Volume 78 / Number 18 - October 1 - 7, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower
East Side, Since 1933

Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Downtown reeling

You know the commercial real estate market is in for some unpredictable times when the usually vanilla local market reports start out with phrases like “uncharted territory.”

According to brokerage CB Richard Ellis’s August office report, leasing activity in some Downtown markets is off by two-thirds its monthly average, with some typically dependable submarkets showing substantial decreases attributable to the weakening economy.

The Midtown South study area — comprised of Chelsea, the Flatiron District, Park Ave. South/Madison Square, Union Square, Noho/Soho and Hudson Square/Tribeca — inked a total of 110,000 square feet of leases in August, down 67 percent from its five-year monthly average of 330,000 square feet. That figure is half the July total of 220,000 square feet, led by major dips in Chelsea, Flatiron and Hudson Square/Tribeca.

Chelsea and Flatiron each saw a total of just 10,000 square feet of leasing activity in August, falling 88 percent and 83 percent short of their respective averages. Leasing was off 71 percent in Hudson Square/Tribeca, which tallied only 20,000 square feet of signings, while the Union Square and Noho/Soho submarkets each totaled about 10,000 square feet of leasing, trailing their averages by approximately half. Overall leasing activity in Midtown South for the year to date sits at 1.87 million square feet, about one-third off its August 2007 total of 2.67 million square feet.

Museum’s top honor

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum can boast the nation’s highest honor for a museum with the announcement this week that it had been awarded this year’s National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

First Lady Laura Bush will confer the honor on the Tenement Museum — along with a group of other museums and libraries across the nation receiving recognition by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services — at an Oct. 7 White House ceremony.

The I.M.L.S. awards the National Medal to 10 institutions annually for outstanding community outreach programs. The Tenement Museum was cited for its “Shared Journeys” program, which encourages students learning English to recount their own experiences as immigrants after taking tours of the museum; its “Kitchen Conversations” initiative, which asks participants to share their thoughts on the country’s immigration issues; and its part in creating the book “The New York Times Guide for Immigrants in New York City.”

This is the second year that I.M.L.S. has honored 10 institutions, previously only awarding medals to three museums and three libraries.

“We’re really delighted,” said Renne Epps, Tenement Museum executive vice president, whose institution will also receive $10,000 as part of the award. Most recently, back in May, the Tenement Museum helped lobby for the neighborhood’s inclusion on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”

Wasting away in BurritoVille

After closing one of its chain restaurants in the East Village last month, Tex-Mex fast-food eatery BurritoVille appears to have folded the whole enchilada, including a location in the West Village and three in Lower Manhattan.

The Zagat-rated chain, which first opened in 1992, had 11 restaurants throughout Manhattan, including one on Second Ave. and another on Bleecker St.

Calls to various BurritoVille addresses throughout the city have yielded no response, and restaurant president and C.E.O. Jeffrey Bernstein recently told Mixed Use he hoped to have the locations reopened “within a week or two,” acknowledging he “can’t say too much right now.”

However, the eatery’s official Web site recently closed, and many online listings for its locations have indicated they have gone out of business. The chain — known for its affordable prices and vegetarian selections — has found increasing competition in the Mexican fast-food market with ever-expanding chains like Chipotle and Qdoba.

Street fighter

Apparently Mike Bloomberg isn’t much a fan of expensive gyros and cheap sunglasses, as the mayor acknowledged last week that the city’s ubiquitous street fairs are generic and unnecessary.

Bloomberg cited the fairs at a town-hall meeting in response to a question about why the “Summer Streets” initiative that closed down portions of Manhattan’s main drags to vehicular traffic were held on Saturdays instead of Sundays: “I think we have too many street fairs,” he said, according to the New York Post, noting they were a common Sunday occurrence.

“Street fairs supposedly help communities by giving a lot of money,” he added. “I don’t think you can ever find a dime that they ever got from them. They’re supposed to do unique things. They’re all the same.”

However, Bloomberg said he won’t wage war on the city’s 350-some yearly fairs, choosing instead to focus on bigger issues, like fixing the school system. According to the Post, the city collects 20 percent of vendors’ fees for street fairs that occupy more than a block, which last year totaled $1.6 million.

Boxed in

Lower East Side burlesque boite The Box, which has been getting battered recently with barbs from the community, earned a reprieve from Community Board 3 last week when the full board voted to postponing its decision on the club’s liquor license renewal until next month’s meeting.

The popular yet contentious nightclub has received a litany of complaints from nearby residents regarding noise and traffic emanating from its 189 Chrystie St. address, and Board 3’s Licensing Committee voted unanimously to turn down The Box’s request for a liquor license renewal on Sept. 14.

However, the board decided to table its final decision at last week’s full board meeting until October’s committee meeting, giving the beleaguered nightspot more time to clean up its act.

C.B. 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said The Box’s ownership has been reaching out to the board and residents for months to resolve outstanding issues, and that the club has “spent a lot of money and done a lot of work” to remedy these problems.

“What I believe they’re going to try to do is come to some kind of written agreement of what The Box will be responsible for,” she said of negotiations among the concerned parties. “If they resolve this and come to the committee meeting with an agreement,” the committee would likely recommend the renewal if the club adheres to a list of agreed-upon stipulations. But, she added, “Whether it is enough is something only the residents can say.”


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