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Families in New York neighborhoods are filling vacant offices


For all the talk about converting New York City’s dilapidated office towers into housing, only one neighborhood has done it on a large scale: the Financial District.

In the past few years, 84 William Street, a 1907 office tower and 1 Wall Street, an Art Deco skyscraper that once served as the headquarters of the Bank of New York, have been converted into luxury apartments. Five more office buildings are being demolished and converted into housing, including the largest such conversion program in the United States.

But high-rise conversions are just part of a wave of renovations in the area that began decades ago with the renovation of low-rise buildings and continues today with the construction of massive glass and steel towers.

The name Financial District has become something of a misnomer, as the neighborhood once derided as a desert for bankers commuting home is now a vibrant residential enclave on Manhattan’s southernmost tip.

The area now has 66,000 residents, up from 13,700 in 1990 Roughly bounded It is bounded by Chamber Street and the Brooklyn Bridge to the north and the West Side Expressway to the west. There’s even a new Whole Foods Market.

The Financial District’s transformation offers a road map and a glimmer of hope for neighborhoods from lower Manhattan to midtown that are facing a glut of vacant offices as companies continue to cut space in the wake of the pandemic. Real estate analysts predict that large tracts of buildings — especially decades-old offices with outdated layouts — will remain unattractive for most companies and will need to find other uses.

Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul have championed residential conversions as a solution to the major problems of office glut and the city’s housing shortage. But few buildings have made this change. May be expensive and impractical Consider how difficult it is to create a light-filled home in a dark, deep interior space.

The Financial District’s transformation stems from two setbacks — the relocation of banks and insurance companies from lower Manhattan to downtown, and the Sept. 11 attacks — that left 9-to-5 workers gradually being replaced by parents pushing strollers. replace.

The area’s compact plots have resulted in many slender buildings with high ceilings and large windows, making remodeling easier.

Nearly 1,500 new construction and remodeled homes have been added to the area since the pandemic began. Thousands more are expected to be added in the coming years, including what is considered the largest conversion project in the country: 1,300 apartments in an office tower being vacated by JPMorgan Chase. Early 2021.

Cory Levy, 26, said he has long been fascinated by the financial district’s charms, such as its short streets that recall the way the Dutch laid out the area before Manhattan was laid out in a grid. When it was called New Amsterdam.

However, friends warned him not to move there.

“They say it’s a ghost town,” Mr. Levy said.

He decided to check it out after get off work and visited rooftop bars, restaurants and cafes.

“It’s not the East Village,” he said, “but it’s residential and there are places to eat and drink if you like to go out late at night and do things.”

He likes the area and in April signed a lease with his girlfriend for an apartment, a one-bedroom unit in a 57-story office building that was remodeled in 2008.

Mr Levy said the area had significant advantages over other communities. About half of the city’s subway lines stop nearby, as well as several ferries and PATH trains to New Jersey. The area also has drawbacks, he admits: it’s hard to find sunlight on narrow corridors.

The transformation of the Financial District began in the mid-1990s when the office market faced similar challenges. As vacancies arise, state lawmakers approve tax breaks for developers who convert blighted office buildings into housing. A building boom ensued.

By the time the incentives expired in 2006, nearly 13,000 units had been created, According to analysis by the Citizens Budget CouncilBefore 1990, there were about 7,400 housing units in the area, according to the Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit organization that manages the local business improvement district.

Even after incentives expired, office conversions continued, albeit at a slower pace. Joey Chilelli, managing director of real estate firm Vanbarton Group, predicts the latest hit to the office market will likely lead to more switching in the financial sector. District, sometimes called FiDi.

The neighborhood has the highest office vacancy rate in Manhattan, according to the community. Colliers Real EstateNearly 27% of office space is for rent, up from 11% before the outbreak, the organization said.

The Vanbarton Group is redeveloping the neighbourhood’s latest conversion, creating 160 Water Street has 588 apartmentsThe company purchased the property in 2014 with plans to keep it as offices until the pandemic hit. Start renting apartments this winter.

“A lot of the buildings there are ripe for renovation,” Mr. Chillelli said. “When people find out that FiDi is actually a very nice place to live, they’ll move forward.”

Over the years, some of the city’s earliest skyscrapers, including 15 Park Street, have become residential. But many modern office buildings that struggled to retain commercial tenants in the 1980s and 1990s have also become residential, including New York’s 90 William Street near the Federal Reserve Bank.

Ruth Cheng was one of the first tenants to move into 90 William Street in 2008. She and her husband purchased an apartment after visiting a model home. They raised their two children there until they had a third and needed more space.

“We didn’t even really look elsewhere,” said Ms. Cheng, 49, adding that her children’s school was nearby. “We want to stay in FiDi.” The family now lives in a new building two blocks away.

The family has lived in the area for 15 years, with several schools opening and new restaurants and shops opening, including the nearby South Street Seaport. One of the newest shops in the community is Best Sicily Bottega, an Italian cafe and grocery store on Beaver Street.

The store’s founders, Silvia Lombardo and Nicolas Calia, met through Instagram during the pandemic and discovered they both lived in Sicily’s financial district and grew up 10 minutes’ drive away from each other. When they met, Ms. Lombardo owned an online store selling Italian goods, but she wanted to showcase them in a brick-and-mortar store along with food items like olive oil cakes and meatballs made from her family’s recipes.

Out of a mutual love for Sicily and gastronomy, they opened the store in May opposite Lombardo’s apartment. They said they had not considered opening elsewhere and decided to stay open after hours, offering local residents takeaway dinners such as pasta on Fridays.

“We do believe something is changing here,” Ms. Lombardo said.



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