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Transform Fulton Mall Into New Hip Hop Hub?

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Imagine marketing the Fulton Mall as the hip hop capital of America. That’s one strategy recommended in a study released last week titled: Fulton Street Mall: New Strategies for Preservation and Planning. “Of the many strategies we’re looking at, that [marketing the mall as a hip hop hub] is certainly one of them in that it plays off the Fulton Mall’s current strength,” said Downtown Brooklyn Council President Michael Burke. “At the same time we want to look at the challenges and address them as well as attract residents who live around the mall as well as workers from the nearby MetroTech complex,” he added. The Pratt Center for Community Development (PCCD) and non-profit consulting group Minerva Partners released the year-long study last week, with the goal of laying the groundwork for the mall’s future. It covered Fulton Street between Flatbush Avenue and Adams Street, which has been a walking strip, with the exception of buses and local deliveries, since the 1970s. The study found the Mall has a thriving and diverse economy supporting retail chain stores, local independent shops, and a surprisingly strong network of small vendor-entrepreneurs. Burke said this includes Sundays when the nearby Brooklyn Tabernacle Church lets out and over a thousand parishioners flood the Fulton Mall. With this in mind, the study suggests marketing the Mall based on its existing cultural strengths and retail themes such as urban wear, hip hop fashion and music, and that it is “uniquely Brooklyn.” “The place has long supported – and still does support – social activity and social bonds woven out of economic activities and cultural expressions,” the report reads. “But despite its popularity among a diverse range of shoppers and visitors, and its profitability, it is often maligned by some who live or work nearby as a place in need of radical transforma­tion,” it added. On the downside, the study found the Mall’s historic buildings are currently under-utilized, poorly maintained, and often hidden from public view. It also found the Mall functions poorly as a public space as it lacks standard amenities, and its side streets are foreboding. “Negative perceptions of the Mall among non-users – perceptions that do not accord with our research – are a significant challenge to preserving the culture of the Mall and nurturing its future,” the study stated in its executive summary. To respond to the findings, the study suggested five strategies including promoting and enhancing the urban and hip hop angle. Other suggestions were aimed at improving the Mall for its current users and broadening its appeal to workers and residents in the areas immediately adjacent to it. This includes sprucing up the building facades with new building design techniques that embrace the aesthetic theme of “old meets new.” “We believe this can be done with an administrative approach, developing and implementing new guidelines within the existing zoning framework (without necessarily requiring a zoning change),” according to the executive summary. It also calls for utilizing the buildings better by activating their upper stories and incorporating a mixed-use retail, arts/cultural, residential component, which will serve to open the Mall as a 24-hour hub. The study also calls for improvement of the public realm through enlivening the side streets through urban design, streetscape, and cultural programming. This would enhance the shopping experience to current shoppers as well as workers and residents to the north and south, according to the study. The study emphasizes that all stakeholders should be involved in the process and calls for input from community advocates and the City Planning Department, working together. Currently, the MetroTech BID (Business Improvement District) has a management agreement with the Fulton Mall Improvement Association (FMIA) to oversee maintenance functions. However, Burke does not see the MetroTech BID merging with the FMIA to form one super-BID as it is a complicated formal public review. “It is not something the boards have looked at yet,” he said. Burke said the next steps are to set up meetings with folks from the City’s Housing and Preservation Department (HPD) and Small Business Services to start discussing innovative pilot projects such as low-cost financing and tax incentives.

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