Flatbush Central is as much a cultural institution as an economic one, and a testament to the immeasurable value of black and brown immigrant entrepreneurs. What does it mean to redevelop this neighborhood anchor while preserving the culture at its core?
NYC Economic Development Corporation
2015 - Present
Retail Market Planning and Development; Commercial market study; Commercial kitchen, body care and design studio development; Small business technical assistance; Incubator curriculum & programming; Tenant attraction
Flatbush Central vendors are community elders offering a range of cultural goods and services...
...including Caribbean music, fashion, food, dried goods, and personal care products...
...in an environment that echoes the kinetic markets of the islands...
...The neighborhood comes to shop and commune in Kreyol, Patois, and Spanish. In doing so, they keep traditions alive.
Recognizing the industrial spirit and vulnerability of Flatbush's Caribbean street vendors, former New York City Councilwoman Dr. Una Clarke established an indoor market in 2001 where ambition could be met with dedicated support. Flatbush Caton Market (FCM) served as a secure operating space to 40+ micro businesses, offering protection from police harassment and relief from the elements.
In 2015, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) selected an all-Black team comprised of BRP Companies and Urbane to purchase, redevelop, and manage the Market. The team’s proposal – Caton Flats – featured 255 new affordable apartments and new commercial and community spaces, as well as a permanent home for FCM. Urbane’s role was to reimagine the marketplace as a bonafide center of Caribbean-ness, situated in an integrated center of community wealth for Central Brooklyn’s Caribbean diaspora. Building on FCM’s legacy, the vision included a new 5-vendor food hall, bars and test kitchen; and a business incubator with 5000+ square feet of commercial kitchen, personal care products, and digital technology and fabrication infrastructure.
Phase 1 - Predevelopment: 2015 - 2017
Urbane analyzed the external and internal market conditions at FCM to understand how to strengthen the market’s overall positioning and the micro businesses within it. A comprehensive commercial market study, which measured the size and composition of economic activity in the FCM trade area and included over 500 intercept surveys, was completed in Summer 2016. Internally, Urbane catalogued individual business operations, finance, and workforce data through a 300+ question survey tool and conducted focus group interviews with FCM vendors and Flatbush community members in English and Kreyol. The team engaged vendors in direct technical assistance with marketing, merchandising, business planning, and financial management.
Urbane represented the development team in over 30 public meetings with elected officials, business and civic leaders, and neighborhood stakeholders during a successful 21-month public land use approval process.
Phase 2 - Development: 2017 - 2022
Urbane assumed direct management of FCM in 2017, overseeing the successful transition of 38 legacy vendors to a temporary space south of the project site. While operating in the temporary market, Urbane worked with FCM entrepreneurs to formalize and strengthen their existing operations and expand sales opportunities. This included launching a bespoke business training series with dedicated in-house advisors (English and Kreyol); introducing digital marketing and e-commerce platforms for the market and vendors, respectively; creating a zero-interest microloan fund; securing wholesale relationships with local and national retailers; and developing a comprehensive brand and marketing strategy for the market relaunch in 2022. The COVID-19 global pandemic forced the market to close for over 5 months and operate at limited capacity during the final stretch before moving to the permanent facility. In the face of these macro-economic threats, Urbane sponsored fundraising efforts to provide direct relief funds to the operating vendors, crowdfunding over $47K and making direct distributions to the vendors. During the 2.5-year construction period, Urbane led the planning and build-out of the new FCM retail components and business incubator. Urbane contracted Studio 397 Architects – a black-woman led firm – to shape a market interior and vendor booths that reflect the market’s Caribbean heritage. Since the project's inception, Urbane partnered with the Yale School of Management to track and codify the project journey to the completion of the construction phase of the new facility. The construction phase of the project concluded at the end of 2021, with 29 vendors moving back to the permanent facility in January 2022. The new complex was rebranded as Flatbush Central and the market as Flatbush Central Caribbean Marketplace, as a statement to the community institution building that the founder of the market, Dr. Una Clarke, has stressed for four decades.
Phase 3 - Stablization and Growth: 2022 - Present
In addition to the reimagined and expanded retail marketplace, Urbane established its Mangrove platform focused on the incubation and acceleration of diaspora businesses in its facilities. Urbane designed and equipped the incubator labs, along with an ecosystem of supports that include cohort-based, trauma-informed business curriculum, sector-specific mentorship, supply chain and wholesale relationships, and marketing and design services. In addition to formal incubation, more established entrepreneurs and makers will access production facilities through affordable membership packages. Community members will have access to a supply chain guild, creating economies of scale for inputs ranging from local farm products to plant extracts and butters. Access to affordable, stage-appropriate capital - directly through the Mangrove and through its consortium of partners - will provide the runway needed to start, stablize, and grow businesses at their own pace. The Mangrove and Flatbush Central Caribbean Marketplace together serve as an community wealth creation hub where diaspora entrepreneurs can leverage state-of-the-art production space and tailored support to launch or accelerate their businesses.
As the commercial broker for the project, Urbane is actively recruiting cutting edge Caribbean concepts for the food hall, as well as commercial tenants for ground floor retail spaces to complement the Flatbush Central mix of businesses.
“Caton Flats models a new kind of real estate and economic development – led by a team of black people from across the diaspora - creating a response to the gentrification uprooting communities of color throughout the borough.”