Volume 73, Number 50 | March 14 - 20, 2004

Flower Mkt. transplant to Meat Mkt. germinates

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Villager photo by Alanu Marcu

At the Flower Market in the W. 20s.

If community advocates have their way, early-morning shoppers in the Meatpacking District would one day be able to pick up begonias along with their beef.

For years, flower wholesalers have been looking to move from the area around W. 28th St. and Broadway, where rising rents and other pressures have made it difficult for them to remain. Save the Gansevoort Market, a community group, is now investigating the possibility of transferring the Flower Market to the Meatpacking District.

Supporters say the Flower Market would make a logical addition to the neighborhood.

“It’s probably one of the best ideas I’ve heard of in years,” said Robert Wilkins, president of Lamb Unlimited, Inc., on Washington St.

Meat and flower wholesalers have similar needs, Wilkins explained. Both are early-morning businesses that require lots of room and refrigeration.

The proposal is still in its infancy, said Jo Hamilton and Florent Morellet, co-chairpersons of Save Gansevoort Market, a project of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The community group recently received a $30,000 grant to study the feasibility of establishing a Gansevoort Flower Market.

“We need to prove this is doable,” Hamilton said in an interview last Friday at Florent, Morellet’s restaurant on Gansevoort St., at which she was accompanied by Morellet.

The feasibility study will identify possible locations for the Flower Market. Andrew Berman, executive director of G.V.S.H.P., said the society was targeting the area west of Washington St., outside the recently designated Gansevoort Market Historic District.

The proposed site is a mix of city, state and privately owned land, Berman said. While it is zoned for manufacturing uses, the enormous drive to create residential apartments leaves the area vulnerable to re-zoning if the land lies empty, the society fears. So moving flower wholesalers to Gansevoort would not only preserve the market character of the area, it would also preclude the construction of residential towers on the land, Berman said.

Tommy Grilli, manager of James McManus florist on Greenwich Ave. at Eighth Ave., said that a Gansevoort Flower Market would help out him in a pinch. He said he gets most of his flowers from a wholesaler offering lower prices than the Flower District, but he sometimes runs up to W. 28th St. to fulfill special, last-minute orders. In those instances, it would be more convenient if the market were closer, Grilli said.

Since the mid-1990s, when a stretch of Sixth Ave. encompassing the Flower District was rezoned from industrial to residential use, rising land prices have put the squeeze on blossom sellers. Gary Page, president of the Flower Market Association, said that roughly one-third of his 41 wholesalers owned their buildings; even so, he added, both renters and owners have felt the effects of increased land values.

Page said among the many locations the association has considered for its new home, including Harlem and Long Island City, Gansevoort has been the most enthusiastically received.

“This makes people smile and be happy,” Page said.

Page said the future success of the market depended on flower sellers moving together to a location. People who rely on daily supplies of fresh flowers, such as decorators and event planners, like to have one central place to shop, Page said.

“It’s the happiest I’d be, if they move there,” said Mohamed Abrahim, of United Wholesale Florist, Ltd. at 120 W. 28th St.

But Abrahim said he doubted the market would move quickly, since it had been looking for years and previous deals had collapsed.

“I’ll retire here and they’ll still be looking for a new place,” said Abrahim, 53, who said he hopes to retire in two years.

Page acknowledged the logistics of transferring the market were daunting.

“Major land use in Manhattan is a complicated business and we need immense political goodwill and also big bucks,” Page said. He added the market hoped to secure 100,000 to 150,000 sq. ft. for its new location.

Page said the city Economic Development Corporation has been supportive of the market’s efforts to find a new home.

Janel Patterson, a spokesperson for the corporation, confirmed that E.D.C. had been working with the Flower Market. The city recognizes the economic benefit of urban markets, she said.

“We think it’s a very definite positive for the city,” Patterson said.

The situation with the Flower Market is not the same as that of the Fulton Fish Market, which early next year will move to the Bronx in its entirety. Both markets date back to the 19th century, but the Fish Market has a much more unified structure, Patterson said. Also, the city owns most of the land the Fish Market occupies, and the market’s departure clears the way for profitable development on the site.

Organizers say much work remains in their efforts to move the Flower Market to Gansevoort, including an additional $100,000 for the feasibility study. On May 20, Save Gansevoort Market will hold a fundraising cocktail party at the W. 12th St. studio of designer Diane von Furstenberg.

Page said he is optimistic about the market’s possibilities for a Gansevoort move, and about its partnership with Save Gansevoort Market.

“We feel we work very well together,” Page said. “And we would love to be down there.”

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