The Real Deal New York

Curbed founder nabs 1,000-sf Seaport pad

Broker and landlord aren’t fazed by renting to a real estate blogger

April 01, 2011 10:38AM
By C. J. Hughes

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Without the Lower East Side, there might have never been a Curbed.com.

The neighborhood’s rowdy nightlife proved irresistible fodder for a personal blog launched by founder Lockhart Steele soon after he began living there in 2001.

Three years later, those rants spawned the website Curbed, which today chronicles the ups and downs of New York’s real estate and that of five other markets, with a new site, about Seattle, to be unveiled in April.

But the place where it all began is no more. At the beginning of March, in a move that seems worthy of one of his posts, Steele traded the one-bedroom walkup rental at 110 Rivington Street where he had been for a decade, for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom rental in an elevator building at 36 Peck Slip at the South Street Seaport (see gallery above).

The main reason for the move?

After two and a half years of dating Lindsey Green, 26, a Web consultant, Steele, 37, decided to move in together.

Yet a bigger space was obviously an enticement. With the new pad, which offers Brooklyn Bridge views, Steele gets to enjoy 1,000 square feet, which is about double what he had before, though he said, somewhat mystifyingly, “I’m not really too good at figuring that out.”

And there was a distinct upside in leaving a neighborhood he had grown to loath.

“In the latter half of my tenure down there, Ludlow Street had become an exercise in crowd-surfing, and there were smelly street-meat trucks,” said Steele, adding that after just a few weeks at his new place, the Seaport has already captivated him. “Quirky bars and quirky characters have already emerged,” he said.

But for a person whose email Rolodex of New York brokers, developers and landlords is likely formidable, the way that he found his new home is decidedly random and had nothing to do with being plugged in to the real estate world.

Finding it

On a Sunday night in February, as Green wrapped up dinner with a friend at the Bridge Cafe on Water Street, and was strolling down Peck Slip, she glanced up at No. 36, which is actually four landmarked buildings stitched together, and fell in love.

It wasn’t the first time she had laid eyes on the building; Steele parks his Jeep in a parking lot nearby, she said. And as an avowed “New York city history fanatic” who served on the landmarks committee of Manhattan’s Community Board 4 during her previous six-year stint in Chelsea, Green had explored the cobblestoned area on several occasions, she said.

But that night sealed the deal.

“I’m done with liking this building,” she recalled thinking at the time. “I’m going to live in this building.”

A scouring of Craigslist later that night turned up an apartment there. Yet by the time she arrived the next day, to meet with broker Brett Silverstein of City Connections Realty, and James Dorward, who handles leasing for owner Zuberry Associates, it had been taken.

Still, another one identical to the first but one flight down, was coming on the market later that week, which the couple ultimately rented, for $4,800 a month, Silverstein said. Steele wouldn’t say what he was paying at his previous apartment.

But Green first had to convince a person who seems to know the city, block by block, that this was it.

Indeed, the couple had been mulling a move to the East Village, to put them close to Curbed’s office at Cooper Square. Another real possibility was a top-floor walkup unit with exposed rafters on Carmine Street in Greenwich Village, where Jackson Pollock had allegedly made some drip paintings, Steele said.

They even considered hopping across the East River to Carroll Gardens or Cobble Hill, in Brooklyn, where many of their friends live, he added.

But before they picked a place, Green said, they had to resolve some fundamental differences in taste. Mostly a resident of single-room studios, Green wanted some walls this time around, while Steele, who had a set-apart bedroom on the Lower East Side, was leaning more toward a loft.

But after a visit to Peck Slip himself, Green said, Steele quickly came around.

Based on facades alone, the Seaport seems like an improvement. On Rivington Street, Steele lived in a drab steel-gray three-story tenement above Verlaine, a bar, and facing the hulking Hotel on Rivington, which was barely out of the ground when he moved in.

At the Seaport, his building boasts a well-kept red-brick exterior alongside stylish metal and glass sections above Nelson Blue, a New Zealand-themed restaurant where lamb pot pie is $16. Interiors feature floor-to-ceiling windows, 15-foot ceilings and wood-plank floor, plus a washer and dryer.

No worries

Curbed’s New York site has skewered planned developments and taken shots at architects. But in what could be viewed as a stroke of luck (or a reflection of its targeted reach), lest Steele’s critical eye be trained on them, the people involved with renting the apartment to the couple are not regular Curbed readers.

Silverstein said he looks at it a few times a week, and Dorward reads it even less, about once a month, but “I took it as compliment that [Steele] would want to live in this development,” he said, “since he knows so much about so many different properties.”

And Richard Berry, a managing member of Zuberry, which redeveloped the historic building with the Durst Organization in 2003, said he had never even heard of Curbed, when asked by a reporter. “But I’m over 30,” he joked.

It’s not yet clear if the Seaport will garner as much Curbed coverage as the Lower East Side did.

A search Wednesday on Curbed New York yielded a relatively meager 121 posts for “Seaport,” with the most recent, from March 18, about mall operator General Growth’s plan to redevelop a section of the area (“Lower East Side” generated 1,615). And “Peck Slip”? Nothing. Yet.

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