Volume 78 / Number 5 - July 2 - July 8, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Florent déjà vu
While celebrated restaurateur/community advocate Florent Morellet closed his famed Meatpacking District diner for good on Sunday after months of speculation over the space’s fate, news broke last week that the landlord plans to reopen it immediately as a restaurant — with the same menu and staff as Florent.

Joanne Lucas, whose father owned the original R&L Restaurant at 69 Gansevoort St. before Morellet started there in the ’80s, reopened the eatery on Wednesday with the plan of retaining Florent’s staff, chef and French menu — but minus the man himself. Morellet and Lucas battled in court earlier this year over rent payments before he decided to leave, and the bistro’s space had reportedly been shopped around to such big-name retailers as Ralph Lauren eyeing space in the newly tony neighborhood.

There’s been speculation that asking rent at the 3,000-square-foot space — reportedly between $50,000 and $70,000 per month — was too steep for prospective tenants, making restaurant use the most viable option, considering the recent increase in traffic there.

Far from the cynical reactions to this decision posted online after Eater.com broke the story, Morellet himself sees the decision as the best possible one given the situation.

“It’s kind of a wonderful twist,” he told Mixed Use the day after Florent served its final meal, adding that Lucas told him she turned down a retail offer that would have included a million-dollar gut renovation of the space. “Isn’t it better that she cashes in on what I did than she cashes in just on the real estate value?” he mused.

Morellet gave his blessing to the retro R&L and any staff deciding to stay on there, and said he would take up Lucas’s offer to return to his former restaurant for a meal. “Everyone should see this as the best outcome,” he declared.

High Line’s high hopes
The term “Gansevoort Woodland” might at first sound like an oxymoron to pedestrians passing through the Meatpacking District, but it will soon become a reality with the debut of the initial section of the High Line park later this year. New renderings for the 1.45-mile elevated former railway were unveiled last week, featuring lush plantings, a public sundeck and wading pool and a “flyover” section where trees will sprout from beneath passersby’s feet.

Section 1 of the park — running from Gansevoort St. to 20th St. — is slated for a late 2008 opening, and will include dense foliage interspersed throughout the walkway, as well as a pass-through art installation near Chelsea Market. Other renderings on display were for the sundeck/dipping pool between 14th and 15th Sts., where pedestrians will be able to lounge in reclined deck chairs or cool their heels in running water next to the walkway; the 10th Ave. Square section at 17th St., which will offer an abundance of public seating and an observation deck; and the 18th St. Plaza, which will boast a street-level plaza, an elevated observation deck and a snack bar, to be built subsequent to the initial section.

Portions of the second section, between 20th and 30th Sts., set for a 2009 opening, include an open lawn and amphitheater-style seating, an elevated section with sumac trees rising underneath and a “viewing spur” where pedestrians will be able to sit while overlooking the street through a frame that once held a billboard.

“It’s a park in the sky that could transform the area,” said Amanda Burden, Department of City Planning commissioner, who attended the event with Adrian Benepe, the Parks Department commissioner; Robert Hammond and Joshua David, Friends of the High Line co-founders; and principals from the project’s architecture and design teams. When it’s finished, Burden added, the High Line will amount to “the most extraordinary park in the city.”

Hudson square leads way
Office leasing in Midtown South outpaced its monthly average for the first time this year, with signings in the Hudson Square/Tribeca subdistrict leading the way, according to a market report by CB Richard Ellis.

In May, tenants took a total of 370,000 square feet in Midtown South, 16 percent ahead of the five-year monthly average of 320,000 square feet.

For the cluster of neighborhoods constituting Midtown South — which also includes Park Ave. South/Madison Square, Chelsea, Flatiron, Union Square and Noho/Soho — the Hudson Square/Tribeca subdistrict accounted for 60 percent of the entire area’s leasing activity (220,000 square feet). The majority of that figure came from Newsweek’s inking a deal for 165,000 square feet in May; however, the subdistrict’s availability rate remained disproportionately high for the area.

Although the Noho/Soho subdistrict had the area’s highest rents at $60.12 per square foot, an $0.82 drop from the month prior, it experienced no leasing activity throughout May.

Average asking rents in Midtown South totaled $52.87 in May, a $.048 drop from the previous month, but up $8.93 from the same period last year.

Overall vacancy for Midtown South remained steady at 10.6 percent, according to CBRE, although another report released by Colliers ABR had the area’s vacancy rate dipping below 10 percent for the first time since January.


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