Earlier this month on a routine visit to Mott Haven I walked by 2537 Third Ave. Some men were cleaning out the lifeless 5 story building loading broken pieces of wood, twisted steel, and cracked cinder blocks into a dumpster. I asked one of the workers if he knew what the plans for the building were and he said he didn’t. Little did I know a few weeks later I would be inside this building visiting every floor and writing about my experience.
On my most recent trip to Mott Haven, I had a meeting with PJ Sarraf of the Sarraf Group. I was introduced to Mr. Sarraf through Marco Shalma, CEO of The BLOX. Mr. Sarraf is overseeing the revitalization of 2537 Third Ave which recently housed squatters and a night club. He and his team have big plans for the building that could be considered arguably the gateway to Mott Haven. 75 feet of retail frontage along 2535-2541 Third Ave has convinced the DOT to make sidewalk enhancements to accommodate the anticipated foot traffic. Mr.Sarraf plans to decorate the new pedestrian space with street furniture such as tables and chairs. Currently, there are negotiations with a Latin fusion restaurant for the ground floor space and Mr. Sarraf hopes to attract a jazz or comedy club for the 2nd floor which has a cabaret license. The 3rd and 4th floors will be constructed for office space and art stations and will have its own entrance at 260 E.138th. Mott Haven Realty will have their offices on the 5th floor. But Mr. Sarraf isn’t stopping there. Next door at 2535 Third Ave plans includes office space on the top floors, a music studio in the basement, and a cafe for one of its storefronts. “The cafe will have a healthy menu with organic juices. We had higher offers from bodega and deli owners but we wanted something that would enhance the neighborhood.” An African restaurant is already renting out one of two storefronts and Mr. Sarraf has no intentions of moving them out. “They have a good following,” he said.
As my tour begins for 2537 Third Ave Mr. Sarraf starts off by telling me about the building’s elevator. “This is the 166th elevator built in The Bronx. We’re rehabbing it and keeping its original look but we had to update the mechanical work.” Purists would appreciate his preserving of one of the oldest elevators in The Bronx. I didn’t get to take a ride even though it is functional, instead, we took the stairs to the 2nd floor. “This is a good space for a jazz or comedy club,” he said. Currently, The Bronx doesn’t have either one. Other bars and lounges have to set aside certain nights for comedy or jazz. Having a business solely dedicated to one or the other would be a great addition to the neighborhood.
Making our way up creaky stairs to the 3rd floor Mr. Sarraf explained the rehab process while workers hammered away on nails carried wide pieces of wood, and lugged around tools. “You can see this building from the Bruckner. It’s a very important building.” Mr. Sarraf tells me as he points out a 3rd-floor window. I asked Mr. Sarraf what type of office space he has planned, “We want an open feel for the office space, and we’re going to provide space for artists. Affordable housing is great, but we also need offices to employ people.” It was at this point where we started to talk about the community and how it could benefit from such a project. He hopes the children in the neighborhood can come and work on art projects or gain some tech skills. “We’re giving back to the neighborhood. We’re not just trying to make money. We want to sit down with everybody and see what does the neighborhood want? That’s what a developer should do.”
He’s right. When a developer takes the community into consideration and looks to develop projects with a purpose a measure of trust is built. And when a community develops a trustworthy relationship with a developer neighborhoods improve and everyone wins