Volume 21, Number 51 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 8 - 14, 2009

Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Quarterly reality
In Lower Manhattan, office vacancy rates are up, commercial rental prices are down, hotel occupancy rates have plunged and subway ridership has fallen off, according to a first-quarter report from the Downtown Alliance.

In comparing 2009’s first-quarter figures against the previous quarter’s numbers and 2008’s Q1 findings, the Alliance found that Lower Manhattan’s office vacancy rate had increased by nearly 1 percentage point overall. (The 8.1 percent rate compares to 7.4 percent for the previous quarter and 7.2 percent for Q1 2008.)

The average price per square foot for office rentals this quarter came in at $44.58, a more than 11 percent drop from a year ago ($50.28) and down from $47.86 the previous quarter.

Lower Manhattan’s hotel occupancy rate slipped by more than 13 percent compared to both previous quarters — to 68.61 percent this quarter from 79.36 percent in Q1 ’08 and 79.16 in Q4 ’08.

Additionally, average weekly subway ridership Downtown has decreased by about 5 percent since the previous quarter, to 299,350 riders from 316,060 riders in Q4 ’08.

The report also noted that 14 new retailers opened up south of Chambers St. in the first quarter, “a testament to the enduring appeal of Lower Manhattan’s live/work/play dynamic, despite the economic downturn.”

Bargain condos
Aspiring homeowners will find deals at One Rector Park, a new condo conversion in Battery Park City, provided that they’re willing to wait nearly a year to move in.

One Rector Park dropped its asking prices 22 percent just before putting the 174 units on the market five weeks ago, sales director Melissa Cohen said. That discount rate only lasts until half of the units are sold.

The 50-percent-sold mark is also significant because developer Buttonwood won’t close on any of the units and let the buyers move in until then, Cohen said. So far, the units are 10 percent sold, and Cohen predicted it would take until the first quarter of 2010 to close enough units to allow move-ins. Buttonwood will not rent the vacant, completed units in the meantime, Cohen said.

“It’s a win-win,” Cohen said of the price reduction and her hope that it will make the units sell quickly. “You just can’t beat it.”

With the markdown, studios start at $500,000, one-bedrooms at $595,000, two-bedrooms at $1 million and three-bedrooms at $1.9 million. The three-bedrooms are larger than average for the neighborhood and all total more than 2,000 square feet, Cohen said. Most could convert to a four-bedroom but have an open den instead.

The appliances, materials and amenities are in line with what buyers expect at a gut-renovated luxury building: an in-house bar, library and screening room, private outdoor space and built-in speakers in the kitchen and bathroom of the apartments that connect to an iPod dock mounted in the wall. The kitchens are equipped with two tiny dishwashers to save on water and power for smaller loads. Construction is nearly complete.

Buttonwood bought the building, then known as 333 Rector Pl., in early 2007. It had 226 apartments then, filled with market-rate tenants Buttonwood had to remove in a lengthy battle before launching the renovation. Some of the tenants wanted to stay and purchase their units, but the developer gutted each floor, carving out units in different shapes and configurations, so it would have been impossible for anyone to remain, Cohen said.

None of the former tenants have bought a unit, but Cohen said several have expressed interest.

One thing working against Cohen is the disaster-prone condo conversion down the block, Rector Square. The developer of that building, Yair Levy, is in foreclosure, and the attorney general is reportedly investigating mishandled finances.

Cohen said she almost wished she could change Rector Park’s name to make it a little less similar to Rector Square, but it’s too late for that. She promised that there’s nothing similar about the two buildings’ finances and said Rector Square’s lenders approved the recent price drop for the condos.

— Julie Shapiro

Have hookah, will travel
East Village nightspot Le Souk, which for years has been a thorn in the side of its Avenue B neighbors, has moved west to the heart of the Village with plans to open anew this summer.

The hip hookah bar, which endured constant noise and traffic complaints from neighbors living near the E. Fourth St. space, will reopen near the corner of Bleecker St. and LaGuardia Place by mid-June, Eater.com reported.

On Avenue B, Le Souk suffered from a series of citations from the State Liquor Authority before having its liquor license revoked.

Now, the North African-themed club will reportedly take over the former Horus Lounge at 510 LaGuardia Place, featuring three levels and a 300-person capacity.

Susan Stetzer, Community Board 3’s district manager, said neighbors around Le Souk’s former location have reported that horn honking has recently decreased.

However, the club’s operators are still in court appealing the revocation, and Stetzer said Le Souk still has a lease on the East Village space.

Regardless of the outcome, Stetzer said it was her board, not the S.L.A., that had to enforce the revocation when the club continued to operate after having its license stripped.

“Whatever the procedure is, it’s appalling that this can happen,” she said of the agency failing to act on its ruling. “We should have agencies dealing with licenses and enforcement. It shows why the community boards are so overburdened.”

— P.H.





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