Volume 77 / Number 43 | March 26 - April 1, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Landmarking Florent?
The announcement last week that Meatpacking District pioneer Florent Morellet will indeed soon be packing it in at his famed diner at 69 Gansevoort St. has sparked offers from “a number” of hungry tenants looking to cash in on the cachet of the increasingly upscale area.

Matt Cohen, director of the Retail Services Group at The Lansco Corporation, the property’s exclusive leasing agent, said he’s received interest from both restaurant and retail tenants eyeing the nearly 3,000-square-foot space, including two floors in total, between Greenwich and Washington Sts.

Morellet has maintained the property’s historic R&L Restaurant facade since opening in 1985. The building is in the landmarked Gansevoort Historic District and would require approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission if the new tenant decided to make aesthetic changes. L.P.C. spokesperson Lisi de Bourbon said any renovations would have to be contextual with surrounding buildings, adding, however, “It’s hard to say what can be changed.”

“That’s not going to be an easy task,” Morellet commented on any hypothetical structural modifications by a future tenant, calling the restaurant’s exterior “one of the most important facades of the historic district.”

Community Board 2 also recently put forth a request to landmark the restaurant’s interior, and Morellet noted that the community’s support for preserving the entire space has been fervent enough to prevent any type of radical revisions at the site.

“I’d love if the inside would be kept as it is,” Morellet said, describing R&L’s history as a former haunt for longshoremen, and its interior overhaul in the mid-to-late 1940s. “Not to have [Florent] stay there, but for the history in the long run, because we don’t have that many left in New York City.”

Cohen countered that if a nonrestaurant “dry use” tenant takes the space — similar to many of the high-end fashion and accessory retailers that have migrated to the neighborhood — the new tenant would at least require major indoor renovations.

“It’s hard for anybody else to take that space and utilize it in its current configuration,” Cohen said, adding asking prices for the property are in the $225-per-square-foot range. “I have a feeling that if it’s going to be a dry use, they won’t keep that restaurant,” he said.

L.E.S. jitters
Retailers could be showing signs of skittishness at some prime Lower East Side properties due to increasing market concerns and the constant din of construction, according to some prominent Downtown brokers.

Mixed Use spoke to real estate agents who said that while bars and restaurants are still some of the most desirable commercial uses for retail space, community backlash has made the process more onerous for these operators. Add to that construction activity around every corner, and retailers have started looking south toward Delancey St. and below to avoid the crush farther north near Houston St.

For example, the ground-floor retail space at 188 Ludlow St. — which contains nearly 5,500 total square feet below one of the area’s most notable new residential developments — might have difficulty finding a tenant amid worries of a recession and a new hesitancy to gamble on a restaurant/nightlife establishment.

“They’re not making decisions right now,” one major Downtown broker confided of both retailers’ and property owners’ cautious attitude toward L.E.S. real estate. “It scares the s--t out of me, too.”

“The rents in this little corridor have really gone up,” said an agent of the red-hot areas around Houston St., where space like that at 188 Ludlow would likely go for about $150 per square foot. “People are gravitating south,” the agent said.

The agent pointed to a Bank of America branch possibly opening in the ground floor of the new School of Visual Arts building at 101 Ludlow St., near Delancey St., an area previously perceived as untenable by some larger retail tenants.

And with construction cranes operating at almost every corner farther north, the neighborhood loses both the tranquility and edge it once possessed.

“I love grittier neighborhoods,” said one broker, a lifelong New Yorker. “But there are things that are not conducive to getting people down there.”

Jerry’s Asian fusion
Jerry Joseph, owner of former Soho standby Jerry’s, which shuttered after two decades on Prince St. last summer, has decided to head east — by way of a southbound move to Tribeca, where he plans to open an Asian “fast-food concept” restaurant next month.

When Mixed Use inquired about a possible Jerry’s redux at a new location, Joseph had no good news for Downtowners missing his hip brunch hangout, which he has no plans to reopen. His new venture, located on Chambers St. between Church St. and Broadway, will offer customers takeout and delivery operations during the day, and a sit-down restaurant at night, including Thai, Indonesian, Chinese and Japanese options.

The new eatery, YourAsian, is currently in the last stages of construction and “will soon start testing the menu,” Joseph confirmed of the final preparations.

Meanwhile, designer Michael Kors opened a store in place of the old restaurant at 101 Prince St. late last year, so Jerry’s fans will have to head elsewhere for their Dutch eggs.

‘Take your medicine’
Two of the most massive projects proposed in and around the Village — the plans for redeveloping Pier 40 and St. Vincent’s Hospital — have received their fair share of ink in this newspaper. But recently, some of the larger city publications have sought to chime in on issue in favor of the type of development decried by so many local residents both at public meetings and in these pages.

An editorial in the March 10 issue of Crain’s New York Business expressed support for The Related Companies’ much-ballyhooed “Vegas on the Hudson” plan for Pier 40, calling it the “only financially viable option.”

While critics have derided Related’s vision, Crain’s stated, “it’s hard to see what is so offensive about creating a permanent New York home for the popular Cirque du Soleil.”

The editorial then tackled the Rudin/St. Vincent’s proposal to erect a 21-story tower in addition to major residential components that the community has questioned since Day One. Crain’s accurately stated, “The clash is over whether the project is too big for the neighborhood”; however, the business publication opined that without Rudin’s involvement, insufficient funds would be available to realize the new hospital.

“The biggest beneficiaries of both a redeveloped Pier 40 and a new St. Vincent’s will be Village residents, who will have a first-class recreational and entertainment facility as well as a state-of-the-art medical facility in their backyard,” the editorial went on, after earlier noting the neighborhood’s activist nature as the reason for its firm character. “But that is what they will have to do,” Crain’s counseled, “for the benefit of all Village residents and all other New Yorkers.”


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