Businesses in DUMBO, Brooklyn Create a Sense of Place in an Unlikely Space

DUMBO Brooklyn, or the District Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, went from a manufacturing no-mans-land to a booming start-up hub and hipster haven in just a few short decades. In the 1970s, you could buy a square foot of land here for under six dollars. Today, you’ll need to shell out $1,000 for the same square foot. How did DUMBO transform itself from the ruins of the industrial revolution to the hip, cool, waterfront neighborhood it is today?  


It should come as no surprise that New York City’s start-up-hub was in fact, created by the ‘OG start-up mogul’: David Walentas. Raised poor in Rochester, N.Y., Walentas was no stranger to hard farm work and delinquent tendencies. Despite his rascal demeanor, he finished his degree in mechanical engineering in 1961 and went on to clean septic tanks in Greenland. Following a trip to visit his brother in Madrid, he soon found himself in Casablanca hanging out on the wharf looking for a ship to take him and his new white Volkswagen back to New York. A Danish freighter landed him on Brooklyn’s west shore in 1962. Like a precursor for things to come, Walentas would leave the squalor of this part of the city only to return four years later with the burning urge to become a real estate developer.

Fast forward to today and the beautiful, sun bathed, waterfront properties of modern-day DUMBO. Breaking briefly from the history of the neighborhood, what is it that draws so many tech moguls to this neighborhood? First and foremost, DUMBO has space. Space that Manhattan can not provide. Tech startups, notably Etsy, have the space and freedom to develop and branch out in a unique area just minutes from the heart of new York City: Manhattan. Now, following this commercial boom, DUMBO is not only an entrepreneur’s dream locale but also a wealthy residential hotspot-- affiliates of Donald Trump are now buying up pieces of DUMBO with the intention of creating luxury residences.


But how did David Walentas truly redefine this overlooked area of New York City? It was a veritable industrial wasteland surrounded by crime-afflicted areas, how did Walentas convince business to move to Brooklyn? Walentas has been known to attribute his success in part to the artists’ of the time who told him DUMBO was the next big thing--they had even named it DUMBO as a way to alienate developers and to keep the community amongst themselves. It took a man like David Walentas to see the beauty through despair and to capitalize on it, in true entrepreneurial fashion.

David Walentas befriended an affluent New Yorker, Jeff Byers, and sought funding through  his wealthy connections and co-founded Two Trees Management Firm, a real estate firm. The firm went on to buy properties all over New York City as well as Atlanta and Baltimore. Yet, Two Trees Management Firm only knew true DUMBO success after the controversial suicide of one of its founding members, Jeff Byers, as well as the aide from pro-development mayor, Rudy Giuliani who made it easier for developers like Two Trees to buy up DUMBO properties at a relatively low price. Two Trees hopped on the opportunity and geared it’s commercial properties towards startups. With short-term leases and lowered credit requirements, DUMBO was poised to welcome young entrepreneurs with open arms. With tech startups come businesses and affluence, and soon, DUMBO was booming.


Today, with the brand new Brooklyn Bridge Park situated on prime New York City waterfront as well as a plethora of chic coffee shops and hip classes, business in DUMBO is truly flourishing. Refurbished warehouses serve as homes to tech giants and its renovated cobblestone streets, relics of its post-industrial past, are now lined with art galleries and hipster boutiques. The brainchild of a true visionary, DUMBO is proof that sometimes success takes a particular sense of perception-- who would have thought in the 1970s that DUMBO would be the modern, exclusive, trendy Brooklyn neighborhood it is today? Although now this particular neighborhood rents at about the same price as Manhattan, it is still a world apart. Echoes from the past through its’ architecture, the space for businesses to truly grow, and the culture that only Brooklyn can supply, DUMBO is the place to be for anyone willing to take the plunge into the [mostly] lucrative world of startups. Or, live like Walentas, and keep your eye out for other industrial wastelands to transform in a matter of mere decades. In case you don’t discover the new DUMBO, sign up to this blog to keep yourself informed on all things business and travel!