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BY JENNIFER E. FALK | Union Square continues to be one of the hottest neighborhoods in New York City. Working with our neighborhood partners, the Union Square Partnership continues our dedication and commitment to one of the city’s most vibrant, 24-hour communities.
Anyone who lives, shops or even passes through the Union Square district knows there is always something to do, see or visit. Union Square is home to more than 70,000 residents, 142,000 workers and 40,000 students. U.S.P. recently commissioned a pedestrian study that found an astonishing 349,311 pedestrians walking through Union Square on a Greenmarket weekday — the highest since our organization began keeping records.
The Union Square Partnership is working harder than ever to keep the district clean and in tip-top shape. In 2012 our dedicated Clean Team spent more than 45,000 hours scrubbing and painting, plus removing more than 124,000 bags of trash.
And business here has never been better. The Union Square neighborhood has one of the city’s smallest ground-floor vacancy rates and consistently comes in below the city’s average. Our latest “Biz & Broker Quarterly” newsletter found ground-floor vacancy at a mere 2 percent. On average, the citywide annual vacancy rate is 5 percent.
The low vacancy rate just proves what many shoppers already know: Union Square is one of the most eclectic shopping districts in the city. Just in the last year, Union Square welcomed 49 new retailers to the district, with the largest store opening being Burlington Coat Factory, a 92,000-square-foot flagship store located on Union Square South. Burlington Coat Factory recruited more than 500 employees from the area, with help from U.S.P. and the city’s Department of Small Business Services.
In addition to growing retail opportunities at every price point, the neighborhood has also been a magnet for the city’s emerging tech sector. Our estimates show 630,000 square feet is dedicated to technology companies, employing nearly 3,000 people. Among the largest office leases signed last year was Spotify, with 63,285 square feet on the east side of Sixth Ave. and 18th St. — an expansion from its former 11,000 square feet in Google’s building in Chelsea.
To ensure the growth of the tech sector and strengthen the opportunities for our large student body, the neighborhood welcomed the city’s first high school dedicated to the new tech economy, the Academy for Software Engineering, housed in the Washington Irving Educational Campus. Its curriculum is guided by tech titan Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.
The neighborhood is also home to The New School’s fabulous new University Center — currently under construction at 65 Fifth Ave. Students are slated to start moving into the building this August.
In addition, the New York School Construction Authority has began construction at 10 E. 15th St. on I.S./H.S. 868, a building that will feature cutting-edge sustainable technology allowing it to produce all the energy it consumes. This school is scheduled to open in September 2015.
The neighborhood’s soaring popularity has also grabbed the attention of the hospitality industry. In 2013, the number of hotel rooms will nearly double, with two new hotels scheduled to open in early spring. The Art Deco-style Jade Hotel on W. 13th St. off Sixth Ave. will welcome its first guests in March, while the 178-room Hyatt Union Square on 13th St. at the corner of Fourth Ave. is projected to open in April.
Not to be outdone, the W New York-Union Square on E. 17th St. is undergoing the final phase of its $100 million gut renovation this spring with the completion of the Living Room, the popular high-end lounge adjacent to the hotel’s lobby. The new space will feature the sharp new aesthetic that can already be seen in the hotel’s 270 renovated guestrooms, famed nightlife venue Lilium (formerly Underbar) and Olives, the hotel’s popular Todd English restaurant.
Meanwhile, the most recent additions to the district’s boutique restaurant scene are Beyond Sushi on 14th St. and (coming soon!) Pizza Vinoteca on 15th St. These great restaurants join other restaurants with critically acclaimed celebrity chefs, such as Union Square Cafe, Casa Mono and Craft. Star restaurateurs Jo-Ann Makovitzky and Marco A. Moreira, renowned for restaurants Tocqueville and 15 East, will be opening Hyatt Union Square’s signature hotel restaurants this spring.
Of course, one would be remiss not to sample the delicious food by participating in U.S.P.’s annual Harvest in the Square fundraiser for Union Square Park. Last fall marked the food event’s 17th year and featured more than 50 local restaurants, the Greenmarket and nearly 20 wineries. Last year’s event was one of the most successful to date, with more than 1,200 foodies enjoying the mouthwatering offerings.
Harvest in the Square allows the Union Square Partnership to continue to make substantial investments in Union Square Park, the neighborhood’s crown jewel and anchor for the district’s success. Last year, we continued our annual landscaping efforts, planting more than 1,000 annuals, 900 perennials and 75 ornamental shrubs in the park and surrounding pedestrian plazas. Extending out of the park, U.S.P. enhanced the gateway to the park by landscaping and caring for the 100 neighborhood street trees that line 14th St. and surround the park.
To activate the park during the warm summer months, Union Square Partnership continued our popular free programs that make the neighborhood an exciting place to live, work, and play. Last summer, more than 3,500 people joined U.S.P. for Summer in the Square, a nine-week series of fitness and entertainment. U.S.P. worked with our community partners to bring free classes in yoga, running, cardio boot camp, hip-hop, zumba, face-painting, modern dance and music to the park each week.
To keep up with the success of our programs and the neighborhood’s growth, U.S.P. is reinforcing our commitment this year by bolstering the free Wi-Fi we offer park visitors.
All of Union Square’s growth and success would not be possible without the continued support of our anchor institutions, such as Con Edison, The New School, New York University and Beth Israel Medical Center. These prestigious institutions are in good company with other prominent businesses that contribute to the neighborhood, such as Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, Whole Foods Market Union Square and Barnes & Noble.
The formula for the neighborhood’s growing success and revitalization also includes your help and voice. We urge you to join the conversation and connect with the Union Square Partnership. Subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter, “On the Square,” read our blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We look forward to seeing you around the Square!
Falk is executive director, Union Square Partnership