of the fetishization that many wealthy folks have of working class communities,” he said. “When I hear somebody say that a particular brand or particular hotel or store or something is ‘Bushwick inspired,’ they are not talking about working-class people of color, immigrants, who have lived and thrived in the community before gentrification. They are specifically talking about– mostly white– privileged newcomers who are sort of promoting their own luxury culture and attaching it to Bushwick.”
Luciano said he hadn’t heard any concerns from area residents about rising rents and pointed to the established NYCHA buildings nearby and affordable housing requirements for new private developments as anchors for working-class people in the neighborhood. He said the hotel employs about 35 people, mostly from Brooklyn, if not Bushwick. “It’s not like this is pushing anyone away,” he said of the hotel. “If anything it’s actually making the community better.”
But that conclusion, as a recent report on economic diversity and public housing by Next City suggests, often depends on who “the community” is defined as. And there’s no doubt that a new hotel hyping up a neighborhood as the next “authentic” frontier feeds into the wider phenomenon of gentrification and higher rents for unprotected buildings, suddenly in demand. Giron said he’s worked with many renters in Bushwick facing harassment and negligence from landlords who try to push their low-income tenants out so they can flip the apartment– and we’ve profiled similar cases in other parts of the city.
Not everyone fits into an either-or narrative, though. Geraldo Vergara, who works in a hotel in Manhattan, was walking by with his young son and wife, a stay-at-home mom. He said they’d moved to Bushwick recently for a cheap deal and to be close to family, and were surprised to see the new hotel rising. But not because they thought their rent would go up.
“I don’t know what kind of people would come [to the hotel], you know, because you’ve got the projects right there,” he said, repeating a common stigma. He also added that he’d be excited to see more shops and restaurants in this stretch of the neighborhood. (Across the street from the hotel, a company with the aspirational name Upper Class Development is in the midst of constructing luxury rentals with commercial space on the bottom.)
“I hope the area changes, yeah,” said his wife. “That would be good, since our apartment is here, you know.”