A few weeks ago, on the empty lot where the old Caton Market once stood on Flatbush Ave, a who’s who of Caribbean leaders gathered for the groundbreaking of Caton Flats, a new 14 story residential development that will house Caton Market vendors that once occupied the former dilapidated building. Through this real estate deal, the developers, BRP Company, together with the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACCI), are illustrating the contours of a future strategy for Caribbean businesses leaders, professionals, and commercial operators.

The residential portion of the project based on the 50/30/20 formula of AMI has been heralded as a symbol of equitable development. It has some of the same handicaps of other 421-A tax abatement developments in that they may not be “affordable” for many current residents in the community. Still, it’s refreshing to see that the “100% affordable” label has for once replaced the “luxury rental” tagline in the heart of Flatbush. We have some reason to remain hopeful the building will serve the working class.

From my visit to the groundbreaking ceremony and subsequent research emerges the true story about the Caton Flats Development. From its genesis it is a story about Caribbean business enterprise. Created under the original vision of Dr. Una Clarke, Flatbush Caton Market served to centralize Caribbean vendors bringing them in from the street.  Mr. Edmund Sadio, Chairman of CACCI explains the crucible for this new collaboration came by way of NYC Economic Development Corporation retaining CACCI, the market’s former managers, as an agent for the vendors. By keeping them on in an advisory role, NYCEDC’s RFP incorporated CACCI’s requests to give right-of-first refusal to the vendors in the new commercial space under rental leases. The developer BRP, under the direction of Partner and Co-Founder Meredith Marshall, a black businessman, and design architect Freeform+Deform lead by Nigerian-American Cornell graduate Anaelechi Owunwanne, won the bid by meeting these project demands. The design team worked with Dept. of City Planning through the ULURP process to successfully created R7A contextual zoning to allow for doubling the apartment density to 255 units. Magnusson Architects + Planning serve as the Architect-of-Record under the guidance of Principals Christine Hunter AIA, LEED, and Fernando Villa AIA, LEED, developing the construction documents and consulting on zoning and compliance before the Department of Buildings.

 

Along the way, this team has been creating a path for Caribbean owned enterprises. Urbane Development CEO James Johnson-Piett details the effort to professionalize, standardize and manage market operations while providing support, training, and digital resources to create alternate revenue streams for both legacy and new vendors. Working out of their temporary space on Clarendon Rd and Flatbush Avenue, Piett’s determination to make the afro-Caribbean diaspora front and center dovetails with his clear knowledge of market trends, the threats and opportunities that are both internal and external to the branding of the market itself. His outlook for the Caton Market is to create an ecosystem of Caribbean entrepreneurship, stemming from a unique and intimate understanding of the vendor culture by laying the groundwork for wealth building techniques that can bleed money back into the community. Jobs, product, service, and culture in constant combustion around the new building.

 

In what is otherwise a dark and bleak landscape for our professionals in the development world, as well as vendors and merchants navigating the commercial real-estate market, the story of Caton Flats is a bright light on the horizon. CACCI has spurred younger and more professionalized entrepreneurs in the day to day marketing and management takeover of the new market. Questions will invariably be raised about whether some vendors will survive in a quickly changing Prospect-Lefferts, and what other protections could have been afforded to them. Yet other questions must follow on how we in the Caribbean professional community can improve upon this example and compel our leadership to invest in our capabilities and skills. This development marks an important inflection point in the conversation about how our industry and political leaders funded, procured, and are carrying out an exception to the otherwise hipster driven development we’ve witnessed in other parts of Brooklyn. As we confront the new political and cultural PACTS in our community that have a direct bearing on real-estate development and rezoning, we must create new mechanisms and platforms that will allow our business class to charge forward and compete.

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