When Michael Lebowitz founded Big Spaceship 16 years ago, opening an office in Brooklyn was a logical move. The neighborhood was far from developed, with almost no residential housing, very few services, and the only noise on the streets was that of construction work.
"We chose it because it was in Brooklyn, where we lived, and it was cheap for a start-up during the economic downturn," Lebowitz says. "It was a cool neighborhood that ticked a few necessary boxes."
Back then, the agency comprised a handful of people in 3,000 square feet. Now Big Spaceship has 115 employees and occupies numerous suites at 45 Main Street, and it will soon move into a new 27,000 square foot space.
Big Spaceship grew in conjunction with Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood - Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Old factory buildings filled with artists’ studios morphed into a bustling neighborhood with modern amenities.
DUMBO anticipates half-a-million square feet of extra retail space coming on stream, including six new commercial buildings. The iconic Empire Stores prewar, brick building is being transformed and reopens in a year or two: It was empty for at least 60 years and stuck in a zoning battle.
Lebowitz is excited about prospects for the neighborhood in terms of upscale restaurants, shopping, and so on, but hopes DUMBO will retain its charm. He already misses the creative vibe that permeated the area in the old days, before it became the digital district.
"I’d like to say we contributed in some way and now it’s a largely digital area, with 60 or 70 digital agencies. That’s exciting, but you lose something. There was a certain type of romance to it then," Lebowitz says. "At the same time, now we have the waterfront park with its own romance. It’s a trade-off."
Over the years, finding good talent for Big Spaceship has become increasingly harder, but Lebowitz doesn’t link that to DUMBO’s transition.
In the past, the company attracted a lot of local talent - mostly employees who didn’t want to commute into Manhattan every day. While this is still the case, and the pool of applicants living in Brooklyn is bigger, Big Spaceship now competes with digital giants such as Google and Facebook, and other start-ups, for talent.
For clients, Brooklyn has become an increasing draw. Client lunches and meetings used to be held in Manhattan, but now Big Spaceship hosts weekly workshops and meetings in its office.
Lebowitz’s preferred casual meeting spots include the Brooklyn Roasting Company and what used to be the DUMBO General Store. Many out-of-towners also request a trip to the famous Shake Shack or Grimaldi’s pizza house. And his top recommendation is taking a walk in the waterfront park.
"The area is going to change and hopefully the neighborhood brings in businesses that fit the vibe," says Lebowitz.
1. DUMBO was the most expensive neighborhood in Brooklyn in terms of median home sales price in 2015, at $1.4 million, according to real estate industry software provider Yardi
2. Brooklyn Bridge was the first traffic route between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the first long-span suspension bridge to carry motor vehicles, and the first suspension bridge to use galvanized steel wire
3. Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle, which includes DUMBO, houses 1,351 innovation companies and 17,302 employees, up from 1,107 and 11,967 in 2012, respectively, according to a report released by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and others
4. Nonprofit Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector is proposing the $1.7 billion construction of a streetcar to cover a 17-mile waterfront stretch that includes DUMBO
5. The Brooklyn Dodgers had many previous names, including the Superbas and Bridegrooms, but the now LA-based baseball team’s final sobriquet originated from the art of trolley dodging in the 19th century, according to the Brooklyn Historical Society
6. Brooklyn is the birth city of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish, female Supreme Court Justice and the second female in history
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