New Limelight incarnation sees 75% lease rate

By Laurel Maury | November 19, 2009 12:09PM

The famous 1990s nightclub Limelight is getting a rebirth as a nifty retail experiment and it’s proving successful, with 75 percent of the available 60 shop spaces leased, according to the project’s marketing director.

Established retailers that have already signed on are Caswell Massey, America’s oldest retailer (they made George Washington’s cologne), and Hunter Boots, the 150-year-old firm that supplies boots to England’s Royal Family. New York newcomers include Mari’s New York — Mari Tuttle was a chef at Balthazar’s, and this is her artisanal brownie business — It’s Sugar, a candy store created by Jeff Rubin, co-creator of Dylan’s Candy Bar, Carter & Cavero Old World Olive Oil, and Silly Souls, a baby goods store. They’re also negotiating to bring in four restaurants. Note: Correction appended.

In February, retail developer Jack Menashe, creator of the successful chain store Bang Bang, leased the deconsecrated, early Victorian-age church and started renovations for what he calls “the next generation in retail. Note: Correction appended.

Limelight Marketplace, set to open March 1, 2010, offers a two-fold approach to creating what Menashe hopes will become a boutique destination for New Yorkers and tourists. If he succeeds, he’ll be bucking New York’s recession trend of empty storefronts and street-level retail rentals going to large chains like Starbucks and Duane Reade.

First, Limelight is creating a three-story, indoor shopping space based on European modes of shopping, a la Convent Gardens and Burlington Arcade in London. The tenants will be a mix of known, high-quality brands and new talent.

Second, Limelight Marketplace offers what they call a “turnkey solution.” All electric and utilities are included in the rent. Limelight Marketplace even plans to provide shopping bags. The only thing the tenants have to do is show up with their goods. Jessica Shrier, marketing director for Limelight Marketplace, said, “[The tenants] can just be artists. They can do what they do. They don’t have to worry about any ancillary costs/overall stress, time and resources to open up a store.”

Initially, the local community board was skeptical. Remembering the old club, it feared resurgence in noise, but Limelight Marketplace doesn’t have a cabaret license, and the shopping space will close at 10 p.m. Plus, with a store selling goods for babies on the first floor and a sneaker gallery on the second, part of their target audience is clearly families with kids.

The building has a great deal of history. The church was built by Richard Upjohn, architect of downtown’s neo-Gothic Trinity Church and founder of the American Institute of Architects. During renovations, Limelight Marketplace discovered stained glass windows and carved limestone friezes that hadn’t seen the light of day for decades.

Limelight Marketplace intends to keep those bits of early Victorian New York. Yet, James Mansour, design director for the Limited Group, also decided on a modern floor of shiny black and white diamonds on the ground floor and a wall of grass for the second floor.

Last month, the Landmarks and Preservation Commission asked Limelight Marketplace to reduce the number of planned signs outside the building, and is currently waiting to receive a revised plan.

Limelight Marketplace’s block, 20th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, has many vacant ground-level spaces, and the overall sense is of quiet and emptiness. Twenty years ago, when the Limelight was a famous club, the area was transitioning from its Garment District roots. Now the stores tend toward industrial design — businesses likely to be frequented by other businesses, not pedestrians.

Menashe hopes Limelight Marketplace will be considered a destination shopping center. He expects to benefit from the former nightclub’s proximity to subways, tourists frolicking due to the increasing density of hotels in the nearby Flatiron District, the avid Chelsea gallery-goers as well as from the Limelight’s famous name.