The Real Deal New York

Soho’s eyesore readies for makeover

November 16, 2007
By Eric Marx

Soho’s famous cast-iron buildings stare down upon the squat mini-mall at 350 West Broadway as if it were an uninvited gate crasher. Aesthetically, the three-story brick structure’s bunker-like presence, between Broome and Grand streets, never fit with the neighborhood’s carved-out storefront feel, but the clash would hardly bear mention but for its 120 feet of frontage and 19 years of emptiness.

The complex has sat vacant since it was built in 1987 – creating an eyesore and hindering the block’s full development potential.

But the blockfront is set to be transformed, according to plans that call for an 11-story glass-and-steel condo containing 19 one- to three-bedroom units. There will also be 6,800 feet of ground-floor retail space, which developer Lighthouse Real Estate Ventures hopes to fill with a high-profile international tenant.

Construction is to begin in the spring and take 18 months to complete, said Jeff Ravetz, a Lighthouse principal. Ravetz said Lighthouse entered into a lease with an option to buy in September 2004 and subsequently obtained a use variance subjecting the building to a height limitation of 125 feet. The variance also permits ground-floor retail, which Ravetz said was a major flaw in the previous owners’ below- and above-grade design scheme.

But 19 years is a long time for a building to sit vacant, especially as it sits on one of the city’s prime shopping promenades.

“Nothing surprises me in Manhattan,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairwoman of the leasing and sales division at Prudential Douglas Elliman. “They were too early to the party,” she said of the building’s original owners – a group of investors whose vision of a southern charge across Broome Street predated market acceptance by a few years. The original developers of the property, Soho International Co., saw the building foreclosed upon. It was later purchased by investor Sam Abrams.

And the owners’ asking price of $200 a square foot was unrealistic for being below Broome Street, said Karen Bellantoni, a senior managing director at Robert K. Futterman. Indeed, the property sat on the market for three years before Lighthouse entered into its lease agreement in 2004.

“Sam Abrams still owns the land and gave them [Lighthouse] a net lease,” said Jeff Winick of Winick Realty, which originally represented the mall back in 1987 and now also represents the current owner. As for why the property stayed vacant for all these years, Winick said it was a matter of timing, waiting for the market to improve.

If Soho has changed a great deal, it’s only since the early 1990s that it’s transformed itself from an artists’ haven to a shopping mecca, said Robert Gibson, an executive vice president at CB Richard Ellis’ retail service group. Still, 18 months ago Soho retail wasn’t nearly this good, and Gibson believes the Lighthouse project will be well-timed to capture an ever-tightening market. “It’s a great location – to be a half block off the main shopping area,” Gibson said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it [leased up] before it topped out.”

On the residential spaces, Ravetz figures he can get a minimum of $1,000 per square foot, with apartments ranging in size from 620 square feet to 2,585 square feet for the two penthouse apartments.

Ravetz hired Rogers Marvel Architects to construct a glass façde to maintain the street’s open light while also connecting the retail presence to the public streetscape. “It’s not intended to be a big shiny mirror,” said Rob Rogers, a principal at the architecture firm.

A significant portion of the building will remain only two stories high so light and air to West Broadway are maintained. These elements – light and unobstructed views – are in short supply in Soho, said Karen Heyman of Century 21 Kevin B. Brown.

Then there’s also the appeal of a high-concept contemporary design, something that’s not been attempted in the heart of Soho on quite this scale. “They [developers] do gut renovations and convert commercial space to residential lofts,” said Gibson. “That’s what we’re seeing – and a lot of it has been between Spring and Broome with 387 West Broadway and, across the street, at 386 [West Broadway] where they did a gut rehab that created pricey lofts above good retail.

“Some landlords are knocking down and rebuilding, but in the classic Soho style and they’re not building up,” he added. “This is the first of the kind that’s going to look modern in the Soho area.”

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