Volume 75, Number 37 | February 1 - 7, 2006

Home Depot is looking for a home in Hudson Sq.

By Alex Schmidt

To push a big-box store into the Hudson Square neighborhood of Downtown Manhattan quietly and successfully, follow one simple rule: keep it under the radar.

That appears to be exactly what Home Depot and Trinity Real Estate have done in what may be an imminent lease-signing for a 107,000-square-foot space at 345 Hudson St., between King and Charlton Sts., one block south of Houston St. Yancey Casey, a Home Depot spokesperson, said that the lease had not yet been signed but that “they are close,” while a spokesperson for Trinity, the property owner, confirmed that the two parties “are talking.”

Carl Weisbrod, president of Trinity’s real estate division, did not confirm discussions with Home Depot but did say the chain would benefit Downtown. “From our perspective, Home Depot would be a great addition to Lower Manhattan,” he said. “It’s a great use given all of the activity and residential growth down here.”
He said the store should not cause traffic problems because many customers going to the store’s Manhattan locations take public transportation.

“I’ve always been in favor of big-box retail in the city,” Weisbrod said, referring to his previous jobs running the city’s Economic Development Corporation and the Financial District’s business improvement district. He said the city loses a lot of sales tax revenue to the suburbs, adding, “Retail has been one of the biggest issues in Lower Manhattan since before Sept. 11.”

While benefits of the deal to Home Depot and Trinity are obvious, the sentiment among many of the neighborhood’s longtime residents and business owners recalls familiar gripes that were voiced in the last attempted big-box encroachment in the area, at Pier 40 at W. Houston St. in the Hudson River Park. In that 2003 push, community representatives and residents stridently protested what would have been the third Home Depot in Manhattan — the other two being at 23rd and 59th Sts. — feeling it was inappropriate for a park and for the historic, low-scale neighborhood. Ultimately, the Hudson River Park Trust dropped commercial development plans of the pier, at least for the time being, and, in an interim plan, installed a large, multiuse sports field in the pier’s courtyard.

A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents Chelsea and part of the Village and who opposed the Pier 40 big-box plans, said that recourses for blocking such developments must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. In the Pier 40 situation, for example, parks and sports fields were at stake, while in other cases, commercial developments have been blocked by claims of a site’s historical significance. Neither of these approaches will be available in the case of 345 Hudson St., a nonlandmarked building on a wholly commercial stretch of street, at which the Home Depot is reportedly planned.

At risk, according to Hudson Square resident Joanne Hendricks, are “the personal touch and character that make New York wonderful.” Hendricks, who has lived in her circa 1850 home for 30 years and sees herself as a caretaker of the historic property, says that the community “does not need a Home Depot.” She and other residents of the neighborhood are loyal patrons of Garber Hardware, where, as Hendricks put it, “they know my name and can give me real advice.”

Garber, established in 1884 and currently run by fifth-generation owner Nathaniel Garber, is one of the businesses that stands to lose if Home Depot comes in. Garber, however, is concerned not only as a competing business owner but also as a resident of the neighborhood. “From a business perspective, I’m sure it’ll affect us. But from a New Yorker perspective, I think it’s disgusting,” he said. “The cookie-cutter thing doesn’t appeal to most New Yorkers and that’s exactly why we pay the huge premiums to live here…. Those stores don’t belong here.”

Garber added, “I hope that the residents take up arms, because it’ll be a blight on their neighborhood.”

This time around, though, the deal seems to have been brewing without the knowledge of the community. While the spokesperson from Quinn’s office said they would be watching the deal from here on out, keeping in mind what would inevitably be the “big concerns” of residents, she added that up until the last couple of days, “It was under our radar, too.”

With reporting by Josh Rogers

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