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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | As the Whitney Museum’s new home is starting to rise at the High Line’s southern end, with completion slated for 2015, major changes are in store for the ever-evolving Meatpacking District.
Lauren Danziger, executive director of the Meatpacking District Improvement Association, said she has been told the museum’s estimated visitor figures, and they’re huge — which is exactly what the Whitney’s impact will be.
“Absolutely,” she said, “it brings culture Downtown in a big way — not that we don’t have culture right now. But it will change the face of the neighborhood.” For one, the museum crowds will mean more shopping, she said, in a district that is currently nightlife-heavy.
The smaller, adjacent High Line maintenance-and-operations building is farther along than the Whitney project, with its steel structure already built, while the museum is only now starting to rise above its foundation level.
In more immediate happenings, a temporary outdoor retail and food market by Urban Space is set to open on Sat., Sept. 1, at the corner of Washington and 13th Sts., which should be another neighborhood draw, Danziger noted. Momofuku Milk Bar, known for its decadent “compost cookies” and “crack pies,” will be among the market’s vendors.
Taking it down to the street level, as for the district’s stiletto heel-grabbing, uneven, cobblestone roadways, Danziger said the city unfortunately doesn’t plan to reset and level the side streets, as she had hoped. However, a major water-main and sewer-line project will affect Ninth Ave. from 16th St. to Gansevoort St., after which the city will fix up the avenue as well as 50 feet in on the side streets. But Danziger said that won’t happen for a couple of years.
Meanwhile, she slammed the “flak” that the district has faced for its rising rents, calling it unfair and exaggerated.
“Property values are higher — but not as high as Soho,” she said. “I’m sick of hearing that. The prices are similar. The rents are higher than 10 years ago, when they were $20 a square foot — and rightly so.
“It’s like any neighborhood that goes through a rebirth,” she said. “There’s always a backlash against a district when it achieves extreme success. Look at Williamsburg — it was cutting-edge, and now people are knocking it.”
While some high-fashion flagship boutiques have indeed departed, there’s still a fashion presence of “incredible depth,” she noted. Plus, she added, the new, mainstream stores that are coming in are “a little different” than the usual fare. For example, at the new Levi’s store, there is a tailor who will customize jeans, and people can also bring their jeans in for repair.
“The retail environment is definitely changing,” she said.
Basically, the Meatpacking District has it all, according to the M.P.I.A. executive director.
“The Standard is like the height of cool,” she said. “There’s everything from the low-key Brass Monkey bar to high-end Catch — it’s one of the hottest restaurants in the city. And Bagatelle has the most famous brunch in New York City. There’s more to do here than ever. It’s so much fun to be here during the day — and at night.”