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Manhattan Loft Guy

Sep. 30, 2013 - ch ch ch changes September 30, 2013

 
change is good, isn't it??
This blog was born in March 2006, back in the Pleistocene Era of "social media" on the inter-tubes, with the creation of this free blog platform for real estate professionals and kind support of Internet Crusade. Two-thousand-plus posts later, the technology options have changed enough that I have migrated Manhattan Loft Guy to a WordPress platform.

I imagine that this will be my last post here on RealTown, though I expect that this site will remain for the time being, as I have not yet discovred a way to import past comments to the new platform and there are a million (approximately) back links that will probably never be updated to the new platform.

If you bookmarked the blog at www.ManhattanLoftGuy.com that should make the switch painlessly and automatically; if you use the "RealTown" root you will need to update.

My first post over there introduces the change, updates my profile, and leads to all my past content. It lacks the lovely MLG logo, but that (and other refinements, improvements, updates) is coming.

Lofty and unending gratitude to the RealTown Team (especially Tim, Ashley & John).

© Sandy Mattingly 2013

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Jul. 7, 2013 - memory lane: from luxury jewelry to ladies underwear to a union bank to the inevitable condo

 

 

Seven Years Ago Today on Manhattan Loft Guy

You were warned in my July 4 post that you’ve got a couple of weeks of archived Manhattan Loft Guy material coming up. In my July 7, 2006, dynamic city / time runs out on a stripped Tiffany’s, I reviewed the history and eventual denuding of a Tiffany’s flagship on Union Square. While I was right about the eventual outcome (in the Fourth Act, 140+ years down the line) I underestimated the power of the original structure to inspire 21st Century architects.

That building was not torn down for “the inevitable condo”; it was stripped to its bones and re-clad as a brand new (inevitable) condo, 15 Union Square West. The StreetEasy building page is
here; I have only blogged about those (inevitable) residential lofts once. I am pleased to see that in my April 3, 2012, 7-figure discount gets 15 Union Square West loft sold after 3 years, I not only mentioned the July 7, 2006 piece, but the companion piece referred to (but not linked) in that post, about the Nabisco headquarters at the west end of West 15th Street. More good stuff from the Manhattan Loft Guy archives!


© Sandy Mattingly 2013


 

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Sep. 1, 2011 - nothing stays the same, a/k/a the gentrification issue in Chelsea + Lower East Side


car repair shop edition
Oh the serendipity of juxtaposition!

If you looked at The Real Deal this morning (which is still in full spasm mode over the 100th edition celebrations) you’d have seen two items just 5 posts apart dealing with car service locations and future development, both of which hit some bells about how Manhattan loft neighborhoods typically develop. One is framed as a lament that a 3rd generation auto body shop is being “forced out” by the surge in development around Chelsea’s High line (i.e., by “High Line hype”). The other reads as a changing of the (ethnic) guard story as an auto repair shop is sold to condo developers.

What both stories have in common (besides auto shops) is the theme of change … as in nothing stays the same. Including, in some cases, that ‘good’ things in a neighborhood sometimes are replaced by ‘other’ things. This is a common theme for Manhattan loft neighborhoods especially, so I would likely have been interested in either story. But the combination of the two, and their proximity on the front page of TRD this morning, made them even more neon.

emotion and irony
Before getting to the metaphysics of Manhattan loft neighborhoods let me note the portrayal of emotion in the two original source articles. In both, the auto shop proprietors regret moving. On West 29th Street the guy nods to history, then threatens war in the New York Post rendition, indicating (shall we say) that he fails to see the value in a certain much-publicized twisty park:

"My grandfather started the business in 1920, horse-and-buggy time. There were no cars. He was doing the leaf springs on carriages. And now they want me out? Please."
***

"I'm going to fight this until the judge's gavel slams down and says I have to vacate the premises.

"I want to leave with head held high, not pushed out by the city, not pushed out by the landlord, not being thrown out because of a stupid park."

And there is the requisite quote from the requisite neighbor about what-a-shame-it-is-that-the-guy-has-to-leave:

Local flower-shop owner Maryann Finegan, who gets her five delivery trucks serviced at Brownfeld's, said she would be devastated if the auto-shop owner was forced to leave.

"This neighborhood wants to homogenize everything into a Yuppieville," she lamented.

Meanwhile, on Delancey Street the departing car repair shop owners have more mixed emotions, as reported in a wonderful blog post with a horrible headline from The Lo-Down:

“I’m really heartbroken about it, but I don’t know who feels worse, me or my dad,” said the younger Marano, who started working in his father’s shop as a boy of six. “In the end, it was a smart business decision.”

It won’t help the guy on West 29th Street to blame his grandfather, or his dad, but he’s been a tenant that entire time. Though not many businesses survive in any single location for the 90+ years they have been there, there is no comfort in that when they are forced out. But the guys on Delancey Street (only there since 1954) show the only way for a business to attempt to control its fate:

Public land records show that the Marano family bought out their former landlord and took over ownership of 210 Delancey in 1979. They subsequently purchased four adjacent properties from the city government at public auction in three separate transactions between 1983 and 1999, at very modest prices. The family paid $81,000 for 49 Pitt St., $21,500 for 51 Pitt St., and $152,000 for 206 and 208 Delancey, combined—a total of $254,500, according to public records.

There is no price given for the 1979 purchase of the car repair lot at 210 Delancey Street, but one assumes it was a small fraction of the quarter of a million for the 4 lots separetely purcahsed as late as 1999. Those purchases were in real money for a small business at the time they were made, but the family was smart enough (and flush enough) to buy their future. In the end, they had the choice to keep the business going (without being able to expand, due to zoning) or to cash out. As the younger Marano said, “In the end, it was a smart business decision.”

The business presumably supported the family for nearly 60 years, then they turned something more than a quarter of a million in purchases from 1979 to 1999 into $8.4mm in 2011. Bittersweet, but they paid to have a choice, and they chose to cash out and leave.

The colorful and quotable guy on West 29th Street did not have that choice, because no one thought to buy the building since 1920. Unfortunately, he neither has the means nor the opportunity now:

"I have a small shop, I barely make the rent," said the mechanic. "But you know what? . . . I do want to keep my family legacy going."

The Market does what The Market does
Note that in neither case is The Government forcing the auto shop to move, that in each case it is the landlord calling the shots.

Personally, I love neighborhoods with a mix of residential, retail and industrial, which is why I bought lofts in Tribeca in 1980 and a nabe-with-no-name in the West 20s in 1993. (That, and the fact that gritty neighborhoods are cheaper than polished areas.) I am by no means averse to grit, let alone character (and the West 29th Street guy seems like one gritty character). But I am agnostic about change, except in the sense that it always happens, whether I like the particular change or not.

This is all especially true in Manhattan, which has been about money to a unique degree since the Dutch arrived, if not the Lenape. Government has a role to play with zoning (mostly) but changing uses always put pressure on existing uses. That was true of the butter-and-egg guy in Tribeca who one day in the 1990s realized his big trucks were no longer safe in a nabe filled with strollers (see my March 12, 2010, Quote For The Day, 2000 edition), just as it was true of the food businesses with big (noisy) trucks in Williamsburg more recently (see my June 25, 2010, loft law extension / what's the big deal? UPDATED w maps).

This happens in different ways and on a longer time frame in areas that have been exclusively residential for a long time, as well. Think of the changes in Central Harlem from a mostly Jewish mostly upper middle class area circa (1910?), to a mostly African-American mostly upper middle class, to a much more mixed economic base, to (in recent years) a much more ethnically mixed population. Even in such neighborhoods, and even with owners, each generation of owners is temporary, giving way to the next, which may be different.

Think of grandpa on West 29th Street who opened a shop to service horse-drawn carriages. Chances are that in those days the neighborhood was dominated by trades servicing the nearby docks (including flophouses, taverns and whore houses) and that few people lived nearby. More recently, there was the nightclub + ecstasy phase. Now the High Line means residential development creeping north and west.

Or take the Lower East Side location of the other auto repair shop. When grandpa opened his carriage repair shop on West 29th Street, Delancey Street was a center of a mostly Jewish (mostly German?) immigrant population of scant financial means. Here is what is near the intersection of Delancey and Pitt Streets now:

The condo owners’ future neighbors include a real cross-section of the Lower East Side. The Samuel Gompers Houses public housing complex occupies a 4-acre swath directly across Pitt Street, from Delancey to Rivington. A few doors north, a local resident plans Manhattan’s first fully sustainable single-family home at 61 Pitt St. At 85 Pitt St., a drug-related shooting claimed the life of a 23-year-old Brooklyn man in June.

Next door, directly to the west at 78 Ridge St. on the corner of Delancey, is the River Ridge condo building, which replaced a former poultry slaughterhouse in 2007, taking a variety of grief about its bridge-side location and slow sales. To the north, at 53 Pitt St., is a seven-story residential building that’s home to ground-level stores and upstairs apartments.

Have I beaten this car horse to death yet? Nothing stays the same. To have the maximum choice, don’t rent someone else’s property. Drink a lot of water. Wear a hat in the sun.

All change is not evil. But fighting change in usage in Manhattan is like Canute at the beach. I seem to have written more about gentrification in 2010 than in other years, for some reason. I will end on this one: May 15, 2010, required reading: gentrification, preservation and King Canute (with some terrific links).

Have a great holiday weekend! (Where did summer go??)

© Sandy Mattingly 2011

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Sep. 22, 2010 - Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle for Manhattan Loft Neighborhoods / Tribeca loses Bazzini, gains Sarabeth’s


old to new, again (and again)
The New York Observer
noted yesterday that the long-awaited lease for Sarabeth’s has been signed, signaling the end of the Bazzini presence in Tribeca. If the story sounds familiar, that’s because the family that owns Bazzini said publicly at least as long ago as this April 2009 Downtown Express article that they planned to close (“[w]e are eyeing leasing the space….A year or a year and a half from now, we could still be there”) and in October 2009 Downtown Express identified Sarabeth’s as the potential new tenant.

This story leads me to a new Manhattan Loft Guy locution about the nature of loft neighborhoods. Let’s call it “Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle for Manhattan Loft Neighborhoods”, though it probably ‘works’ equally well in describing any true loft neighborhood.

To do rough justice to the original concept from physics, we will start with a lay description from How Things Work, with some pregnant bolding:

To know the velocity of a quark we must measure it, and to measure it, we are forced to affect it. The same goes for observing an object's position. Uncertainty about an object's position and velocity makes it difficult for a physicist to determine much about the object.

Of course, physicists aren't exactly throwing medicine balls at quanta to measure them, but even the slightest interference can cause the incredibly small particles to behave differently.


The Manhattan Loft Guy adaptation:

even the slightest interference increase in residential population can cause the incredibly small particles dynamic loft neighborhoods to behave differently change in ways the new residents will eventually lament

the back story
Although the Bazzini operation at Jay and Greenwich Streets has only been a cafe and retail store since 1997, the change from a Bazzini cafe to a Sarabeth’s restaurant and retail store is yet another sign of Change in Tribeca. As the Downtown Express put it 17 months ago, Bazzini is “perhaps Tribeca’s last tie to the old Washington Market food trading days”. Or, as they put it more broadly last October, this is “the latest example of ‘new Tribeca’ beating out ‘old Tribeca’”.


We’ve been here before. Yes, the ‘character’ of Tribeca is not what it was in the 1970s, when there were still food processing and warehouse facilities. Which is not what it was in the 1980s, when there were fewer such active businesses. Which is not what it was in the 1990s, when there were still fewer such active businesses.

any excuse is a good excuse
I need very little excuse to reprise one of my favorite all-time quotes, which is from the last of the Tribeca butter-and-egg guys, so is very relevant to this story:

You've never seen so many people under three feet high...


That was Steve Wils in a Downtown Express article from July 30, 2000, explaining why he moved his business to New Jersey in 1998, which I quoted in my March 12, Quote For The Day, 2000 edition. (That post has a bunch of links to old New York Times stories around the theme that Tribeca is changing.)

Various articles I have seen feature quotes from local residents or people who come to Tribeca for work or school complaining that Bazzini’s is closing, and about the change in the neighborhood. There are laments from residents of Independence Plaza (built in the early 1970s), nearby loft dwellers resident since the 1980s, kids from Stuyvesant High School (moved to Chambers and West Streets in 1992), workers from Citicorp up a few blocks on Greenwich Street (built in late 1980s), and I remember somewhere reading about a sad five-year old (born in the 2000s). You see where I am going here?

It is likely that all of these people came to the neighborhood because they liked its ‘character’, and the movement there of similarly like-minded people changed the character. Eventually, there were enough additional people living and working there that long-time businesses were no longer compatible with the new environment and new businesses were attracted to the new environment. Eventually, the people felt that the environment had tipped enough that it was no longer what it was before they moved there.

I suppose one could look at this phenomenon as an application of The Law of Unintended Consequences, but I might start calling it The Loft Law of Eventual Lament (on another day; don’t worry about that digression).

Here are some data points on a timeline for the area now known as Tribeca (formerly known as the Lower West Side):

  • 1886  21 Jay Street / 339 Greenwich Street built for Mohlmann family wholesale grocery business (per NY Times)
  • 1943 Bazzini family bought building (per NY Times)
  • 1968  Bazzinis start processing nuts there (“driven there from Park Place by urban renewal programs that swept many of its competitors to the Hunts Point market in the Bronx or out of the city entirely”; per NY Times)
  • 1972  Independence Plaza development began by city (middle income housing, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Washington Market Park), Greenwich Street from N. Moore to Chambers
  • mid-1980s  D’Amatos [sometimes “Damato”] buy five buildings along Greenwich and Jay Streets from Bazzini family (per NY Times); originally used in the business, the D’Amatos eventually sell them for residential development
  • 1986  Hotel Bar Butter leaves 16 Jay Street; there since 1947 (May 4, 1987 New York Magazine, starting at page 96)
  • 1987? PS 234 opens down the block from Bazzini’s
  • 1988  small Bazzini cafe opens on ground floor (1,000 sq ft)  (per Tribeca Trib)
  • 1996 zoning changed from industrial to permit residential (per NY Times)
  • 1997  Bazzini nut factory moves to Hunts Point, Bronx (per NY Times)
  • Wils butter and egg business moves to New Jersey
  • 1999  21 Jay Street conversion to 10 residential loft rentals (“2,000 to 2,600 square feet of space, are $7,200 to $9,400 a month. ...$15,000 and $17,000 for the two duplex penthouses, with 3,900 and 4,500 square feet”) (per NY Times) (later converted to condos)
  • 2002 amended condo declaration filed
  • April 2009  Downtown Express article about Bazzini plans to close
  • October 2009  Downtown Express identifies Sarabeth’s as potential new tenant
  • September 2010 Observer article about Sarabeth lease signing, 15 years

don't be mad at me, I am not blaming you
I am not saying that all change is good, or that people who liked the way things were are not entitled to complain. I am saying that change is inevitable, and that sometimes the people who complain about the changes bear responsibility for the changes. And I mean “responsibility” in a causation sense, not a moral sense.


© Sandy Mattingly 2010

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Aug. 23, 2010 - can a "loft" in Manhattan change your way of thinking?


or, just provoke a gentrification rant?
I missed this last Thursday (I was on vacation), but there is a fascinating web-only New York Times piece in the Living Rooms section of the Opinionator blog, Our Buildings, Ourselves by Elizabeth Hawes.

It is fascinating in its own right, as a meditation on the author's personal experience of how moving from a classic prewar apartment on the Upper West Side to a Tribeca loft changed the way she thought about space; indeed, changed the way they lived. The piece is well written and thoughtful, by someone who is informed and sensitive enough about how spaces impact public living to have written a book about it. But it is equally fascinating for the on-line commentary it generated, much of you-inauthentic-blankety-blanks-ruined-loft-neighborhoods, not just in Manhattan, but everywhere.

in her own write
In just nine paragraphs, Hawes reflects on how the contrast between the difference in "apartment" space and "loft" space changed their viewpoint, and offered some general history references, no doubt informed by the work she put into her book, “New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City, 1869-1930".

First, life in that classic prewar apartment:

Without realizing it, we depended on the well-defined architectural structure of our Upper West Side prewar apartment to impose order on our chaotic domestic lives: doors to close on sleepy children or work-at-home parents; halls to separate the public quarters from private bedrooms; a progression of formal rooms to shape gracious living. Even the names of the rooms — the entrance gallery, the parlor, the dining room, the maid’s room — conjured up a respectable if rather quaint life. The interior decoration, which was conspicuously elaborate, with classical moldings, a marble mantle, two brass chandeliers and inlaid flooring, had promised a certain station in life, as it was meant to in the early, uncertain decades of apartment living in Gilded Age New York.

Second, adapting to life in a Tribeca loft:



We live casually and without ceremony in the loft, which is in the nature of the space and one of its lessons. Like an early generation of apartment dwellers, we have been unshackled from tradition. Without the formality of carefully named rooms, home is flexible and accommodating and ever more expansive. With the line of eight-foot casement windows along our north wall, the streetscape is always in view, and part of our lives as well. The small loft buildings across the way are of the same era and very beautiful with their rosy old brick and verdigris trim, especially late in the day, when the slanted rays of the sun suddenly shoot down the block. For as long as I’ve lived here I’ve watched at night as a woman works on the sculpture of a man’s head. I’ve never met her, but I feel a connection nonetheless.


There's more, of course (you should read the entire piece; it's short), but this contrast represents her family's experience with two kinds of space. Yes, there is the implied invitation to consider her family's experience as representative, if not typical. The personal narrative, and the focus on how space is experienced, are aligned precisely with the series of which the Hawes peice is a part.

My emphasis is added to the NY Times description of the Living Room segment of their on-line Opinionator series:

A house is more than just a shelter from the storm. How we shape our homes, and how we behave within them, speak volumes about our history, our values and our way of life. Living Rooms explores the past, present and future of domestic life, with contributions from artists, journalists, design experts and historians.

die! Yuppie scum!!


Maybe I am overly sensitive, having been a gentrifying yuppie in Tribeca back in the day (see, February 21, 2009,

1981 to 2009: progress, or not so much?

), but I found that part of the commentary that followed to be both fascinating and (often) churlish (or worse). Here's one, that notes there is a theme to earlier comments and that rejects the premise of the series:



Go with a bouquet or a brickbat? I am afraid it is the brickbat. A truckload. David (second post) hit the nail on the head, as did subsequent critical-writers. There is something precious and cloying about these sorts of tales: how the well-heeled, haute bourgeoisie) live their pleasant lives, foraging among the fine offerings of the city.

I should think that a far more important difference in a life is which city you live in, and whether you have the minimal means - psychological, cultural and/or financial -- to benefit from being there. Given the minimum, I wouldn't think that whether you lived in an expensive apartment building (entrance gallery, indeed!) or an expensive loft would matter more than slightly.

The lifestyle of the haute bourgeois (at least the way it is presented in these pages) is more about surface, style and decor, not substance. Perhaps their lives are loaded with substance, but that doesn't seem compatible with the focus of articles like this one.


This guy thinks that Hawes' description of her own experience is "precious and cloying", but she was doing what The Times asked her to do: contribute how she shaped her home and how she behaved within her home. I have not read enough of the Living Rooms pieces to assess whether all contributors are members of the dreaded haute bourgeoisie, but this criticism seems an unfair response to Hawes.

And this comment is worse than churlish:

she should mind her own business and stop spying on her working artist neighbor

I suspect that

Hawes

could have knowledgeably written something about how neighborhoods change, and how those changes impact some people negatively, and some more negatively than others. I have hit the gentrification button a few times, thoughtfully (with great links) in my May 15,

required reading: gentrification, preservation and King Canute

, and recently in my August 12,

Jesuits adapt to Lower East Side gentrification by moving; will lofts follow?

. There is a lot of interesting commentary to offer about gentrification, specifically in loft neighborhoods, but I never seem to find the time for an extended treatment.



Suffice it to say (for now) that change is a constant in New York (especially in Manhattan), that I personally preferred the Tribeca of the early 1980s to the current Tribeca of the

uber

-condos (bringing with it

yuppier

and wealthier people), that there is a need for some amelioration of raw market forces in some neighborhoods, and that much of the preservationist impulse has the (unintended?) effect of reducing economic diversity by driving prices higher by enforcing scarcity (I am looking at you, West Village). Complicated stuff. Books are written about this. But my personal perspective is just that: my personal perspective.



As I said up top, the comments are fascinating. Chiming in with yuppies-ruined-my-neighborhood may be cathartic, but not (to me) very interesting, unless there is some substance. Here's some substance:



As a sculptor and art-writer I have watched changes like these transform and limit opportunities once available to NY artists. The rise of cyber artwork, computer generated work and video could be seen as a direct response to the diminution and lack of availability of workspace.

Interesting point, about which the commenter has direct experience that I lack. But I wonder if it is true. Opportunities for artists have always been limited in New York, by economic forces more than anything else. Inexpensive space with light in neighborhoods congenial to an artist lifestyle and physical needs always get squeezed in economic good times. Irrevocably so, unless one takes a very long view.



But that fact that

this other guy

can't find affordable studio space in Manhattan and 'has' to "share a tiny, expensive East Village apartment with two roommates" is a present fact (unless he considers East 106 Street and north as "Manhattan"). I would like to think that it won't happen in my life time, but there is no reason to think that at some point economic forces will not change direction, and presently 'unaffordable' areas will be come affordable again (remember the Upper West Side in the early 1970s?). And if not (at least for a while), That Other Guy may be right, and



At some point, we're going to be pushed so far beyond Manhattan it makes no more sense to stay in New York. What are we going to do then?

I don't know what "they" are going to do, but New York will definitely be a less interesting place if that happens. Different, definitely; less interesting, for sure. But that is what happens in New York (and, especially, Manhattan). Things change. I won't like that change, if it happens. Other people will.



whose ox is being displaced?


From a very high altitude perspective, the early artist colonizations of Soho and Tribeca had little displacement effect, as the buildings they occupied (illegally, at first) were at least under-utilized, if not vacant. Very, very few residents were forced out in the early days. That may also have been true of DUMBO. That is less true of

Williamsburg

. But the issue of displacement is an inevitable consequence of change in a neighborhood, and the issue involves more than residential space.



I hit on some of these themes in my June 25,

loft law extension / what's the big deal? UPDATED w maps

. The fact that artists (and non-artist residents) have moved into

Bushwick

in the last 10 to 20 years, for example, creates political pressure on the local City Council Member to address their concerns and jeopardizes some of the relatively few suitably industrial zones in the city. Hence the conflict between the

Bloomberg

Administration and 'tenant groups" over the extension of The Loft Law and the 'protection' of Industrial Business Zones (protection from artists, and others!).



final comment


(I promise!) You already know that I find that

Hawes

piece fascinating, along with the comments it spawned. My last fascinating comment is that precious few of the comments were from New York: 6 of 34, with just a handful more by people who clearly know the city. Yet another indication that The Old Grey Lady is not (just) my hometown newspaper.



© Sandy Mattingly 2010


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Aug. 12, 2010 - Jesuits adapt to Lower East Side gentrification by moving; will lofts follow?


2 things dear to my heart
I missed this piece in yesterday's NY Times (h/t The Real Deal): Lower East Side Has Less to Offer Jesuits Who Teach the Poor. Manhattan Loft Guy is Jesuit educated, I am in close contact with some Jesuits, and I remain interested in (and impressed by) so many things that the Jebs do that are "... for others", so this story would have been interesting to me, regardless. But from the perspective of this blog, the story resonates on a nothing-in-New-York-stays-the-same basis, involving Good News and Bad News.

Everyone has a story about how different Manhattan is now from The Olde Days, particularly people with long memories about how Gentrification came to formerly desolate-but-non-residential areas like Tribeca and Soho and to formerly crowded-but-economically-challenged areas like the Lower East Side and Hell's Kitchen. Jesuit priest and educator Jack Podsiadlo tells the story in the Times of how the changes in the micro-neighborhood around 204 Forsyth Street are putting him out of business there, setting him off to find a more suitable location for his work.

In broad strokes, the same changes that caused the Tribeca butter-and-egg guys to flee the short people (March 12, Quote For The Day, 2000 edition) are causing Father Podsiadlo to flee the condo people.

That Forsyth Street block just below Houston Street used to feature the staples of the old Lower East Side (hookers, syringes, slums), but now there are boutiques, hotels, construction cranes, and fewer poor families whose middle school children have been educated there for nearly 40 years.

one block, one mission, different times
Here's the timeline from the NY Times article:

When the Jesuits bought the building in the 1940s, the area was becoming a destination for thousands of Puerto Ricans in a huge postwar migration. Men found work as janitors, women as sewing machine operators, settling with their extended families into tenements that had previously housed Jewish and Italian immigrants.

A small group of nuns were running a nursery school in the building, which had become a settlement house of sorts. ***

By the 1960s, the Rev. Walter Janer, a Puerto Rican-born Jesuit, was reaching out to local youngsters, setting up study halls and recreation, and opening a summer camp upstate. ***

The school opened in 1971 with a simple model. Relying on priests, volunteers and young teachers, it welcomed youngsters whose parents could not afford parochial school tuition. ***

This year, after years of dwindling enrollment from the neighborhood and under financial pressures that could have closed the school, its board voted to move.

 

not enough poor people
Maybe the school would have stayed where it was if it were in gentrifying Chelsea, near the New York City Housing Authority buildings along 9th Avenue. There might have been enough Latino poor kids to fill out the school. But the accident of geography and the trend of gentrification in the Greater Whole Foods micro-nabe thinned out the potential client families too much for the school to persist on Forsyth Street.

So it appears that the school is headed to Mott Haven in the Bronx, with its relevant resources of poor Latino kids, subways, and public housing. My South Bronx geography is not very good, but the potential for gentrification (and conversion into residential lofts) is everywhere. Here's an old piece from The Real Deal (September 2, 2008; immediately pre-Lehman, so the slope of the trend line may certainly have changed):

The Bronx Bricks lofts ["the first privately financed condominium ever built in Mott Haven, a five-story converted print shop of 11 loft spaces"] were put on the market at the end of July 2007, and all of the units have been sold except for one. Prices — from $395,000 for a second-floor, roughly 1,200-square-foot loft to $795,000 for a top-floor loft nearly twice the size — were previously inconceivable in the neighborhood.

The Bronx Bricks success story has prompted other investors to follow suit.

yet another New Soho
From the Department of Eerie Parallels, when you read these excerpts from a July 29, 2009 article from The Mott Haven Herald replace "Soho" every time "Mott Haven" is mentioned:

 

This year they hoped the art alone would be the center of attention, but in a place like Mott Haven, the conversation inevitably turns to the neighborhood itself.

Calderon ... used to have a studio of her own in Mott Haven. She had to move to Norwood when the rents shot up.

“Artists come here for a year or two and have to leave,” she laments. “There is a history that is totally gone, but those of us who remember hold the torch.”

Despite the rising cost of space in the area, Mott Haven remains an attractive place for artists to work, as evidenced by the many studios open during the May 2nd tour put together by the Bronx Council on the Arts. The Bronx Culture Trolley ferried visitors to more than 15 studios and galleries. ***

The South Bronx art community, he says, has “been here a while, but it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.”

He acknowledges the double-edged sword of getting that attention however, noting, “It’s gonna displace people.”

“It’s the beginning of the end,” Nieves agrees. “Gentrification is coming.”

Good luck to Father Podsiadlo and the Nativity Mission Center. Watch out for the artists and the yuppies.

AMDG

© Sandy Mattingly 2010

 

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May. 15, 2010 - required reading: gentrification, preservation and King Canute


whose neighborhood is it anyway?
Fascinating (short!) piece in next month's Atlantic Monthly, available on-line, Gentrification And Its Discontents, in which Benjamin Schwartz not so much reviews but exposes two recent books on Manhattan, Sharon Zukin’s Naked City and Michael Sorkin’s Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. Like any good discussion of gentrification, the original Manhattan loft neighborhoods of Soho and Tribeca are considered, though the principal lens for the discussion is the West Village.

Of course he, and they, have to deal with that colossus of Modern Urban Studies, Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which he rightly describes as

the ur-text for contemporary writing about urban life and the most influential American book ever written about cities

Read the whole piece. I happen to agree with him, but there's a lot to chew on here whether you agree with him or with Zukin or Sorkin. Not to spoil anything, but here is Schwartz's coup-de-grace:

Mostly, though, such political solutions seem quaint: all this bellyaching about authenticity and lost soul. Sorkin and Zukin, sentimental progressives, need a bracing dose of Marx. Manhattan is the primary locus of global capitalism, the most voracious force for change in history. Best to pick a different place to try to render fixed and solid that which inexorably melts into air.

 h/t Matt Yglesias (himself a great chronicler of all things urban)

© Sandy Mattingly 2010


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Jun. 4, 2009 - ch ch ch changes ... the Guy moves to Corcoran in Soho

 

nothing stays the same, eh?
This will be brief, for now. I brought my license over to Corcoran's Soho office yesterday and started training today on a new listing system. I had a great run at Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy and will update this when (if?) there is publicly available information about CBHK that explains some of the back story here, but for now suffice it to say that I am looking forward to working at Corcoran and (finally) in a true Manhattan loft neighborhood.

[UPDATE: Management went public to The Real Deal yesterday, according to today's TRD web report, so it's (a) official and (b) public: the firm is being shut down this week, with many agents heading to Corcoran. Last night's "good-bye party" was pretty surreal, more like an Irish wake. THX to David & JoAnne!]

consequences for Manhattan Loft Guy? nahhh
I don't expect there to be any significant difference in this blog from my new affiliation, assuming that the content of the inter-firm data-base I have been using for all my stats (CBHK used OLR) is identical to the content of TAXI, the system Corcoran uses -- as it should be. Likely worst case, it may take me a while to get used to the new system and may have to break up the inventory tranches into smaller bites.

If ti it takes me a while to use the new system competently I may miss this Sunday's 'as of' numbers for new listings, closed sales and inventory. If TAXI defines a "loft" differently from OLR there will be real trouble with continuity, but I don't expect that to be the case.

In spider-proof terms, my Corcoran email will be Sandy [dot] Mattingly [at] Corcoran [dot] com and I have also revived Sandy [at] Manhattan Loft Guy [dot] com.

Back to learning new stuff ....

 

© Sandy Mattingly 2009

 

 

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Feb. 21, 2009 - 1981 to 2009: progress, or not so much?


plus ca change ...
When I moved into the American Thread Building in 1981 (the first great condo loft conversion in Tribeca?), I was in that (relatively) new Manhattan demographic, Young Urban Professionals, and we were "welcomed" into the building by the graffito "die yuppie scum", apparently left by the former squatters (artists??) in residence. If it is not too grandiose to put it in these terms, we were in the first non-artist wave into Tribeca (how many waves have there been since? five??).
 
A blog with which I am unfamiliar (h/t Curbed.com) posted what are presumably current photos from Staple Street in Tribeca that seems to merge my former demographic with a demographic I would have thought was opposite to the yuppies: http://beehivehairdresser.com/2009/01/28/tribeca-warns-yuppies-hipsters/  I guess the point (as if there is one) is that neither group is welcome today, not that the two groups have anything else in common (age, perhaps, but I am over-analyzing here). Whatever ... the folks doing the un-welcoming are different in 2009 than they were in 1981, for sure, for sure.This is not so much progress as evolution.
 
Nice photos on that blog, btw
 
 

© Sandy Mattingly 2009  

 

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Feb. 5, 2009 - the worm turns, as West Broadway now wishes it were more popular


the ignominy of losing out to Broadway

Not sure how long this link to a Crain's Small Business Newsletter (dated Jan 31 but distributed Feb 4) will last, but the gist is that West Broadway as a Soho retail corridor is waning in the face of the brighter moon on Broadway. Assuming the trend holds, the joke will be on West Broadway landlords who have signed leases with businesses that cannot sustain themselves there, and are closing (even, fleeing the country).
 

A number of retailers have already called it quits. Women's apparel specialist Sigrid Olsen shuttered last year, and others, including Té Casan, Salviati and Sub Chrono, followed in the past few months. Many others are having problems.
***
Other boutiques are not even trying to cut a deal. Satellite Jewelry opened its 500-square-foot boutique at 412 W. Broadway three years ago. Now, faced with dwindling sales, the Paris-based company is clearing its shelves, breaking its 10-year lease and ceasing operations in this country.
 

how might West Broadway be like the Jersey Shore?
Maybe this is a temporary dip due to the overall retail economy, and West Broadway may be (relatively) popular as a retail destination again. Or maybe this is like the sand along the Jersey Shore that nature keeps pushing north, so that if the local pols can't persuade the Army Corps of Engineers to erect groins and bring in tons of new sand, the beaches will be "lost". My understanding of the geology is that beaches can't be "lost" because they are impermanent; the sand goes where nature "wants" to take it. The Corps -- and all the owners of "beachfront" property -- cannot stop nature from "taking" the sand, they can just try to interfere and/or replace.

Sounds to me as though Soho retail customers are the sand, and The Market sits in Mother Nature's chair here. The West Broadway landlords were lucky (so they thought) some years ago in locking tenants in to high rents, based on based on projected foot traffic that is lower-than-projected (apparently having been diverted east towards Apple and along Broadway). But now -- with stores unable to make money with that little traffic and that high rent -- even the landlords may be in jeopardy, from vacated premises and a cycle of more darkened stores.

Of course, landlords control the rents (though not the foot traffic, directly), so they can moderate the rent (even mid-tenancy) to preserve the retail activity that survives, but I wonder how many of these landlords are the mom-and-pop building owners who used to own many small buildings in Soho. Moms-and-pops might be more likely to keep some rental stream going, and preserve some of the current feel; but institutional owners with a diversified portfolio are more likely to take a more big picture, longer-term view.
 
Either way, the macro factors that are driving foot traffic to Broadway are not likely to be substantially ameliorated. The Crain's article continues:

 
But storefronts have few takers, and brokers say rents must come down or the once-vibrant artery will become a ghost town.
 

whose ghosts are being gored?
I get it that some people find West Broadway in Soho circa 2008 charming, but that sentence made me laugh, ruefully. Back in the day (late 1970s, early 1980s) local residents and businesses liked being a ghost town (or even earlier, of course, before St. Aloysius had to come down and a large field of brick sat where the Soho Grand now sits). When the yuppies pushed some of the artists out (rather, when the landlords pushed the artists out in favor of peole who could pay more ...), there was grumbling that the charm of Soho was being lost. When Soho became so popular that double-decker tourist buses were a nuisance, there was grumbling that the charm of Soho was being lost. When the residents of West Broadway had to flee to the Hamptons or the Country each weekend to escape Euro-hordes, there was grumbling that the charm of Soho was being lost.
 
charming as sand?
But that Soho charm is another form of sand. It is the nature of any dense mixed-use neighborhood to evolve. (I believe that mixed-use is the key to this ... vitality: for example, the West Village is [of course] charming, but it is only the mixed use part [today's MePa] that is truly evolving.) And evolution can't be stopped without dramatic (draconian?) efforts (West Village Preservation Committee vigilance + land-marking, for instance). The zoning (height) restrictions have not prevented the Chelsea blocks west of 6th Avenue to evolve towards condos and a different retail mix, just as they haven't stopped Soho from evolving.
 
Unless the West Broadway stores hire people to escort people there (who otherwise might wander to Broadway; not a likely cost-effective strategy), retail foot traffic is going to go wherever it wants to go. (At the moment, apparently, not to West Broadway.) The stores and landlords will deal with it, or not. If they don't, other stores and other landlords will replace them, or other uses will be found for these (still charming!) streets.
 
Tempis fugits. It always fugits.
 
 
© Sandy Mattingly 2009 

 

 
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Sep. 12, 2006 - more not-staying-the-same, East Village edition / will a developer develop?

maybe they are diversifying down?
Gothamist is calling the new nabe Extell-land, referring to the East Village area bounded by 10th and 14th Sts, 2d Av and Av B, since the Extell Development Corporation bought 17 buildings in that grid. The NY Post has the detail that the buildings were bought for (only?) $72.6mm from a single landlord, and consist of 253 rent-regulated apartments in the four and five story tenements.

 (per Gothamist.com)

let’s just say that Extell did not make its name collecting controlled rent
Extell was the developer recruited by Ratner’s Atlantic Yards opponents who bid a basketful of money (pun intended!) for the right to develop the Atlantic Yards, and lost to ForestCity’s smaller basket. Extell is building the twin “Ariel”s on the Upper West Side, where most apartments are going from the high $1s to the low $4s (that’s millions, of course). Then there is the condo conversion of the Stanhope Hotel across from the Met, where the “smaller units” (everything is relative) run more than 4,000 sq ft and go for $10mm+.

 
what would Bert & Ernie say (or sing)?
I really don’t remember my CTV enough to know who sang“one of these things is not like the other”, but if Bert, Ernie, Oscar or any of the Muppets looked at (a) Atlantic Yards, (b) Ariel East or West, (c) the Stanhope, and (d) the East Village (pick a block) even a stick and cloth figure would recognize that Extell is probably not going to engage in regulated tenement rentals for long.
 
how do you stop a developed from developing? Cooper Sq Comm is trying to find out
Something about this is coming up at a Community Board meeting on September 19.
 
Steven Herrick, executive director of the Cooper Square Committee, is no Muppet, but he can sing the song:
 
"This type of acquisition, tenement housing, is a big departure from what Extell has done before"…
 
and
 
"Luxury development is unacceptable in our community, which has historically been primarily the working poor," he said [in the Post].
 
same plan, different class, 60 years later?
StuyvesantTown and PeterCooperVillage may be one thing (PCV is across 14th St from “Extell-land”); Alphabet City is quite another. Indeed, as I blogged a week ago, “Extell-land” is what Stuy Town and PC Village used to look like, before Met Life assembled, demolished, and developed those middle class havens. The current Alphabet City is more “working poor” (according to un-Muppet Steven Herrick) than the same area sixty years ago (according to Prof. Zipp). Whether it remains that way, remains to be seen.
 
Of course, things just don’t stay the same. But this should be a donnybrook. Tune in after September 19….
 
© Sandy Mattingly 2006
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Sep. 7, 2006 - the scale is immense / 5 year NYC population changes

 
Today’s Times has a piece about New Yorkers who were here “then” and New Yorkers who are new. I don’t know if I can deal with blogging about “then” (we’ll see, next week) but the stats about how the New York City has changed since 2000 struck me
 
The population grew by more than 134,000 from 2000 to 2005, the city’s latest Planning Department calculations show. In that time, 645,416 babies were born and 304,773 people died. A half-million more people came from other countries than departed for them, and 800,000 more people left for the 50 states than came wide-eyed from them.
 
So net net, we are up 134,000 from 2000 to 2005.
 
But the “stable” population is up 340,000 (births minus deaths).
 
The City actually lost a net of 800,000 within the United States (that many more people left NYC for other parts of the US, including the ‘burbs I guess) – which is a huge swing. (I wonder if that kind of swing is ‘normal’ – that’s 10% in just five years.)
 
But we aware up 500,000 in “trade” to and from other countries. So the City became substantially more “foreign” in just five years.
 
To put that in some perspective:
 
The population increase of 134,000 is more than the total population of Hartford CT.
 
The total births (645,416) is more than the total population of Baltimore.
 
The number of people who died (304,773) is more than the total population of St. PaulMN.
 
The net foreign population increase of 500,000 is more than the total population of Atlanta.
 
The net domestic population decrease of 800,000 is more than the total population of San Francisco.
 
WOW! This is one big city! (add your own d’oh!!! here)
 
(population figures over 500,000 and under 305,000 taken from Info Please.
 
© Sandy Mattingly 2006
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Sep. 5, 2006 - nothing stays the same / Stuyvesant Town before and (soon to be) after

 
two perspectives on Stuyvesant Town
The Times ran two nice Op-Ed pieces on Sunday in “The City” section that come from two directions at the recent news that Met Life is putting the 100+ buildings of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village up for sale.
 
One is a mostly personal story, tinged with nostalgia and an (admittedly) snobbish attitude. The other puts the news n a broader social and political context. Especially in tandem, they are perfect fodder for the view that nothing stays the same in Manhattan. Deal with it!
 
one prof has a personal perspective of loss of “an original vibrant community”
Corinne Demas is a professor at Mount Holyoke who published a memoir about growing up in Stuy Town from 1948-68. “I was a Stuyvesant Town snob: splendidly middle class, admirably unpretentious.”
She talks about the application process and the long waiting lists, she rues the creation of the “two class community” that resulted from some apartments being modernized and rented at market rates, and the mourns the loss of community that will result as market forces tear at these complexes:
 
The coming sale of StuyvesantTown and Peter Cooper spells the dismantlement of what’s left of the original vibrant community — one based on shared values and priorities. Luxury apartments can provide renters with a host of amenities (both real and imagined) but community is one amenity money can’t buy.
The transformation of these two complexes with their 110 apartment buildings is unfortunate for the thousands of residents who will eventually lose their apartments, and for the thousands of young families who will lose their dream of ever living there. But the implications are also sad for the City of New York. StuyvesantTown was the middle-class heart of the city, a utopia from the 1950’s that exists nowhere else.
 
did the Times set her up?
Nice piece, well written. But I wonder if Ms. Demas feels sandbagged, being paired with the piece by Samuel Zipp, a professor at UC Irvine who has written about the history of urban renewal in Manhattan.
 
Mr. Zipp starts his story at an earlier time than Ms. Demas’ personal memoir, when there were 18 blocks of tenements, storefronts and warehouses in this “Gas House District” (so-named after the many gas storage and distribution facilities nearby). This neighborhood was “little different from the area to its south that we today call the EastVillage” (note that there is a huge Con Ed plant that survives, just north of Alphabet City).
 
one prof sees market forces causing change, not for the better – again – but no nostalgia
Stuy Town was to charge about twice the rents then prevailing, rents that only 3% of the neighborhood’s families would be able to afford.
 
Residents of the area [a “polyglot collection of European immigrants and their children”] rose to defend their homes, but their protests largely fell on deaf ears. The promise of StuyvesantTown was just too alluring. The neighborhood had problems — run-down and abandoned buildings, the stench and danger of the gas works — but clearance also dispersed the relations of kinship, friendship and commerce that come to characterize a neighborhood.
 
And, of course, Met Life planned for StuyTown to be all-white. While the complex was officially desegregated in 1952 after long protests, it took twenty years for there to be a significant black population.
 
In Zipp’s telling, the success of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village inspired the urban renewal projects of the 1950s and 1960s that,
 
[w]ith a few exceptions, …  served to reinforce already existing patterns of racial segregation. They reclaimed desirable real estate for white-collar institutions and provided bastions of middle-class urban living for primarily white populations.
 
Demas has fond memories of life in the enclave. Zipp sees its broader costs:
 
As the urban renewal projects inspired by StuyvesantTown obliterated acre after acre of working-class, black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods, New Yorkers came to feel these losses more deeply. By the mid-1960’s, few were willing to countenance the kind of destruction StuyvesantTown had required.
 
Zipp can also see that changing the character of this complex will be another loss, but one with a legacy that deserves to be remembered:
 
Stuyvesant Town has always been a pleasant refuge from the city. Many of its residents fought, over the years, to make it a more inclusive place. We are right to rue the loss of this city institution — there’s no doubt that we are all the poorer for it. But however congenial life in Stuyvesant Town has been for those lucky enough to live there, the project’s less savory legacy should not be forgotten.
 
In his telling, Zipp sees Stuy Town as the victim of the same kind of Manhattan market forces that generated its creation in the first place:
 
Having begun its life as the state-of-the-art method for supplanting working-class neighborhoods with middle-class apartment towers and white-collar institutions, Stuyvesant Town will end up as a victim of a newer, less abrupt and violent version of the very forces of urban change it helped unleash more than 50 years ago.
in Manhattan, not all “change” is “progress”, just inevitable
The prewar Gas House District begat a middle class enclave for white families in the postwar period. In the immediate area, that new pattern of housing spurred retail and other services along First Avenue, and probably has something to do with the (eventual) gentrification of that part of the East Village known as Alphabet City, whose grittier days are memorialized in “Rent” and a wave of other ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia.
 
Now, as enough apartments in the complex leave the rent regulation system, Met Life sees an opportunity to try to sell for $5 billion.
 
That prospect causes some people to celebrate “back in the day” and to (without irony) rue the very processes of change that created their idyll in the first place. Others rue, but calculate costs and benefits differently
 
Plus ca change….
 
© Sandy Mattingly 2006
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Aug. 1, 2006 - The other side of the illegal loft story / conflicts with industrial policy

 
As a follow-up to my July 19 blog about the potential benefits from living illegally in non-residential space (such as living rent-free), there was a terrific item last week on Brownstoner.com about the tension between the City’s industrial development policy and encroaching residential-ism, and a related ironic piece in the Post  about the Business Improvement District headquarters for the Fashion District being unable (so far) to move into new space because the BID is not a qualifying manufacturing use.
 
Remember those 3 guys living rent-free?
My blog piece focused on the peculiar only-in-New-York-kids aspect to the three guys who stopped paying rent for the space they lived in, then the landlord being unable to easily evict them because he had knowingly rented it out illegally as residential space. There was some discussion in the underlying Village Voice piece about the reasons some areas and some buildings are not suitable as legal residences, but that was a footnote to their main point.
 
But the Brownstoner.com blog and the Post article highlight the direct issue of the conflict between competing residential and other uses of land in the city. Brownstoner lays out the issues in Brooklyn, which are the same as for anywhere in Manhattan, although some of the sources he links to won’t apply to Manhattan.
 
How to preserve some manufacturing or industrial sites?
On the one hand, there is a continuing need for *some* manufacturing / industrial space – even in Manhattan -- and the City has a legitimate interest in preserving facilities to retain those jobs and firms, rather than permitting zoning changes or variances to permit residential development.
 
The jobs and firms that could survive have their natural habitats shrunk or eliminated when (especially luxury) residential development is created nearby. Consider the Meatpacking District, and the reaction of new condo owners who have paid $x,000,000 to live in a neighborhood in which 18 wheel trailers block streets and sidewalks, and in which guys in long coats (formerly white, now stained red) hose down the sidewalks under carcass conveyors. (Or consider the poor souls at 44 Laight Street in Tribeca, who moved into a historic district without sidewalks but with cobblestones, who now find it hard to walk safely, let alone push strollers or shovel snow.)
 
Some folks prefer their grit quiet and tame
Although part of the “charm” of some loft neighborhoods includes the elements of authentic urban industrial ‘grit’, when commercial trash haulers blare back-up sounds and their hydraulics lift and bang trash bins at 4 AM in an area that includes high end apartments, there is bound to be conflict. Lately, the residential market is so strong that it has been pushing aggressively into formerly off-limits areas.
 
In contrast, much of the residential loft development in the 1970s and 1980s in Soho and Tribeca was more ‘bottom-up’ encroachment, as the residential buildings filled in where industry had already vacated, where blocks were nearly deserted.
 
Lafayette Street is probably an example of both trends – ten years ago some businesses vacated, and residential usage filled in the gap. More recently, residential developers have bought usable industrial buildings out from under commercial tenants.
 
Bless the Mayor
The Mayor, bless his corporate heart and business head (really), sees this issue for the complex one that it is -- and probably more fraught in Brooklyn than in Manhattan. I recommend the Brownstoner piece, and his blog generally.
 
The irony of the Post article is that the West 30s have stringent zoning and usage requirements to ‘preserve’ space for needle trades. In this case, the regs are an obstacle to a Business Improvement District – formed to assist the Fashion Industry in that neighborhood – cannot move its offices because the desired space is in a building reserved for industrial use. I gather that many people feel that the amount of reserved space vastly exceeds even a hopeful renaissance of needle trade firms, so the BID (and its allies) argue that the Preserve The Needle Trades regs should be revised in their case.
 
Gotta love the irony!
 
 
© Sandy Mattingly 2006
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Jul. 18, 2006 - The strange case of the rent-free loft / the dicey math of illegal lofts

 
Fascinating piece in the Village Voice about the peculiar oh-so-New-York dance that can happen when a landlord accepts residential tenants into a non-residential building. Among other things, landlords are severely restricted in using the courts to collect rent or to evict tenants for non-payment of rent. On the other hand, tenants have limited rights in court to enforce minimal residential standards for heat, safety or services.
 
I thought I knew most of what has been going on, and I remember what it was like in the ‘early loft’ era in Manhattan, but I was definitely surprised by the concept of tactically free rent in illegally residential buildings.
 
It might suit only a specific lifestyle
The three roommate sin the Voice article got upset when the landlord tried to raise the rent $40 a month. When they – first – refused to pay the higher rent, and then stopped paying rent completely … silence ensured.
 
After a year of leaking roofs, soaked furniture, and a locked freight elevator that was only occasionally available for use, the landlord raised their monthly rent from $1,850 to $1,890. "As musicians living on the fourth floor, we need the elevator [to move our equipment]," says Jamal Ruhe. "So that was a primary instigator in our being pissed enough to risk getting thrown out of our apartment." The roommates balked at the thought of paying even more for their crumbling space and decided that they would neither sign the new lease nor acknowledge the rent increase. They waited for the building manager to say something, but as Jamal Ruhe recalls, "Nothing happened, and by nothing I mean nothing at all. Not a tenuous nothing, no word from anyone. And that went on for the better part of the year."
 
Eventually they figured out something important about NYC rent law:
 
But after conducting a little research, Jamal Ruhe began to understand the silence. Apartment buildings that have at least three residential units must be registered as a multiple dwelling and must have a certificate of occupancy for residential use—a difficult-to-obtain piece of paperwork. If landlords don't have those documents, as was the case at 170 Tillary, they can neither compel tenants to pay rent nor evict them for nonpayment.
 
Only in New York kids, only in New York
Can this happen anywhere else? I hope not….
 
The roommates in the Voice knowingly lived in a space that was a fire trap, that leaked, where the elevator did not often work – let alone that lacked the other “niceties” of the residential building code that did not protect them. On a personal level, they figured it was worth it for free rent.
 
They figured out that the landlord could not easily sue for eviction for non-payment of rent because it was not a legal residence. But they also knew that they could not sure to enforce any ‘usual’ residential prerogatives – like heat.
 
For the landlord, apparently it works – until it doesn’t. Once tenants figure out the landlord is a bit hamstrung, they can – and seemingly do – often simply stop paying rent and wait.
 
Not a lifestyle that will appeal to a lot of tenants, and not a cash flow or liability profile that will appeal to a lot of landlords.
 
What does the City care?
Once renters stop paying rent, one has to assume they figure they feel they are getting a better deal than if they moved into a place that they actually paid for. Theoretically, they can make the mature decision about risk allocation and – to be in total bad taste -- to leave it to their heirs and assigns to bring a wrongful death lawsuit if the worst happens.
 
Apparently, this is not a big priority for City housing regulators.
 
"Usually nothing happens" after a case like this, says April Newbauer, attorney in charge at Legal Aid's civil practice in Queens. "We see the same units being rented out over and over. It could go on indefinitely like that. It is not an individual judge's job to become a whistle-blower for future cases."
 
When manufacturing or industrial loft buildings became illegal residences, the space available for businesses shrinks – not necessarily a good thing.
 
Illegal loft apartments are increasingly part of the scenery in many industrial areas of Brooklyn—including DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Bushwick—as demand from manufacturer tenants has fallen. In fact, some housing lawyers estimate that there are hundreds of illegally converted loft buildings in Brooklyn. In East Williamsburg alone, the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN) identified 27 illegally converted loft buildings in an industrial park. The NYIRN, a nonprofit that promotes economic development, is hoping to prevent more illegal conversions and preserve space for manufacturing….
 
But when people need places to live and spaces are under-utilized by business, there is an opportunity for owners and renters to accommodate each other. Who is exploiting whom? If rent is id for “substandard” living space, maybe it is the owner who takes unfair advantage. When it is the renter who stops paying rent, maybe the owner is the screw-ee.
 
This is yet another example of a dynamic city re-inventing itself (sometimes, block by block) as times change.
 
How did it end?
For those paying really close attention, this case from the Voice ended with some money changing hands from the landlord to the tenants. The landlord was in the Second Judicial Department (Queens and Brooklyn), is gained the right to sue to evict in a more summary proceeding than landlords in the First Judicial Department (Manhattan and the Bronx).
 
Let’s close with another savvy renter quote:
 
"Do you pay someone an astronomical amount of rent just to have a roof over your head, or do you pay for a certain amount of safety, or do you pay for convenience? Because we haven't had any safety or convenience living here."
 
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Jul. 7, 2006 - dynamic city / time runs out on a stripped Tiffanys

 

Here is the second of two posts inspired by Sunday’s NY Times that got me thinking about how dynamic New York City is.

 

From champagne to jewels

Sunday’s Real Estate section carried a piece about an ugly building on Union Square West, six blocks due west along 15th Street from the new Moet HQ.

 

Who knew that this spare white building began life in 1870 as the flagship of Tiffany & Company, jewelers and was a “monster [cast] iron building”?

 

The Times [in 1870] called the new building a "palace of jewels," with black-walnut counters and ebony cases holding watches, fans, opera glasses and other articles in wood, leather, silver, cloisonné, enamel, bronze and rosewood. The Times observed that one ornamental statue, " 'Zingerilla,' by the Spanish sculptor Klessinger, appears almost ready to speak to her admirers."

 

Tiffany’s stayed for only 35 years before moving uptown (to 37th Street and Fifth Avenue) and the building became a home for garment companies. By 1925 the building was owned by Amalgamated Bank, which had been formed by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, one of many trade unions located (coincidentally?) around Union Square (the square was named for the federal union – The United States).

 

An accident and a careful architect

How did this “elaborate” cast-iron building turn into the “blocky white blob of a building” it has been?

 

It was an accident, literally.

 

A piece of iron fell from the façade in 1952, leading to the death of the unfortunate pedestrian it landed on. The Amalgamated Bank hired a thorough architect to “make sure” that such an accident never recurred. Which this careful architect did by stripping away every projecting piece of iron from the façade and encasing the shell in white brick.

 

Since then, the bank has been just one part of the polyglot assortment of Union Square's architecture, which mixes Romanesque, Queen Anne, Federal, postmodern and other styles

 

This polyglot of styles persisted through the decline of the Union Square area as the City’s fortunes waned across the Board in the 1970s, and the square was a place to avoid at night (and sometimes during the day). The coming of the greenmarket and restaurateur Danny Meyer in the 1980s began the upswing in fortunes. I believe Meyer deserves much of the credit for marshalling property owners around the square to pressure the City for better police and sanitation services. His Union Square Café became a big social and gustatory hit, which increased the attention paid to the area, and resulted in the last few years in major improvements to the square. (A personal note: I vividly recall the street reconstruction projects being well under way on September 11, 2001, as I walked through the square just before 9 AM that Tuesday, just after the first plane had flown low and loud over my head, heading south.)

 

(Bless Meyer also for similar work he did on marshalling corporate neighbors in cleaning up Madison Square a few years ago, where his 11 Madison and Tabla sit.)

 

But I digress….

 

A predictable but dynamic change

The next act for the boring white brick bank building that used to be an elaborate cast-iron jewelry firm is clear, at least for this structure. Given the zoning and the general market, when the bank sells the building (as it has begun to do) it is likely to be torn down to be replaced by a condominium tower.

From luxury jewelry to ladies underwear to a union bank to the inevitable condo, in four acts spanning about 140 years. Maybe that is not so dynamic a series of changes, after all....

 

© Sandy Mattingly 2006
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Jul. 7, 2006 - dynamic city / champagne in a cookie building

 

Two pieces in Sunday’s NY Times got me thinking about how dynamic New York City is. I suppose that other cities are similarly dynamic, but the relative age, breadth and range of the City, and its sharp geographic boundaries, probably make NYC – and especially Manhattanmore dynamic.

 

Here’s the first one.

 

The business section ran an article about the new HQ of Moet Hennessy, on the second floor of a 1914 building that used to house the National Biscuit Company (better known as Nabisco) between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues (address is 85 Tenth Av, from 15th to 16th Streets). Anyone who has driven down West Street in this area has probably noticed the “National Biscuit Company” sign on the west side of the building. I don’t know the history, but given the proximity to the Hudson River piers and access to that Holland and Lincoln Tunnels to New Jersey, it was probably a warehouse or distribution facility.

 

Like many such buildings in this far west corridor, it has almost certainly been significantly under-utilized of late. Back when the elevated Westside Highway ran above West Street (before it was closed in the 1970s because it was literally falling apart) this area was dark, noisy, dirty and dangerous. Back when the docks were in full commercial flower (until the early 1950s), this area was probably also filled with the ancillary businesses that catered to maritime commerce and sailors, including bars, flophouses and whore houses.

 

But the container cargo ships moved the commercial shipping hub across the river to New Jersey (the mob-controlled longshoreman and stevedoring unions didn’t help) in the 1950s and 1960s and the general decline of the city in the 1960s and 1970s left this far west side of Manhattan a bleak stretch between the genteel West Village and Chelsea.

 

Then the neighborhood just to the south, across 14th Street, went from being a neighborhood of wholesale meat and provisioning companies in the early 1990s to “The Meatpacking District” (in which very little grocery meat is packed, but boutiques and condos thrive) at the turn of the century.

 

Which made it easier for creeping change to creep across 14th Street, first to create the climate in which the Chelsea Market thrived, then to engulf the old National Biscuit Company building.

 

The Times article describes this building as “at the edge” of the Meatpacking District (though I would quibble that this District does not cross 14th Street; this should be part of Chelsea) and describes the nearby neighbors as including: Del Posto, CraftSteak and Morimoto restaurants; the Gansevoort Hotel; Soho House, a private club; and the Food Network (nearly all of which are above 14th Street). For Moet Hennessy, this location is ideal because it allows the sales and marketing people for their champagne, spirits and cognac brands to walk to clients.

 

But it is the unidentified near neighbors that make this area dynamic: mid-block small-scale apartment buildings just to the east on up to 22nd Street, the venerable General Theological Seminary (whose bell tower charms passersby both visibly and aurally) between Ninth and Tenth at 20th and 21st Streets, the Maritime Hotel (in a building that housed Covenant House, a social services agency, most recently but whose porthole windows hint at its history as a longshoreman’s union headquarters) and the buildings managed by the NYC Housing Authority.

 

The fragile mix of low and moderate income housing in the corridor above 14th Street west of Ninth Avenue now sits cheek by jowl to the creeping deluxe living represented by the Maritime Hotel and the new restaurants. Increasingly, bodegas, grocers and similar retail establishments struggle to afford the higher rents that the increasingly fashionable neighborhood can command.

 

The ongoing attempt by the Seminary to renovate and to raise money by building a tower have focused attention on the scale of this neighborhood, and its mix of low-income residents, "middle-class" (or its Manhattan equivalents) and high-end gentrifiers. According to The Villager, the Seminary and its business partners have scaled back to a 13 story condominium tower, which is still too tall to many residents: That fight in this dynamic neighborhood continues.

 

The Villager has run a series of articles about the Seminary plans, as well as this one “Chelsea 2025”, a brainstorming session about changes in Chelsea and its future.

 

© Sandy Mattingly 2006
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Sandy Mattingly is Manhattan Loft Guy; now with The Corcoran Group (http://corcoran.com/ ; but see the disclaimer at the bottom of the page), he can be reached most easily at Sandy@ManhattanLoftGuy.com or 917.902.2491, and followed on Twitter @ManhattnLoftGuy (note "mis-spelling"). After 7+ years, the blog has moved. Links here on RealTown will work for the foreseeable future, but new posts (and all the old content) has migrated to ManhattanLoftGuy.com.

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