By Josh Rogers
Transform a commercial area into a mixed-use neighborhood with more residents. In one sense Carl Weisbrod has been there and done that, but he said its different each time it happens.
Weisbrod, president of Trinity Real Estate, came to the firm two years ago after a decade encouraging residential development in the Wall St. area as the president of the Downtown Alliance, which runs the Financial Districts business improvement district.
He said Hudson Square will develop in its own way, but like Wall St. 10 years ago, the area needs more residents, better retail and would be helped by a BID.
No question about it, Weisbrod said in an interview last week. We are very interested in pursuing a BID.
Business districts are supervised by the city and charge property owners an added tax to keep the streets cleaner, provide more security and recruit new businesses.
Trinity, the neighborhoods largest property owner, tried to create a BID four years ago but dropped the effort after some smaller property owners and residents resisted. Weisbrod said he thought the first effort failed because both Trinity and the neighborhood were in transition and he is hopeful to have more success than his predecessors.
He has begun talking with property owners and expects to begin discussing the plans with local community leaders within the next several months. At the Alliance, Weisbrod developed a close working relationship with Community Board 1, which borders Hudson Square. The Alliance and C.B. 1 worked together on a plan to transform the East River waterfront before 9/11. Eventually the city adopted major elements of the plan, which is currently being built with a $150 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.
Although Trinity agrees with community leaders on many issues, there are also potential points of disagreement. Some residents are trying to downzone part of the area, a move that Trinity would likely resist if it took away too big a chunk of its development rights.
Trinity owns about almost 4 million square feet of office space in the neighborhood and over 1 million square feet within a few blocks. The areas commercial real estate market is rebounding, although not as quickly as other parts of the city.
Hudson Square had been one of the last commercial areas to get well and the first to get sick, Weisbrod said.
Trinitys office vacancy rate is 15 percent and almost one-third of its retail space is empty. Office tenants also want things like drugstores and better shops, he said, and the best way to get that is to see the residential development continue.
They want more in the way of street activity and amenities, and theres general recognition that unless there is more residential activity, thats going to be hard to come by, Weisbrod said.
He said residents and workers will undoubtedly make good use of the 92nd St. Y, which is about to open a center in a Trinity building in Tribeca, a block from Hudson Sq.
With the firms offices mostly full and recent leases to high-profile firms like WNYC Radio and New York magazine, Weisbrod said Trinity is not considering converting any buildings, but for the first time, is open to building residentially on its development sites. Trinitys Downtown land holdings were part of a donation Queen Anne of England made to the church in 1705 and Trinity Real Estate operates as a separate arm of Trinity Church on Wall St.
We have very, very long-term interest in this neighborhood, Weisbrod said. Were not market timers.
The firm has not yet taken a close look at the city plan to build a parking garage tower for garbage trucks in the neighborhood. Weisbrod, who has longtime relationships with city officials and once was president of the citys Economic Development Corp., said he suspects the city may be making major changes to the plan since it was unveiled at the beginning of the year, and it still has not been certified to go through the approval process.
Trinity has also dipped its toe into the hotel market. It has a deal with Tribeca Associates, developers of the 60 Thompson hotel in Soho, to open a boutique hotel at 330 Hudson St., perhaps by early 2009. The building will also have office space.
Like many Downtown, Weisbrod is less than thrilled with the 45-story Trump Soho hotel-condo project being built on Varick St. Opponents say the building is out of scale for the neighborhood and will operate like a regular condominium, which Donald Trump could not have built under zoning law.
I think, Weisbrod said, choosing his words very carefully, that it probably is a good example of why comprehensive planning is a good thing.