Volume 78 / Number 16, September 17 - 23, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Burnishing the Bowery
Modern art and architecture have become a de rigueur tenant trend on the Bowery, with galleries and high-rises supplanting the stretch’s old tenements and restaurant suppliers.

Last week, the New Museum reportedly purchased the adjacent six-story property at 231 Bowery for $16 million after a six-month negotiation process. The contemporary-art museum plans to initially use the building for offices and storage, with a possible expansion of programming into the additional 47,000 square feet yet to come. No word yet on whether the property will be redesigned to echo its irregularly shaped neighbor, or graced with any exterior installations; but a new ground-floor tenant will be brought in to replace the current restaurant-equipment distributor housed there.

Just a block north of the New Museum, renderings of a new and similarly cantilevered building designed by British architect Norman Foster recently popped up online, with a Meatpacking District gallery planning to take over the space.

After the Sperone Westwater Gallery scooped up the five-story apartment building at 257 Bowery for $8.5 million in July, real estate blog Curbed.com recently posted images of an innovative, Foster-imagined space featuring multiple glass-facade possibilities. The move marks another in the growing roster of gallery district-to-Bowery relocations using the New Museum as an anchor. Both museum projects will avoid development restrictions put in place by the recent rezoning of the East Village and Lower East Side.

Dirty money
The city has always acted as a canvas for advertisers. So a local pol has recommended plastering ads on the lowliest of street furnishings to generate money in the downturning economy.

Brooklyn Councilmember David Yassky, who is running for city comptroller, suggested Sunday that attaching ads to garbage cans could produce millions for the city, a sensible strategy considering ads can already be found gracing other city-owned street structures throughout the boroughs.

“We need to be as creative as we can about finding sources of revenues to ease the burden on taxpayers,” Yassky said yesterday, according to report in the New York Sun. “We sold advertising on newsstands and bus shelters and other so-called street furniture. There’s just no reason not to extend that to trash cans.”

The statement follows on other attempted efforts to increase advertising in public spaces, including Queens Councilmember Melinda Katz’s legislation to allow the posting of ads on construction sheds and scaffolding.

The city inked a $1.4 billion deal in 2005 for Spanish company Cemusa to provide advertising on hundreds of new bus shelters, newsstands and public restrooms.

Restaurant review
Restaurants should be issued a letter grade based on findings from city health inspections and required to post these scores in full view of diners, according to a legislator’s suggestion for more transparency in the process.

“With [the city Health Department’s] assignment of numerical weights to various violations depending on their severity and the degree of restaurant noncompliance, New York City’s is one of the most sophisticated, and complicated, grading systems in the state,” read Bronx state Senator Jeff Klein’s report, “Restaurants Enough to Make You Sick.” Klein released his report on Sunday while standing in front of Meatpacking District hot spot Del Posto, noting it failed a June Health Department inspection. “Unfortunately, the intricacy of this system can make it difficult for consumers to comprehend,” the report said.

While outlining the most common types of health violations — including vermin, insects and food-borne illnesses — the report added that consumers can currently only access Health Department findings online, which “is not always practical or possible when you’re looking for a convenient meal.” The restaurant’s letter grade would be based on its most recent inspection and should reflect the nature of the violations found, the report stated.

Klein also cited the best- and worst-ranked restaurants in the city, according to recent health inspections — with Caffe Palermo in Little Italy earning “Golden Apple” honors, and 26 Seats in the East Village making Klein’s “Dirty Dozen” list.

Vacancy up, prices down
The vacancy rate for Downtown office space shot back up again in August after dropping the month before, as average prices slid slightly across the area’s five submarkets.

Echoing an increase from earlier this summer, overall vacancy for Class A, B and C office space climbed to 9.9 percent for the month of August after closing at 9.6 percent in July. According to a report from Colliers ABR, the increase in office space in the Midtown South study area — which includes Chelsea, Flatiron, Soho/Noho/Village, Tribeca and Hudson Square — was led by an uptick in vacancies in Chelsea and Flatiron.

The August vacancy rate reflected the same shown in May, which then rose to 10.0 percent in June prior to the marked decrease in July.

The overall asking price in Midtown South dropped almost half a buck in August — from $49.63 per square foot in July to $49.16. In contrast, overall vacancy in August 2007 sat at 7.2 percent, with average asking rents coming in at $45.74.

Soho mural defaced
Taggers targeted a landmark artwork in Soho last week, spray-painting over the bottom portion of a five-story mural at Prince and Greene Sts. after the piece had remained untouched for over 30 years.

Artist Richard Haas used the east wall of the building at 112 Prince St. in 1975 as a canvas for his tromp l’oeil mural, which imitated the building’s cast-iron facade and became a celebrated piece of public art in the neighborhood.

The new graffiti appears to be part of a spree by taggers who also spray-painted a nearby parking lot on Wooster St. with similar writing. Soho Alliance Director Sean Sweeney said his organization would pay to restore the vandalized portion of Haas’s work.

A couple of months ago, a developer interested in building higher at the adjacent, one-story property contacted Sweeney regarding the mural, who suggested an artwork be replicated at another location in the neighborhood if Haas’s mural were to blocked by new construction.

“I can’t imagine someone doing that to a famous mural,” Sweeney said, discounting a theory put forth by one neighbor that the developer might have been behind the vandalism. “It’s hard to believe that some wealthy developer would do that, but it’s hard to believe a graffitist would do that,” Sweeney said.

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