Volume 17 • Issue 11 / August 06 - 12, 2004

Tribeca real estate market’s next boom

By Josh Rogers

Rendering by Beyer Blinder Belle of the residential building R Squared proposes to build on W. Broadway between Leonard and Worth Sts.

Tribeca’s quaint, converted warehouse lofts are in danger of being overwhelmed by several large-scale development projects in the works, neighborhood leaders fear.

“If you just allow developers to do whatever they want to do, then you’ll get bulky riverfront walls facing the river,” said Albert Capsouto. “That Tribeca charm will be in shadows.”

Capsouto and his family opened Capsouto Frères restaurant 23 years ago in the north section of the neighborhood, where he also lives. He is worried about the Jack Parker Corporation’s application to rezone the neighborhood’s northwest corner to allow bigger buildings. If the new zoning passes, the development firm could proceed with its plan to build a 210-foot residential building on West St.

In addition, New York Law School is looking to move from Tribeca to the landmark J.P. Moran building at 23 Wall St. and the adjacent tower at 15 Broad St. Although it is not yet a done deal, the law school is in discussions with residential developers interested in its Worth St. campus and adjacent parking lot, and is scheduled to appear before the Landmarks Preservation Commission Sept. 28 with a plan to build a rooftop addition on the Morgan building.

Across from the law school block, R Squared, a new firm founded by big Long Island developers, is planning to build a 13-story building on the Louis Provenzano site at West Broadway between Worth and Leonard Sts.

All three Tribeca projects would require a change in zoning or a city variance.

Madelyn Wils, chairperson of Community Board 1, warned of “overzealous developers” at July’s board meeting, She did not mention specific projects, but said there were several that had her worried. “All will try to bust the zoning,” Wils, who owns a few buildings in Tribeca, said. “I consider it very very serious.”

Consultants to the three projects, speaking on the condition of anonymity, pointed to larger buildings nearby. The law school parking lot and the Provenzano site are near the massive Western Union building at 60 Hudson St. The West St. site is four blocks north of the Citigroup skyscraper.

Provenzano site

R Squared is working with Louis Provenzano, Inc., owners of 180 W. Broadway, to demolish the small building with a sports car dealership and Buster’s Garage bar. The plan is to construct a 13-story building with 60 condominiums and to open in 2006. Beyer Blinder Belle, the large architectural and planning firm known for its preservation work, has done renderings of the proposed building. Some C.B. 1 members saw them at a private meeting.

A rendering is also on R Squared’s Web site, www.rsquaredllc.com, which describes the unidentified block as a “prime Tribeca corner.” The development firm will have to prove an economic hardship connected to the project in order to get a zoning variance from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals. An R Squared consultant said there still can be a hardship even though the location is good.

“Just because it is ‘prime,’ doesn’t mean it is suitable for building,” he said.

Capsouto, who is also chairperson of C.B. 1’s Tribeca committee, said developers know the zoning limits before they go in so in theory, it should be hard to prove hardship. C.B. 1 and C.B. 2 have raised objections to several B.S.A. variances granted in recent years in Tribeca, Hudson Sq. and along the Greenwich Village waterfront, arguing that the projects are in hot real estate markets and developers could turn a profit without building taller than zoning allows.

According to R Squared’s Web site, the firm has a long-term lease with the site’s owner to develop the site. Provenzano, which is not identified on the site, owns the block’s building, the car dealership, the parking lot and according to a dealership supervisor, the son of a Provenzano executive owns Buster’s.

The R Squared consultant said the bulk of the new building would be on W. Broadway and the top would cantilever over the lot on the Leonard St.

R Squared was founded by cousins Mitchell and Gregg Rechler in 2003, when they left Reckson Associates, the large Long-Island based real estate firm that also owns 100 Wall St. Real Estate Finance and Investment reported the cousins left Reckson after the firm’s stock price dropped and shareholders decided there were “too many Rechlers directing the company.”

Gregg Rechler did not return calls seeking comment.

Law school

New York Law School is thinking about selling its building and parking lot to a developer. R Squared and Provenzano Inc. are planning a 13-story building on their site.

Richard Matasar, president and dean of New York Law School, said the 1,500-student school needs more space and is considering moving to 23 Wall and 15 Broad Sts., two buildings owned by Boymelgreen Devlopment, also an active player in the Tribeca real estate market. The Landmarks commissioners are scheduled to examine the school’s plan to add classroom space atop the low-rise J.P. Morgan building at the corner of Wall and Broad Sts.

“The building, as it’s configured, doesn’t work for us,” Matasar told Downtown Express.

He said they are still negotiating with Boymelgreen and the school is also considering staying put and expanding into its parking lot site. “We’re bursting at the seams and we have been for decades,” he said.

Currently the school has just under 200,000 square feet of space in its interconnected buildings along Worth and Church Sts. If the school moved to the Financial District it would likely sell its buildings and parking lot to a developer. There is a special zoning restriction on the parking lot so that only an institution can develop the site. If the school sold the lot to a residential developer, new zoning for the site would have to be approved by the city before construction could begin.

The block, with a floor-to-area ratio (F.A.R.) of 10, would allow for a building of several hundred feet, although it would depend on how the structure was configured. Matasar said the school also has unused air rights that it could sell.

He said whatever gets built will be “rational for Tribeca. Nobody wants to do anything that isn’t right for the neighborhood, whether we did it or a developer we sold it to did it.”

Judy Duffy, assistant district manager of C.B. 1, said building a law school or anything across from the New York Stock Exchange is likely to be an expensive, time-consuming affair because of difficulties getting construction trucks past the security checkpoints every day. Boymelgreen is also planning to convert the upper floor offices above 15 Broad to condos. The law school is expected to take about 10 floors, although that is also being neogitated, Matasar said.

Matasar said he is not concerned about running the school in a high-security zone. “Any inconveniences of security are offset by the safety factor and the public transportation, which is great everywhere Downtown,” he said.

They won’t be the only students in the area. Millennium High School is a few blocks away and Claremont Prepatory School is expected to open a K-8 private school across from the possible new law school home in 2005.

West St. development

Jack Parker Corporation has applied to the Dept. of City Planning to change the zoning of four Tribeca blocks, bounded by West, Watts, Hubert and Washington Sts. The changes would permit residential buildings (a change from M1-5 to C6-3A) and increase the size of allowable structures by 50 percent, from 5 F.A.R. to 7.5. The firm has a long-term lease with the Ponte family for the site on West St. between Desbrosses and Watts Sts.

There would be a 210-foot height limit on wide streets, in this case West St. The new zoning would also allow a 180-car garage to be built underneath the West St. site, which is part of Parker’s plan. The current zoning does not have a set height limit, but because the F.A.R. restriction is lower, Parker would be able to build a bulkier tower if the zoning changed.

A Parker consultant, requesting anonymity, said the building would be 210 feet on West St. and lower on Washington St., although the dimensions have not been determined yet. City Planning is expected to give the change initial certification in the fall, setting up the ULURP or Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

C.B. 1 will get to comment on the plan under ULURP before it goes to the borough president and then on to City Planning and the City Council for a vote. The community board will undoubtedly oppose the 210-foot limit, although Duffy suspected board members may support the garage space increase since so many parking lots are being developed.

“We’ve lost so many, it will probably pass,” she said of the parking provision.

Joseph Pell Lombardi, a developer and architect who has been involved with many Tribeca projects, said he would prefer a height limit of 10 to 15 stories, or 100 to 150 feet. He said there are likely to be negative effects if a developer builds larger on the west side of Tribeca, but there may be ways to design around that problem. “It changes the whole character having big towers,” he said, “although I have always thought that Independence Plaza relates well to the streetscape.”


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