By Victoria Horsford
The good news is that African-American Brooklynite architect/businessman Carlton Brown of Full Spectrum, was named developer of the $85 million Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) cultural district’s residential tower and dance space in Downtown Brooklyn on land owned by NYC. Full Spectrum’s Brown has crossed the real estate divide, which has excluded NYC’s people of color from big-league real estate development participation. This is a quantum leap! Construction of the BAM tower begins next spring.
Last month’s landmark announcement about the Brown/BAM project had lots of chefs stirring the pot: the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYC Housing Preservation and Development, NYC Councilwoman Letitia James and a constellation of Brooklyn groups advocating for a Brooklynite developer as opposed to Manhattan moguls who monopolize most big NYC real estate deals. The history of the $300 million Downtown Brooklyn renovation is long and rife with political undertones and bureaucratic stagnation. The announcement begs more than a few questions. Who is Carlton Brown? What is Full Spectrum? How did Brown’s Full Spectrum team, whose original proposal was rejected in 2006, eclipsed the competition.
Co-founded in 1988 by Carlton Brown, COO, and Walter Edwards, CEO, Full Spectrum is a Harlem-based, African-American-owned sustainable real estate company which focuses on the development of mixed-use, mixed-income green buildings in emerging urban markets. Brown, architect and green leader, says, “Full Spectrum’s two Harlem condominium buildings, at 1400 Fifth Avenue and the Kalahari Harlem, on West 116th Street, under construction, exemplify our mission.” He adds: “1400 Fifth, which was first occupied in 2004, is our flagship mixed-income residential green building, and it gave us lots of national visibility to do something different and helped broaden our client business base, which now includes Jackson, Mississippi, where Full Spectrum has an office, and where it is developing 4500 homes and in New Orleans, Louisiana, where we will develop 275 hotel rooms, 200 condos and 200 homes. Our out-of-town business is directly related to our philosophy and strategic approach to work, something to which municipal leaders across the country resonate. All of our buildings will be green and cost-effective.”
Full Spectrum, along with a variety of partners, is becoming a household word, which has developed both residential and commercial real estate properties from a facility upgrade at the UN Plaza Hotel to project management at Jacobi Hospital and at the Trenton Town Center in New Jersey. We were a consultant to The Solarium in Battery Park City, Manhattan, best known as one of the nation’s first environmentally sustainable residential buildings.
The Full Spectrum’s management philosophy and practices are indistinguishable from Carlton Brown’s. An affable, scholarly, pragmatic manager, Brown is the ultimate multitasker who can conduct an in-office interview while teleconferencing in another city and mapping real estate strategies for yet another city. A 30-year-plus Brooklyn resident who is married with children, Brown is a member in good standing within the borough’s rich, vibrant African-American cultural community. He chairs the nonprofit ARTS 651, a local organization which focuses on art produced by descendants of enslaved Africans, lectures at Pratt Institute, and in 1990 led a multidisciplinary group which developed an approach for sustainable development projects for Cape Verde, a West African nation.
Born in Charlotte, NC, Brown was raised in Jackson, Mississippi, where his parents were professors who taught chemistry and choreography at Jackson State University, an HBCU and who were active in the civil rights movement. “Our family engaged in the world of ideas beyond the reality of Mississippi in the 50s and 60s,” says Brown. He graduated from Princeton, where he majored in Architecture and city planning and wrote a thesis on “Neo-African Architecture,” about the historic impact of 400 years of European dominance of African peoples and Black architecture imperatives, which should be more African referential and less duplicative of Western influences.
In 1976, ATT hired Brown as a district manager for its NY real estate group, where he acquired experience in corporate planning, site acquisition, facilities development, project design and leasing for high-performance labs, data centers and office facilities. During his decade-long ATT tenure, he directed the development and construction of more than $2 billion in real estate property for the corporation. He also studied real estate finance at NYU.
When Carlton Brown, former American Institute of Architects board member, starts talking about architecture, he gets an adrenalin rush. He defines himself by his Africanness, saying, “That’s who I am and that’s how I process words.” He insists that most people misunderstand architects. “Architecture,” he concedes, “is about the power of the elite and the ruling classes and their ability to finance buildings and erect monuments to themselves.” He laments that Blacks in general do not enjoy that access. He says: “Architects are not just designers, as some conjecture who are on steroids, we are the stewards of the earth’s resources, stewards of environmental health,” which would explain his attraction to greening. He admits that architecture is about pattern, color, shape and texture. “For the Kalahari Harlem, we hired African-American architect John Travis who deftly introduced numerous African references to the design model such as Adrinka and southern African symbols. He enthuses, “We wanted a distinctive building which would introduce pattern and color in a way unusual for NYC.”
Brown is ecstatic about being named developer of the “jewel in the crown” portion of the rejuvenated BAM cultural district project, its residential tower, which encompasses 187 units of mixed-income housing, half of which are designated for low-to moderate-income tenants. Full Spectrum will work with two architectural groups on the BAM residential tower, the Germany-based Behnisch Architects and the New York-based Studio MDA. In explaining the tower’s architectural design scheme, he recommends “envisioning Downtown Brooklyn as a horizontal community turned on its end, 5 cantilevered blocks of apartments which allows natural light and abundant air to circulate.” He adds, “We haven’t determined which African design scheme will interplay with the basics.” Brown’s big challenge is securing financing for the behemoth Downtown Brooklyn real estate project. He allows, tongue in cheek, that being named developer was the easy part, phase one of a multilayered process.
It appears that Full Spectrum has much to celebrate as it approaches 2008, its 20th Anniversary!
(Editors Note: For a future issue, Our Time Press will be asking many downtown Brooklyn developers, how their contractor/workforce profile measures against the local standard of the Community Benefits Agreement with Forest City Ratner.)