Community Wealth Building Project Breaks Ground in Brooklyn, with Long-Term Vision for Community Assets
Construction begins on mixed-use community-first center to include 100% affordable housing, entrepreneur services center, and a revitalized Flatbush Caton Market, longtime destination of Caribbean commerce and culture in New York City
Amidst the seemingly unstoppable wave of gentrification across Brooklyn, the new Caton Flats development aims to disrupt this trend with a new project for the community with positive long-term impact. The approximately 280,000-square-foot project broke ground on Wednesday, May 15th at the corner of Caton and Flatbush Avenues and will feature 255 units of 100% affordable housing, alongside local retail, a business services center, and community space. At the heart of the project is a revitalized Flatbush Caton Market (FCM), a cornerstone of the neighborhood since Hon. Dr. Una S.T. Clarke first established the market in 2001, which will now feature expanded infrastructure such as commercial kitchens for food entrepreneurs and cut/sew space for fashion and textile entrepreneurs, dedicated business support services for vendors, and double the amount of available retail space for Caribbean entrepreneurs.
The vision and management for the new Flatbush Caton Market is being spearheaded by Urbane Development, a community development venture with a strong theory of change.
“Our vision is to position Flatbush Caton Market as the definitive destination for Caribbean commerce, entertainment, and culture in New York City. Our market program introduces food, fashion, art, and personal care products and services that leverage the vibrancy of the Caribbean community with a world-class retail destination in the heart of Flatbush,” said James Johnson-Piett, CEO and Principal of Urbane Development.
But is it possible to do development without displacement? And in Brooklyn, the question in focus is: can the redevelopment of Flatbush Caton Market provide a model for inclusive development while creating a vibrant community marketplace and hub in an increasingly gentrifying Flatbush?
Johnson-Piett describes what makes this project unique: “Despite this being a significant new development in the neighborhood, we hope it will signal to investors and the community at large that there’s a better approach – one that preserves and elevates local entrepreneurs who are most vulnerable to the d commercial corridors citywide. Our approach puts small businesses on a pathway to stay and build wealth in the community they’ve helped build.”
Caton Flats brings quality production and retail space together with access to expertise and guidance under one roof. The project places training and business development at the center of the multi-use facility, supporting new business creation and entrepreneurs looking to formalize their businesses, while maintaining a commitment to legacy vendors who are guaranteed space in the revitalized market. Entrepreneurs receive a full suite of support that sets them up for success through technical assistance, marketing strategies, and e-commerce along the way.
Thriving business corridors have long been an urban planning strategy to support healthy, vibrant neighborhoods but too often the strategy deepens wealth inequality through outcomes that benefit those who already have access to capital and other formal resources.
One vendor stated, “[Flatbush Caton Market] awakened my desire to invest in my body care business. The market team inspired me to get a better understanding of the potential for my handcrafted brand. I have learned a lot and have been able to expand and become what I am today” – Margarette Medina of Medina’s Natural Body Care, a legacy vendor at Flatbush Caton Market
Johnson-Piett added, “Business creation is one of the quickest paths to wealth creation, for both individuals and communities. We’re not going to legislate our way out of wealth inequality overnight, so finding ways to support entrepreneurs, cultivate under-resourced talent within a community, and anchoring those services to a physical place all becomes part of a meaningful way forward.”
Another vendor added: “[It’s] something I always dreamed of, owning my own business… something I can build up and when I leave, my children can carry on this business; it can be successful. We all want to be successful in the new spot.” – Juliana Hector of SNS Fashions, a legacy vendor at Flatbush Caton Market
If anyone, Urbane is qualified to bring this vision to life: with over 10 years of experience providing small business coaching, including dozens of their trademarked Bodega Bootcamps™, Urbane brings a breadth of knowledge and depth of expertise to the management of Flatbush Caton Market. However, this is Urbane’s first foray into large-scale mixed –use development. “We knew it was time to double down on our place-based work with a long-term commitment in a neighborhood we know well and have a connection to.”
Another unique aspect of the Caton Flats development is the profile of the ownership and management team bringing this work to fruition. Urbane Development is a black-owned consultancy and certified Minority Business Enterprise. BRP Companies is a black-owned development company and design architect Freeform+Deform is a Nigerian-owned architecture and design firm. “This project is led by black developers and design professionals, featuring primarily black Caribbean vendors, supported by black- management. This is significant when we look at the widening racial wealth gap, and what it means for black communities to be at the table, not just via representation but in terms of decision-making power,” stated Johnson-Piett. Furthermore, most of the management team comes from immigrant families, and so the work becomes very personal. “Our teams think about wealth creation and how to move needle for people of color on daily basis,” said Lisa Thompson, Director of Flatbush Caton Market and senior team member at Urbane Development.
Looking forward, all partners know this will take a commitment to the community for the long haul – but it’s not just about the survival of Flatbush, it’s about putting structure in place for the future of an intergenerational community of diverse residents to thrive.
“It’s a marathon; we’re all pushing the boulder uphill bit by bit, until we hit the point of catalytic change. We knew it would be a long process, but well worth the investment,” said Johnson-Piett.
While the site is under construction, the Flatbush Caton Market continues to operate out of a temporary location at 2184 Clarendon Road in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Currently, the market is home to 30+ Caribbean and West African entrepreneurs who make and sell products from prepared food, to flag wear, to original children’s toys. Vendors receive ongoing technical assistance, marketing support and access to resources to help them achieve their business goals.
This summer, the market will host a range of cultural and pop-up events that celebrate the heritage of the Flatbush community. Construction is estimated to be complete by July 2021, at which time the market will reopen at its original location.
Come by 6 days a week to visit at our temporary location, or visit us online: www.flatbushcatonmarket.com.