by Beth Morrissey
Bodegas, nail salons, and fast food restaurants are not the typical trappings of a tourist destination. But Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Fulton Street now boasts a sleek, new “vacation home,” a short-term rental for out-of-towners.
The modern five-story building, with large glass windows and a shiny metal façade, is the new business of Thomas Mulzac, 49, a life-long Bedford-Stuyvesant resident. A retired captain from the Department of Corrections, Mulzac estimates the building cost between $750,000 and $800,000.
“With regular renters, sometimes if they start getting behind in rent, you could go on months before you able to get them out and get somebody else in there,” said Mulzac. He believes that he can earn between $20,000 and $30,000 a month from the building’s 2 rental units and ground floor commercial space.
Despite the recent economic downturn, tourist visits to the city have remained strong, with 45.6 million visitors in 2009, according to NYC & Company, New York City’s official marketing, tourism, and partnership organization. NYC & Company estimates that one in five international visitors to New York City spends time and money in Brooklyn, and that several million domestic business and leisure travelers visit the borough every year.
“We’re probably a different animal in terms of destinations. We don’t have great spikes or shifts,” said Tiffany Townsend, vice president of communications and government affairs at NYC & Company, noting that tourism in New York City is not prone to great seasonal changes.
“They hear that Brooklyn is the new chic girl,” said Monique Greenwood, who for 15 years has run the Akwaaba Mansion, a bed and breakfast in Bedford-Stuyvesant. According to Greenwood, who is also a board member of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, some of her clients are interested in visiting areas like Williamsburg, Dumbo, and the Botanical Gardens, while others are looking to experience Bedford-Stuyvesant by visiting local restaurants and Weeksville, a cultural site that is a reconstructed African-American settlement from the 19th century.
Greenwood says providing a personalized experience attracts guests to her business. “We start a relationship with them from the moment they ring our phone,” said Greenwood, who says that she caters mainly to couples and business travelers.
Like Greenwood, part of Mulzac’s business plan is providing clients with a personalized experience. He and his wife are designing tour packages of New York City that can be customized to fit different client’s needs. His daughter Shayla, 13, corresponds with tenants before their arrival to inform them about the weather, to inquiry about what type of brochures they should have on hand, and what type of food they should stock in the refrigerator. Tenants’ names are also placed next to the buzzers on the building’s front door.
“He did way too much for us,” said Michael Vargas, 28, who was Mulzac’s first tenant. Vargas, a New Mexico native who currently lives in Texas, was visiting the city with a group of seven friends who stayed in the building for six nights.
Mulzac, who started renting the units in the last week of September, is targeting tourists traveling in groups. He makes arrangements with renters by using websites, such as Homeaway.com, which is a platform for homeowners to connect with short-term renters.
A search for “Brooklyn” on Homeaway.com turns up 156 properties, some of which are also in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “To get people to come to yours you have to be better. You have to give people more,” said Mulzac, who has equipped his three-bedroom, two-bath duplexes with amenities such as computers, faxes, flat screen TVs, and telescopes. The building also includes a roof deck with views of Manhattan and a large barbeque.
Mulzac says that he has 15 bookings for his vacation home, some of which are for April 2011. He charges $275 a night and $1700 for a week’s stay. At the Best Western Arena Hotel, located two blocks south of Mulzac’s building, the price for seven adults to stay in two rooms with city views, a 42-inch TV, and other amenities for a week in April is approximately $2070.
Although Mulzac may have to deal with a multitude of tenants, he has the potential to earn more in a month than other landlords who rent three-bedroom apartments with long-term leases. On Craigslist, 163 ads for 3-bedroom apartments in “Bedstuy” were posted in the last 30 days. Rent on those apartments ranges from $1300 to $3400 a month. If Mulzac books one of his apartment for 4-weeks in a month, he can earn $6800.
Mulzac says the idea to build a vacation home came about after a conversation with his wife. “We said you know what, we’re going to put all our eggs in one basket and my retirement, my 401k, because it was doing so bad…it doesn’t even make sense to keep [money] in,” said Mulzac.
“The only thing I’m worried about is that when people come here they have a good time,” said Mulzac, who says that many clients who have made bookings have asked if Bedford-Stuyvesant is a “safe” neighborhood. “I said yes it is safe. But that being said, no matter where you go in New York, you got to be cautious.”
Vargas, who had lived in Brooklyn for three years before, was not concerned. “It’s near Fulton. It’s such a busy place. I wasn’t even worried about that,” he said. According to Vargas, he and his friends have spent little time in Bedford-Stuyvesant, choosing to shop and sightsee in Manhattan, Brighton Beach, and Williamsburg.
Mulzac hopes to rent out the building’s commercial space, possibility to a coffee shop, by January. “My wife and I said, no matter who comes here, it’s not going to be another nail salon, it’s not going to be a bodega,” said Mulzac. “We want something that is going to add character to what we have going on upstairs.”